Holding Patterns

The line between denial and acceptance is porous

Kate Newby, I screamed “i was there!!”. 2019, glass. 15 1/2 × 10 1/4". Courtesy of the artist and the lumber room, Portland.

My grandmother calls me every Saturday around the same time, between ten o’clock and eleven o’clock in the morning. Actually, she should be calling me soon, but this time I’m not going to answer—my phone is in the other room. My grandmother lives in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, so far north she’s in the Eastern Time Zone, although her house is west of Chicago. We usually talk about politics—out of everyone in the family, the two of us are the most left-wing—or about the weather, but now the weather is political, too. “There’s no such thing as winter anymore,” my grandmother says. “There’s only fall, late fall, and late late fall, followed by early early spring, early spring, and spring.” When she talks about it more seriously, she adds, “I’m glad I won’t be alive to see what happens.”

Though my grandmother is young, or at least young for a grandmother (73), her health is the subject of some conversation between me and my aunt, my father’s sister. Her relentless pragmatism, coupled with an unwillingness to get old, can be, at times, distressing. She has no impulse toward self-preservation; her attitude is to let nature take her when it takes her. To her, the whole apparatus devoted to keeping people alive is unnatural and full of denial. My aunt always thinks that my grandmother should go get something checked out, that her life is not solely her own, that it partially belongs to the people around her. I, on the other hand, cannot imagine her in a hospital, even when she’s had surgery. In my mind’s eye, she simply gets up out of the hospital bed and walks out, the same way she announces, after a slow cup of coffee in the morning, that she is about to “spring into action” before launching herself out of the chair into the day’s activity.

Last week, I had a dream that she called me—a usual Saturday morning affair. The dream was realistic: it was early early spring, cold, and I was just returning to my apartment after running some errands. She had called to let me know that she was planning a physician-assisted suicide, opting out of the process of death, electing simply to die. “It’s only going to get worse and worse from here,” she said. “I can see it all before me.” She had talked it over with her doctor, the decision was made. The feeling in the dream was of a sentence being handed down for nothing: as though she were K, in The Trial, only she was braver than K and had sentenced herself, and I was the one facing a black box of bureaucracy. I was not allowed to see into the decision, only to accept it without understanding. I said, “OK.”

This dream was not about my grandmother, primarily. My mother is closer to death, and refusal of chemotherapy has been on and off the table. Likewise, I have been accepting what my mother tells me without any direct knowledge. She will say, “My numbers are up,” without my knowing what numbers she’s talking about. She will tell me which treatment she chooses, and I will not know if there are other options. I have not tried to get her a second opinion; the thought didn’t even cross my mind.

In my dreams, I think I can conquer death.


When I speak to friends about this, or rather, when they ask me normal questions that normal people would know the answers to, and for which I have no answer, I worry I look irresponsible. I defend myself against imagined criticism: I am more present in other, less pragmatic ways, which would be difficult and sentimental to list here.

The black box: the room where she and the doctor sit and discuss, where she learns things about her body I’m sure she doesn’t fully understand and cannot completely relay. Inside the black box are the results of bloodwork, the varying levels of enzymes, the possibility of gene therapy, the physical exam, the side effects—all the data points, adding up to a tortured semblance of understanding of what will happen next, how long she will live. There is more input into the black box than output; many factors go into the decision of what treatment course to take, at what level of intensity, but only the decision is spewed out. The only thing I hear is: weekly chemotherapy through an IV. The black box is dense with facts; the body is crowded with tumors.

In turning away from knowing what’s inside, I surrender control to the collusion between my mom and the doctor. Or it could be the other way around: lacking control, I don’t even try for knowing. (I’m not sure if knowing is the input and control is the output, or vice versa.) Maybe later, I will think it was irresponsible of me, a latent fantasy that if I do not know for sure, it could turn out not to be true. Right now, I’m a bit righteous about it; I pride myself on dealing only with the emotional component. Knowledge, I tell myself, is a coping mechanism, and I refuse all coping mechanisms on principle. To deny knowing the details is my own form of acceptance. Or to put it another way: the line between denial and acceptance is porous.

