Last week I was helping my son with a word problem on his math homework. Y’all 4th grade math is just about my limit. After this grade, I pay for tutoring. Word problems can be so lame though. Like I need to know that Jenny loves pancakes to add her apples and bananas together. And who buys bananas in singles? Whatever. I was sitting with him, talking him through the rationalization of the problem and I said, “Okay, dude. We just have to figure out how many times 2 goes into 38.”
This is where my spaghetti brain unraveled. 38. I’m 38. Half of 38 is 19. Wait. What? Half of 38 is 19.
I was nineteen when my mom died. That means this year, my 38th year, she will have been gone from my life for an equal amount of time as she was in my life. We were mother/daughter for 19 1/2 years before her suicide. I’ve had almost 19 years without her. Had I known how hard adulting would be or how much I’d miss her I surely would’ve soaked up more wisdom from her before I knew I was out of time. Like how to rip out a septic tank or make gravy. So maybe not the septic tank thing. I don’t have one. But she did that. For sure gravy though. I suck at gravy. Time is something you rarely appreciate until it is gone. Just like gravy.
I was nineteen when Princess Diana died. Mother Theresa, too. Not that either one of those people meant a great deal to me but I sobbed like I was a member of the royal family twice removed. I’m sure because of the grief I was already trudging through, but frankly, watching those young boys march behind their mother’s casket wagon just about did me in for a week. That was half a lifetime ago.
I was nineteen when I got my first bank loan. I was on my own. Adulting was hard. But I pulled up my bootstraps and did what needed to be done. I was so scared. I’d like to go back and give that girl a hug.
I was nineteen when I first learned that family doesn’t have to be blood. My mom’s best friend scooped me up that year and cared for me in ways I will never be able to fully grasp. She loved me in reach-out-and-touch-it ways. She got me a job and then bought me work clothes. She grabbed my boot straps when I didn’t have the strength.
I was nineteen when I went on my first date with Charlie. We were both nineteen and the world seemed big and crazy and full of opportunity. It also seemed scary and hard and cold and I was so glad I found him. We made terrible decisions together and apart but we learned and made better ones the next time. That’s what nineteen is for. Bounding and learning and growing. I knew immediately he was worth holding onto though and I did…for dear life. Sometimes I held so tightly that he couldn’t even breath. I probably smothered him more than I care to admit that year. He kept coming back though and it was for my gravy.
The funny thing my spaghetti brain realized in that post-math problem moment was that as I count the years I have been without my mom I wrack up years with the love of my life. Grief and love collided in big ways that year. We are adding birthdays and holidays and Tuesdays…more together than apart. I love that. We’ve had so many good times, times of laughter and joy. We’ve had so many opportunities for growth, situations that have been hard learned lessons. We’ve sang and we’ve danced and we’ve screamed and we’ve cried. That’s a lot for nineteen years but I want more.
I want more snuggles on the couch in front of the fire with funny movies on the television. I want more bike rides. I want more floating afternoons in the pool with Bon Jovi blaring on the outdoor speakers. I want more pots of chili with pans of thick cornbread. That’s what 38 is for. And 42. And 68. And 77. And…
Time is tricky. Some days it lulls you into thinking you have plenty while other days you look back and wonder where it all went. I know lots of you will attest to that. I can attest to that. That’s another lesson I learned at 19. And then again at 38. And I imagine I’ll keep learning it for the rest of my life.
Oh, and Jenny had 19 bananas.