During my Spring Cleaning last week, I found a notebook. I’m sure you have a few of these in your boxes, too… class notes started in earnest but lost or abandoned for one reason or another. It’s always easier to keep the notebook intact, rather than tear out the useful pages, but you end up opening the box twenty years later and realizing you’ve been hauling around two dollars’ worth of spiral-bound blank paper, and it’s hardly been worth it, even on a calories-expended level.
I threw away a lot of my old class notes last week. It was tough, but once in the permanent Outbox, I didn’t miss them. The effect was virtually immediate.
Occasionally, something pops up in my collection that isn’t actually mine.
I opened this particular small notebook and found Chemistry notes. I’m always a little taken aback when I see my mother’s handwriting again… this was probably from the middle 1980’s, when, determined to not be home alone and craving mental activity, she began taking classes in the hope of obtaining a degree in marine biology. From the ground up.
This is the first page in the notebook, and there are only a few words on the second page, which reads “1907 Milligan – all electrons are identic” and then nothing more. It’s almost as if, before she could finish the word “identical”, she had a stroke… but that came in the winter of 1985 on a ski slope, not in a classroom.
As I said, a notebook with only a page or two occupied is not an uncommon thing, but I learned long ago to flip through blank pages just to be sure. Same goes for loaning books; you wouldn’t want a letter or old photo doubling as an improvised bookmark to go missing.
So I flipped through and was about to… but there on page 57 was something unique. My mother’s hand still present, but odd in tone and precision. Highly unlikely, but… could she have been drinking?
“I await the site of your car.
You said you would be here by 2
sure such is youth, it is 3:47 now.
It doesn’t really matter that much,
although?, in your relarench reflertion
referacnce, dinner is at 6:30 so
anytime before is OK.
And indeed it is, OK., but it has
quite such a short time
you’ve been away at school, if
“school” is what I can call college,
and I miss you so, you
aways breathe life into
yo my existence
& I truly miss yourselve, your life
pulse, your m–oic, your tempo.”
This is unlike anything I have ever seen my mother write. The misspellings, the line-throughs, and the poetic nature of it are unheard of. But there it is. I marveled at it, and having skimmed it over a few times, I assumed it was a late-night missive to my father, perhaps when they were young and in love.
Today it dawned on me that page 57 had to have come after page 1. That this particular loneliness had to have come after the attempt at chemistry. Drink did not affect her, but stroke or chemotherapy or some other treatment had. Or perhaps the treatment of her by her son, away from home and busy with women and jobs and a newer life, had the biggest effect of all.