Of course, I’m not so passive as all that—my subconscious tells otherwise. Two nights after the dream of my grandmother, I dreamt (I was in a spate of dreaming) I was hiking with my parents in a valley. It was so dark that everything looked gray, with trees as darker shapes and rocks as light shapes. Ahead of us, suddenly, we saw a pair of glowing red eyes amid the gray. We thought it might be a bear but realized it was a mountain lion, and it had seen us. The three of us ran as fast as we could up one of the sides of the valley and found a watchtower made of stone with an apartment in it. No one was in the apartment, but it was very well stocked. The mountain lion arrived soon after, prowling at the door, which was made, for some reason, of plexiglass: the bulletproof kind in jails and twenty-four-hour bodegas. I found, in the kitchen, a cleaver, which I broke off from the handle so it was like a razor on both long edges. I cracked open the door and bounced it, like a toy, and the lion, like a dog, caught the fragment and was instantly cut. Blood was produced from the back of its mouth, so much that I worried I had killed it, but mouth wounds heal quickly. The mountain lion, which had collapsed, got up, and was a changed being. I had made it submissive. In my dreams, I think I can conquer death.

A group can sit around forever and not do anything. “What should we do? What should we talk about?” Sometimes, when I go on dates with my boyfriend, we look at each other across the table and are at once paralyzed and bored, neither of us wanting to introduce a new topic, both of us wanting the other to have an important problem or a philosophical thought. So we wait for each other, and hope the other will do the work of making the experience good.

Perhaps we feel hesitant because we’re exposed, sensing ourselves—a hetero couple sitting across from each other—repeated in an unwavering pattern across the floor plan. Being one couple in a series can make me shy. None of the other couples appear to have anything to say, either. We aren’t ourselves but representations of ourselves, performing conversation and consumption. “What should we talk about?” gives way to “What should we order?” (Again, we expect the other to answer.)

I want to demonstrate it for you more clearly. We’re sitting in the restaurant, and I have an air of sad expectation. I revert to silence, which is the most basic form of agreement, of disallowing any distance to emerge between the two of us. Oliver tells me he’s thinking about quitting a group he’s a part of. I am relieved. The group has the right intentions, but something about their process has always seemed off. I support their goals—basically good political goals—but I’ve never been able to get on board with the optimism that political work requires. I say, Bernie’s too old, and my statement is both true and disappointing. I disappoint myself by saying it. Oliver doesn’t seem to need to say that sentence to himself. But now the group’s affinity for internal drama is getting to be too much; it always knocks its knees as soon as it’s getting started with real work, preferring meetings to protests. They are a group that always says, “This is what we want to do,” and the pleasure is in announcing intention.

A couple months ago, I went to one of their meetings. Beforehand I’d asked whether, at the meeting, we would talk about a big piece of policy that had passed that week. They told me that that day’s agenda was full, the scheduled presenters had been waiting for months, and they would arrange something about the policy for a future meeting. To me, this was an unforgivable mistake; it’s more important to talk about what’s at the top of everyone’s mind than to honor the hours spent making PowerPoints. Oliver is losing faith that they will spring into action; I think the group has a lot to fight for, but it’s not personal enough for any of them.

In psychoanalysis, I often run out of things to say. “What can I talk about?” I ask. An absurd question, because the things to speak about are infinite. I reach some kind of barrier, a wall I can’t jump over, into another thought. “If we’re done talking about your mind,” my analyst once responded, “let’s talk about your body.” Oliver gets up from the table and goes to the bathroom, complaining of abdominal pain.

The body has a lot to say about the general mood. One person in a group may say they have a headache, and half the group admits to having one, too. A headache is the keeping still of something that wants to move: thoughts, or electric impulses, that are not allowed to jump freely. I fantasize that my mother got cancer because, for years, she didn’t change things that she wanted to change. Instead, she kept things still. When she was first diagnosed, I avoided touching or moving my own breasts, and they got sore with stiffness. The way that molecules of ice strengthen themselves by stiffening their bonds so that they are held together with straight lines, rather than wobbly ones.

A couple’s ambivalence can be held between two people: we both feel a little of each side, but one person is yes, and the other one no. When we first started dating, we said, We’ll date for a long time, and then we started on that long time right away. Back then, we thought maybe we would get married on our fifth anniversary. That was tonight, and neither of us brought marriage up. This is part of why I was silent, but I gave myself away by crying. When we left the restaurant, I still hadn’t clearly said why.

My friend Timothy has a genius way of teaching his students to write. He assigns them three hundred words about something or other and writes alongside them, in class. One student writes a particularly lame essay. It’s written very neatly, sentence after sentence with no cross-outs. Unrevised sentences are like molecules of ice; they form a suit of armor by being recited, one after another, holding experience in. Timothy shows the student his own copy, which has a million cross-outs and carrots and a doodly diagram in one corner. “Make it look like this,” he says, waving his hand around his own piece of paper, and the student automatically becomes a better writer. The stiff bonds holding the sentences in neat order are dissolved, and the student’s writing flows like water to fill the cave of the reader’s imagination.

