>In 11 years, this man will come looking for me. He will look for me because I am my mother’s daughter, and because I look just like her. That’s not something I could have acknowledged when she was alive. I loathed her, if you want to know the truth. The way she hiccuped, said heh-choo-ah when she sneezed, walked with a slight waddle, picked her lips with her tiny fingernails, the polish chipped off. Always chipped off. I’m in better shape than she was when I hated her, which started when I was around 12. She was 33 then. I am 33 now and I have no children. I will, but I have to make sure of some things first.
I hear her in my sneezes now. And she’s all over the things I like: Fleetwood Mac, dirt under my nails from the garden, the smell of the ocean, cilantro. Once, I was in the shampoo aisle of Walgreens when this Fleetwood Mac song came on. It’s cheerful, it’s about love. Lindsay Buckingham’s guitar, soaring and swaying like the palm trees of the Southern California beach cities I grew up in. I heard that guitar and I began to cry. Cried so hard I had to close my eyes and pinch my nose with my fingertips so no one could tell. Like my mother. I’m fine.
The last time I saw her, she was burned to ash. I poured it into a creek in the desert. The sky was dark with clouds, so the water was grey and still—so still, that she just spread out in white clumps. I have a photo of it that I took with her camera. She looks like a galaxy.
Before that, she was a waxy face with lifeless hair. I told the undertaker to close the lid and then I nearly told him that I loved him.
Before that, she was covered by a blanket. I only saw her hand. The pictures they showed at the trial have it caked with brown blood. I was confused, stuttering up there on the stand. That’s not what I saw, I said. In the picture in my head, her hand was always clean and pink, her fingernails tiny and free of polish. It was a nicer image than the real one. It seems that in the absence of a mother, you will protect yourself from the dark.
So the man. He is in prison for 11 more years. He is not crazy, or especially dim-witted, nor dangerously smart. He was an unemployed meth-head with a history of domestic abuse. My mom was a fighter and a drinker. It was only a matter of time. That’s what the defense attorney and I agreed on, in the stairwell, where no one else could hear. My grandma and the DA were angry with me for talking to him in the cafeteria, where the jury could see. They didn’t care about probability, her family. They said he was pure evil. They said this about the public defender. About the man who killed her, they said he was just an asshole. This is how my mom’s folks are.
I have been thinking about writing to him. (Not the public defender; the man who killed my mother.) His name is Junior. Swear! You’d think we lived in the Deep South. But we lived in California, on the beach, surrounded by million-dollar houses and salons and Coffee Bean and Tea Leafs and she’s killed by her boyfriend named Junior. While cutting fajitas. That’s how he justified the knives, anyway. I believe him on that one. She did love fajitas.
When I tell the men in my life I want to write to him, they get very defensive. The men in my life are my fiancé, my brother, my friend who was with me when I found her, and my writing teacher. The fiancé, brother, and friend say they worry about the emotional toll it will take on me, inviting this troubled man into my life. The writing teacher says it will make great material. But he only says this after he says he worries about the emotional toll it will take on me.
I have told them all it doesn’t matter. In 11 years he will find me. He will want my forgiveness. I do not know what I will feel by then. What if I can’t give it to him? Can I live with his suicide? His poverty, rejection, and homelessness? Can I save him by forgiving him? Also, in 11 years, I will be 44. The age my mother was when he met her. I will be the spitting image of her. I will not sleep well that year.
People say things like they hope Junior will “get it in the ass” in prison. They say they hope he rots in there. They say he might get shivved, or shanked, or whatever can happen with homemade weapons in prison. When I think about this, I want to write to him.
I wrote a short story about him before the trial. In it, I followed him around at prison as an objective third party. I referred to him as “the man” and gave him very few feelings and thoughts. At the end, I showed up as a character and asked him what my mother’s last words were. People didn’t like that I was so minimal with him. They wanted to know what he was feeling. I said How could they know when he doesn’t even know? They said that it seemed like I was afraid to go there, as the writer. I said, No, he’s afraid to go there.
A year after I wrote that story, he told me her last words, at the trial. He said they were I’m Sorry. I knew it would be something like that. I knew because I sound exactly like her when I sneeze, and I am sorry for everything. Telling a joke wrong, writing a terrible sentence, feeling depressed, Darfur, litter, euthanized dogs, Polar Bears disappearing, Junior rotting in prison. My grandmother sniffled in the hallway at recess. Can you believe that asshole says she was sorry? Of course I can.
I figured that if I wrote to him, I would have access to his feelings. Or at least I would know if I was right; that he didn’t even know his own feelings. That the level of denial he had to submerge himself in just to get by would have to be such that her name and face would become ruins, crumbling and chipping away like the polish of her nails. And if it disappeared, he would leave me alone. He’d stumble into the sunlight in 11 years, blink twice, and start over. He would not need my forgiveness, nor need to see my face. We might both be free then. My letters would remind him, even though the jagged squiggles of my writing would be so different from her graceful loops. She was right-handed, I am left. She was slow, I am quick. She gave up. But we would both have done this. Written to him. We would both start the letter the same way. We would both begin with I’m Sorry.