The first (and last) time you didn’t come home

The New York Times Life/Style – While my sister Holly and I waited for the police to arrive, I searched through our mother’s office, looking for clues as to why she hadn’t come home the night before. Exhausted, I leaned back on the armchair my mother had bought when I left my father’s house nearly a year ago.

In her early twenties, Holly had a family of her own, children who were now in the care of her mother-in-law. I was 17 and had been sharing this apartment with my mother every two weeks, as per her custody agreement with my father.

You never fail to come home.

Continue after advertisement

Continue after advertisement

My mother was many things – among them a librarian who loved Mozart and a mother who made her son eat broccoli. She was an adulteress who left my father to a man he did not want to commit, and he left her in pain and shame. But she was also trapped in a depression from which I could not get out, full of anxiety He refused treatment despite the insistence of my father.

Illustration by Brian Rea/The New York Times. take photo: Brian Ria

More than anything, my mother was a woman who wanted to build a life of her own, but so far this has not worked. Last summer, I had stopped a suicide attempt, and so I knew, lying in that chair, that she might have died.

I had waited for her the night before, dancing around the room and flipping the books on her bookshelf. But hours passed and my heart raced as I remembered her farewell that morning. I crawled into my bed and grabbed my teenage body like a baby. I was half asleep, “That’s so good.” When she left the apartment for work, she put a $20 bill on her desk next to a note that read, “I love you, Mary.”

It was a stark contrast to the fights we were used to going through my teenage years and the breakup of her marriage, and that morning I hoped things would get better. But when night fell without saying a word, she gathered the pieces together: His movements were an end, not a new beginning.

“I think my life is about to change,” he told a friend over the phone. My speedometer read 100 cars to my father’s house, as I lay on the sofa and left increasingly sad messages on my mother’s answering machine. In the end, it was just “mama, mama” through streams of crying.

I loved my mother more than anything else. But once I got to high school, it became unbearable the way teenage girls live their mothers when they try to make their own way. Everything I did, from chewing bread to wearing a miniskirt, felt embarrassed.

She would say, “You’re so hateful.”

I tried to hide my contempt, but she felt it. In her grief, she looked for signs from other people to confirm her worst thoughts about herself.

When the mother dies suicide Amidst all that teenage turmoil, it can be very difficult to separate guilt from normal teenage behavior, albeit harsh at times.

I agreed to it Her suicide wasn’t my fault When people reassured me about this fact. But internally, I blame myself and blame whoever I was at my core. corrupt. barbed. detestable. trivial.

Holly arrived at my father’s house early in the morning. We went back to my mom’s house and called the police.

From the desk in the third drawer, Holly pulled out three things: a book on fighting depression; a folder containing my mother’s will; And a note: “Please scatter gray under the rose bush.”

My sister looked at me and blushed.

I really didn’t like roses. I think it’s extravagant, the petals scattered and squiggly like burnt paper.

My mom planted a rose bush near our garage when I was a kid, and I hated its shaggy leaves and faded pink flowers. I thought it was the ugliest thing to bloom over the flat lawn and garden where I had an idyllic childhood, thanks to my mother’s care.

She gave me meat tomatoes that grew off our land in North Carolina. It gave me a vine of jasmine that intertwined with our roof, and waxy yellow flowers that opened with scent in summer when cicadas sang on a frantic tone.

My mother would read to me nonstop, the words roaring in her chest as I hugged her. When I was older and Holly went to college, my mother and I would lie together in a rope swing suspended among the pine trees in my backyard. Soft brown papers littered the floor under our feet as we walked backwards, turning the pages of library books as we staggered, our legs clasped together, our dust jackets crumbling.

We traveled together to visit her mother, and I was uncomfortable about how long it took to walk in the park. My grandmother spoke of her rose, nandina, gardenia, and deep voice in southern prose. I was jealous of their hum, of his closeness. He seems to invade my space with my mother, usually very private, very conspiratorial – us against the world.

Like my mom, I went through mental health challenges from a very young age, and she gave me sanctuary and support.

In the morning my sister found my mother’s note, I discovered a pile of napkins beside my mother’s bed. I touched them with my tongue, trying to absorb the last bit of it. When the policeman arrived, he told us that he had found my mother’s body in a nearby hotel, and reality immediately turned into a nightmare.

As an adult, I live on a mountain in western North Carolina with my husband and two children. My garden patch is a mess – my grandmother wouldn’t agree, but I know my mom wouldn’t mind.

The last time my mother and I traveled together on a college visit to these mountains was in the summer before her death. We were driving down Blue Ridge Parkway and ate at a restaurant where marijuana was floating in the air. My mother told me her soul was happier than ever, barefoot in a stream with bouquets of rhododendrons all around us and smooth stones frozen under our feet.

Now, near my door, berries form a mass behind an apple tree. My youngest son and I tore up red thimbles on a summer morning. Lavender blooms side by side, stretching out in the sun under a bed of wild-growing red berries along with little weeds with purple buds, daylilies, chrysanthemums, monard, lungwort, iris. In winter, when the trees are bare, you can see a mountain ridge extending to the south.

My mother would have loved this life. She would have loved my husband and our lovely savage children. I wish I had stayed, and seen this place, the way it looks when things get a little easier.

When we moved here six years ago, I uprooted a rose bush with pale pink flowers like my mother’s. I told my husband I wanted more room for the tomatoes. But really, I wanted to banish the daily memory of my mother. That feeling of primal guilt lingering, cold and punishing, woke me up at night to meditate.

I know firsthand the effect that Sadnes and the worry It can be out of control in the family. When it became clear that my treatment was not only affecting me but the people I loved the most, I looked for the type of treatment that I thought would have helped my mother as well.

The therapy meant revisiting the scenes that led to my mother’s death so they weren’t too hurt and cultivating empathy for the teen who experienced them. Guilt will never go away completely. I am not “cured”. But I have learned to look at myself with more and more tenderness, as a mother does.

Mom and I are going to be friends now, I imagine. The pain of discomfort that was echoing loudly in my body could have subsided; found her way. I may have worked in the city library, a river stone building where Lulu, the children’s librarian, directs my children to prepare perfect books for them.

Last summer, in my local nursery, I saw one thick bouquet: velvety, thick, purple, soft flowers. Having found the plant I had come for, I went back and stuck my nose inside a flower and inhaled it. A rose? I looked at the card and bought it.

This winter, 20 years after my mother’s death, my sister and I spread the least amount of her ashes under the rose bush I planted for this very reason. As I did so, I looked around at the mess in my garden and blushed.

It was only a moment, before I remember how much my mother loved to be here to witness the beauty of my imperfect and awkward life. At rest, peacefully, under the roses. / Translated by LVIA BUELONI GONAALVES

The New York Times Licensing Group – All rights reserved. Any reproduction without written permission of the New York Times is prohibited.


If you have suicidal thoughts, call the Center for Life Appreciation (CVV) at 188. The service is free, completely confidential, and available 24 hours a day. on the CVV website ( can also chat via email and chat.

Leave a Comment