I keep going back and revising this story, hoping that the tensions that hold us still in our relationship will dissolve. I walk past the restaurant a couple weeks later to see the orange color of the light again. If I can understand the things in myself that make me prefer silence to talking, I think, things will change of their own accord. This piece of writing is not meant to preserve a moment for posterity, but to take a memory of a dead moment and make the timbre of that experience speak through it, like a microphone.

I had to stop myself from bringing my paints with me. They were one thing too many. I was already bringing a suitcase full of things. I packed gym shoes and slippers and two books and had thoughts about three essays I wanted to work on. I was driving up, so I could bring as much as I wanted. But instead I brought fewer T-shirts than I needed and didn’t pack the paints. Something was keeping me from allowing myself total comfort. I wanted to build into my trip an experience of lack; it was a way of acknowledging the seriousness of the situation I was about to enter.

Also, I find that things (especially pieces of art) always turn out better when you find yourself unprepared, when you have to work with what you’ve got. In the past, when I was more anxious than I am now, I used to feel like I had to clean my apartment before I could get any work done. Now I understand that work is never done in a clean apartment. To get anything done you have to carve out a corner of the messy apartment and hide there, inside the mess. To be fully prepared is to avoid reacting in the moment; by definition, when you’re prepared, you’ve done the emotional work in advance.

When I’m at my parents’ house I usually paint more than I write, because I can only write in solitude, and my parents are always around. Painting is sufficiently coded. No one can look over my shoulder at my painting in progress and see anything that they could hold against me later. A bad brushstroke cannot offend the same way a bad sentence can. It cannot reveal much, either, besides emotion and skill. It’s a way to show something of yourself without showing anything that’s happened to you, to let the pressure out of hardened veins without blood.

The paints were a Christmas gift from my mother—acrylics, one of the most confusing gifts she’s ever given me. She has always derided acrylics, preferring watercolors and oils, but told me she thought I could “mess around with them.” She said, “You’ve always liked mixing with white,” a practice she’s discouraged. I couldn’t tell if the gift was an act of derision—relegating to me something she herself detests—or acceptance, freely offering me the opportunity to be something she doesn’t totally approve of. I sent her a New Year’s card with an image of an orange made using these paints. She claims to have liked it.

When I was a kid my dad used to leave me alone at home, so that I could learn to marinate in solitude. When no one else is home, he said, one’s soul is able to expand to fill the space. If someone else is home, one’s soul is delimited. I’ve been thinking about this proposition for twenty years, and I find it is, on a physical level, true. When I am alone, the wind rustling a plant in another room becomes like my own fingertip sensing a change in my extended body. I derive a hormonal pleasure from distant sounds.

Another thing I learned from my mother: that people have a tendency to keep working on sections of a painting that are already done simply because they enjoy pushing paint around those areas. But in doing so they run the risk of ruining the good areas by overworking them—and avoiding the incomplete and difficult parts of the canvas.

I’ve been overworking the solitude. I hide from myself and I pretend too much. I think I am Susan Sontag; I write down only my most aphoristic thoughts. If I write about someone I know, I don’t use their name, just in case. These things don’t even make sense to me when I reread them. They read as desperate and exaggerated, pure emotion stripped of actual experience. To counteract this tendency, I must imagine myself writing in a small room, or in a crowded house. I have to channel specific feelings into specific words, rather than abstracting them. This time I came prepared to lose some of my pretense, like a truck on the highway, encrusted snow peeling off as I gain speed.

My own embalmed composure makes me feel like I’m lying to people, that my mother isn’t as sick as she really is.


When I arrived, after ten hours of driving, my mom seemed healthier than I expected she would. I expected her to seem frail, to remind me with the stiffness of her movements that I haven’t been with her for a month. Her hair is beginning to fall out again, but there’s more color in her cheeks, and her numbers are better. This morning, she asked me to think about what to do with “the body” (not “my body”) and I didn’t feel upset—we were speaking in the third person about things that felt suddenly distant. She asked me to think about whether I would like to have a “place to go” after she dies. She’s asking, obliquely, if she should be buried or cremated. My father, it seems, does not want a place to go. In light of what I’ve learned—that the concreteness of experience, not thought, is the basis of communication—I would very much like a place to go.

