I wrote the following for the UCI Writing Project Summer Institute 2009, based on the photo above.
Passing by Teresa O
I would do it for my mother – sleep with her in the bed where my dad had died the night before. She asked, I’m the eldest, and it’s my duty.
The house is quiet. My siblings who’d flown in with me that day are installed in their usual rooms. Not me; that’s not my place. In the master bedroom suite on the second floor, the sheets are clean and crisp and cool. But the faintly antiseptic smell of the frantic activity of the night before lingers.
My dad always supported each of us four kids in everything we attempted, never missing a graduation or opening night. On the glorious, sunny December day that was my wedding day, the photographer caught me in the reception hall garden planting a kiss on Dad’s cheek. I’d just pinned the delicate white rose on his tuxedo lapel. My heart was so full; his smile was so huge. I see that smile in the mirror often.
He was the eldest of seven kids, and I was his eldest child. As he was the only MD in the family and first one to move to America, it fell to him to send money back home to the Philippines and to sponsor visas. We didn’t learn until the tributes came pouring in before his funeral exactly how many dozens of relatives he’d supported through medical or dental school or other professional training.
Mom gets into the queen bed on the left side, her side. The mattress barely moves. “Do you mind if I keep the light on to read a little while?” she asks me. I pull my headphones away from my left ear as I shake my head. “That’s fine, Mom, whatever you want. I’m just listening to my iPod. Light never bothers me. I can sleep through anything.”
Except I won’t be sleeping tonight. Before I climbed into the bed, I had to move Dad’s slippers. I shoved them behind the bedside table. His ratty, gray woolen slippers. The backs are squished and misshapen because he always stepped onto, instead of into, them.
On the dresser, his wallet and watch catch my eye. I rise, ostensibly to adjust the bedspread, but really to slide those items out of my line of sight without Mom noticing.
Back in bed I rearrange the pillows so that I’m almost upright. A movement in front of me catches my eye. I raise my hand to adjust my headphones and the apparition moves, too. It’s my own reflection in the closet door mirror in the master bathroom. Rather than endure the specter of myself all night, I get up once more to slide open the mirrored door halfway.
Finally, Mom clicks off her bedside light, murmuring, “Good night, honey.” I mumble something. It’s only 11 p.m. A randomly-shuffled technology podcast chitters in my ears, insufficient to distract me from the churning in my stomach.
My eyes adjust slowly to the darkness. It’s not complete. Nightlights burn throughout the entire house. My neck and shoulders feel increasingly tight. I twist and fidget, and slink further down into the pillows. Squinting, I pick out an oddity directly above me. A crack at the top of the highest, central point of the vaulted ceiling. My eyes widen as I follow its path, all the way to the corner of the room. It must be almost an inch wide. My dad saw this every night — how could he let it get so bad? How did we kids not know of this? Then, recalling other cracks in the walls downstairs on the same side of the house, I squeeze my eyes shut and shudder.
Next to me, Mom’s breathing is wispy, but regular, so I allow the tears that have been stinging my eyes all day to flow. Tomorrow I will accompany my mother to the mortuary, on Sunday I will deliver my father’s eulogy, and next week I will confront the homebuilder. But tonight I will sleep in his bed and see what he saw. And, as always, he will be at my side.