(From a line from a Marie Howe poem of that same name.)

Not the way I set my alarm for 5am so I could get up and make her coffee before she set off for 12 hours on the road. Not the way we sat across from one another at the kitchen table in the dark, her blond hair stuffed under a scruffy cap, her face unwashed, her glasses smudged.

Not the blue fish earrings she thought she had lost the day before. How she said she loved fish earrings, and that I didn’t know that about her, my own daughter. How I said whatever she thought she’d lost I would find.

Not the way I opened the iron gate for her car 10 minutes later, how I’d gone out into the yard, my loose pajama bottoms trailing in the dirt, a lit stick of sage in my hand as I walked around her car, blowing smoke on it to protect her from the road. How she stood in front of me, arms extended, eyes closed, so I could blow the smoke all over her, something my ex, her father always did to me when I’d leave the house for a trip. How I’d often roll my eyes that he believed a little sweet smoke could save me.

Not the memory of the day two weeks earlier when she drove to California from Boise, and had literally crawled in the bathroom window to surprise me, a plan she and Ruby had hatched a week before. How when I saw Zoe standing there, I sunk my head into her neck and mewled like a mother cat who’d lost and then found her kitten. How the four of us – me and the kids and their dad – stood there in the bathroom with our arms around each other. One family united, finally, during a pandemic.

Not the night that she and I cuddled on the couch, how she asked me whether I wanted to be the big spoon or the little spoon, how I said big because as much as I’d needed a bigger spoon these last few months, I wanted her to know that she could still rest in me.

Not the morning she and I got up early and headed to the hills to watch the sunrise. The way we sat on the old blue Pendleton blanket that her dad and I had gotten for our wedding, 29 years earlier. Not the way she and I sipped hot coffee and watched the city pop awake below us, light by tiny light.

Not the green shirt with sparkles in my drawer that caught her attention, the one I’d bought years ago to catch the attention of others. How something about the pandemic and these end of time days has me wanting to give my children everything that once brought me joy.

Not the family videos we watched. The way Mark always had music playing in the background when he trained the camera on the kids; Zoe silently painting her naked two-year-old body, then popping a wet paintbrush in her mouth. How as I watched, I knew what was coming; the mysterious illness that sent her to the hospital for a week, the divorce 16 years later, that she would leave home at 17, returning infrequently, preferring the Pacific Northwest to California. The pandemic.

Not the family meetings we had during those two weeks – the girls and Mark and me – talking about Mark moving out of state to make a new home with a new partner, Ruby leaving her San Francisco apartment to live with me for now, Zoe heading North, but with no permanent home or job, just some faith that things would work out, that there would be a vaccine eventually, and life would return to something recognizable. How I told them that I would be here, that this would be our home base if they needed to catch their breath.

Not the way Mark went around the house replacing lightbulbs, talking about earthquake kits, and getting up on ladders – a final act of kindness before he leaves town.

Not the way Ruby and I jokingly asked Zoe not to leave. How so many times during her two weeks with us, whenever we had a question about something, one of us would say, “Ask Zoe, she’ll know what to do.” And how she always did.

Not the morning she left, and I stood in the yard watching her car get smaller, the sweet smoke that enveloped me after she was gone.

Here’s Marie’s beautiful poem in full.

Listen to Laurie read the post here …

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