My parents didn’t take much notice of what I was reading this trip—which was unusual, since both of them have a tendency to pick up the books I bring with me and spend a few minutes trying to divine who I am. This time, I left the book (Thomas Bernhard’s Extinction) in plain view, on the armchair next to the woodstove, but they barely noticed it. Maybe they read the back cover and decided not to persist. It is about the death of two Nazi-sympathizing parents and their loathsome heir, and the return of their second son, a humanist, to the estate he never expected to control.

We’re processing what’s happening in our own ways. My dad has been sitting on the couch watching TED Talks about death. A confident woman in a black dress and cowboy boots talks about the experience of shaving a corpse. The easy way she speaks about it seems to be part of an effort to normalize death—to encourage our involvement with the bodies after the people have died. My dad fixates on what to do with my mom’s body. He wants her to be cremated—this is how it’s been, in his mind’s eye, since she got sick: he and I will release the ashes ourselves into the cove in front of our house. On my second day back, he forces my mom and me to go to the funeral home to look at how much being buried costs. In the winter, I learn, you must be embalmed, because they can’t bury you until spring. If you die in the spring or the summer, someone tells us, they can bury you without a coffin, wrapped in a blanket.

Everyone says I’ve been handling things excessively well: that my thoughts are organized and “if it was me, I’d be a mess.” Sometimes I don’t know where my feelings are going. I don’t think they’re really gone, and I wish I weren’t holding it together so well. My own embalmed composure makes me feel like I’m lying to people, that my mother isn’t as sick as she really is. (I present this problem to my analyst, who suggests that, when people ask how my mother is, I say something simple like, “I’m worried for her.”) The other day, feeling content after her numbers improved for the fourth consecutive chemotherapy treatment in a row, she asked the doctor about the possibility for remission. He was shocked she would ask.

I’m embarrassed by my own need to act normally, which I excel at. It no longer feels good to excel. I’m embarrassed when I grasp the crochet pattern more quickly than my mother, but I can’t stop myself showing off anyway. I make three in the time it takes her to make one. I worry this will make her sad. When I was a kid, she cried because I kept beating her at video games.

At the diner, I find myself embarrassed by the confused way my mom orders her lunch. I feel like I’m lording my social health over her. When the waitress asks her what kind of bread she wants her sandwich on, she seems paralyzed and helpless, repeating “Ummm . . .” over and over again, blinking in her doe-y way, unable to answer, but unable to articulate why she’s stuck. She never knows the right question to ask. I have a flashback to the first time she met Oliver, at my apartment in Boston. She was exhausted, and I was serving her dinner. From across the room, she feebly raised her arm and said, “Fork.” Oliver recalled this moment later, remarking on how childlike she was, in asking for the thing she lacked with a single, hopeful word. Ummm. The waitress realizes that she needs the full list of options.

We all hate our parents for not acting as we would, and my hatred in this moment is particularly intense. When she plays the victim, I end up playing the parent, and I am boxed into the role of keeping up appearances. I can’t figure out how to break out of it—to authorize myself to not function—to be sad in a way that is disruptive. To do that would be to take the starring role in my mother’s sickness. I want someone to recognize that what I need is a dog bed to loll in, day in and day out. At another time, the person who would have bought me the dog bed was my mother—the witness to the child’s suffering. Now, she is the star, and I the coddler. When our food comes, she gets exactly her order and they fuck mine up.

I have an easier time with my parents inside the house than outside it. Inside, I can allow them their strangeness, adapt to it—outside, I cannot tolerate them. Picture two universes, disconnected from each other. One is the universe of the self, and the other is the universe of the outside world. To connect the two, wrote a Benedictine monk, you need a building. A building introduces the self to the world, and vice versa. It breaks up the infinity of space and provides a vessel for the individual to exist in the world. My friend Andrew told me this.

This week my dad told me a parable he made up recently. It also has two universes. One is the universe we live in, and the other houses a godlike being that can influence our universe only in the tiniest moments of quantum decision-making. I won’t tell you the rest because it ends in my father’s crazy idea that God is justifying the white race’s genocide of others. Inside the house, this kind of parable merely annoys me because it’s not a very good parable. It doesn’t suggest anything about how to act.

I run into Naomi, my old TA, on Broadway. It’s raining a little, and cloudy, but in a way that ushers in spring warmth. She asks me how I am. I’m OK, pluses and minuses. She says, What are the pluses. I hold my breath for a second, and laugh. I can’t think of any. Work has been chaotic. She asks if I have any time off coming up, and then I say what I have been avoiding saying since we started speaking: that my mom is sick, that all my free time goes toward visiting her. It’s the only answer I have when anyone asks me how I am, even though, day by day, I rarely think of it.

