Diane died yesterday.
Diane is my stepmother, was. Or maybe ‘my father’s wife’ is a better description. They dated and then married while I was in my thirties, long after I needed mothering. Sort of—an adult, obviously, but still immature. At the family dinner the night before their wedding, I toasted my wicked stepmother, possibly trying to elicit a laugh from her two teenage children. Whatever.
My brother called me at work with the news. When we hung up, I didn’t know what to do. My dad was still dealing with the people you need to deal with when someone dies. The coroner? The police? I don’t know, someone. I sent Susan a text. Diane died, call me when you want.
I told Vicki, my assistant. She’s really the only person I gab with at work. Susan called, we talked for a while. Then I sat down at my desk and prepared a revenue confirmation letter for the library’s 2021 financial audit. Eventually, it occurred to me that I should be spending time with my father.
When I got home last night, Susan already told our kids and her family. I felt lost, undirected. I should be making calls, informing my circle. I did that when my mother died thirty-eight years ago. Except now I don’t have a circle, no one to call. I told a blogger in his comments. He wrote about the anniversary of Kurt Cobain’s death. My news fit his post; plus, I needed to tell *someone*.
I feel like some people are missing in my life. Diane, sure, but also others I can’t put my finger on. I grew up with Twilight Zone reruns—those black and white mind-bending stories from the fifties. Some disquieting, some outright scary. A disturbing episode I remember recounts the story of two heroic astronauts just returned from a space mission. One of the astronauts swears there was a third person on the voyage, his lifelong best friend, but no one remembers him. Not mission command, not the media, not even his own parents. The ‘false memory’ is chalked up as an unknown effect of space travel. In time, a second astronaut, then the third disappears from earth. In each instance, no one has any recollection of these people once they’re gone. The show ends with a shot of the empty hangar where their spacecraft once sat.
Sometimes I have a memory of the feeling of a friendship that doesn’t exist. As if a person once there has disappeared without a trace. I can’t remember the person, but I remember the space they once occupied in my life. I’ve felt this way for the past twenty-four hours.
My quick self-psychoanalysis tells me that Diane’s death brought back memories of my mother—the obvious and overarching person missing from my life. For years after she died, I caught myself reaching for the phone to share whatever exciting news highlighted my life. Like that astronaut, I remember her, I remember our exact relationship, but no one else does.
It shouldn’t surprise me that my stepmother’s death left a hole behind, an empty spot, and a searing memory of my own mother’s death. The desire to share the news seems natural to me, necessary, as if talking about it makes it more real and easier to process. If I have a circle outside my wife and kids, it’s the people on WordPress. For better or worse, this is where I share what’s going on in my life, much as I used to with my mother. Instead of the phone, I now reach for my laptop.