Naomi has such a great face and is aging enormously well. She looks alert, listens quietly, begins speaking slowly, and then accelerates so quickly that she’s speaking faster than the mechanism of her mouth. She skips words and interrupts herself with nervous laughter, a slightly cupped extended hand doling out invisible pieces of fruit, or sheets of paper. She tells me about her mother’s cancer scare, and how she just wanted to push her mother away at the end of it. She laughs, nervously, and makes an arm’s length gesture. She tells me her mother lives in Northampton; I’m curious—my analyst has just moved there, and I’m piqued by the coincidence. “She got one of those books, the ten best places to retire, and went to, like, three of them. Plus, it’s full of gay, middle-aged women, which reminds her of me.”

We’re standing on the street—she had been finishing a piece of chocolate while walking—and now we’re stuck there, suspended. I wish I could do something for you, she says, or maybe “I wish I could give you something.” She makes a gesture with her arms like birthing, or sliding something across the invisible table, palms toward the sky. I say, It’s nice to run into people on the street and talk—as if that’s enough. She says, Well, let me know if you want to have a drink or a meal.

Walking back to work, I think, I don’t want to sit across from her at a restaurant. I want to sit on the same side of the table. I want her to invite me over to her apartment, and I want to lie down on her couch, and she’ll make me tea and my vision will be fuzzy and she’ll stroke my hair. I feel like I’ve just run into my mother.

I always liked Naomi. When she was my TA she talked about the “quivery” feeling one gets in a state of intellectual excitement. I haven’t felt that in a little while: when you’re reading or writing, and something is in the process of breaking open. There are some people you meet, and you feel like you could go through your whole life having them at your side, holding your hand. That’s how I felt when I met Oliver. When we held hands the first time, in the bitter cold, walking over a bridge, I didn’t think it was necessarily romantic. It just felt like we were on the same side of the table. I suppose that’s another way of saying certain people make you feel unalone. I wonder what will happen to this feeling when my mother dies: will I still be searching for her everywhere?

I invite three people over for dinner. I buy bird-of-paradise flowers. They haven’t yet come out of their stubborn, beak-like buds. The man at the flower store shows me how to crack the beaks open so the plumage can emerge. They turn out to be large and somewhat menacing on the coffee table, breaking the room into awkward triangles. My guests arrive, and I’m silent almost the entire time. I can’t find my way in.

My dad tells a story about my mom. They were swimming together in Lake Michigan, after the sun had just set, so there were no lifeguards, and they could swim out to the buoys that marked the end of the sandbar. My mom swam out ahead of him, and then stopped swimming forward, treading water, far past the point where her feet could touch the bottom. She was staring at the horizon. My dad says he saw something in her eyes, some kind of suicidal resignation, and had to pull her back toward shore. This story was used to illustrate the depths of what we (he and I) don’t understand about my mother.

I can understand this better than most things about my mom. When I want to be alone, I close my eyes and imagine myself plunging into a pool. Other people have a way of inhabiting my mind. I get their voices, and lines from my conversations with them, lodged in a nook, providing voice-over for everything that happens to me. Under the surface, with the heaviness of water on all sides, it is impossible to imagine myself combined with someone else. My mind, temporarily, unmerges. The cost of the clarity found in this solitude is nihilism: a recognition of death—from the feeling of drowning—and the sense that everything is arbitrary. From this, I derive a perverse sense of power, as if all the details of my life are laid out in front of me like a deck of cards, which I have the power to reshuffle. Last night, I turned my back to Oliver and imagined myself plunging.

Dream: I’m at home in the apartment where I grew up. My mom is cooking artichokes on an electric stove by pouring oil directly onto the burners and charring the leaves individually, creating a huge pile of green and brown, red and black. I’m sitting at the kitchen table. She reveals to me, suddenly, that she’s been an alcoholic for forty years, and that’s why her liver is full of tumors now. (I read recently that alcoholics have an easier time tolerating chemo.) I bolt away from her, like a magnet repelled at close range. I run out the kitchen door, barefoot, all the way down the wooden porch structure, to the basement. It is pouring rain, and muddy. A woman who lives in the building sees me and pulls my wet arms, coaxing me back upstairs. Back in the apartment, I ask my mom what her drink of choice is—I have no idea, she’d totally hidden the drinking from me. She says she mostly drinks vodka from water bottles—the half-size ones, like the kind she gets for free at the cancer center. She points in the direction of the bathroom, where my dad is taking a bath. “He has a drinking problem too,” she says. “But I’m much worse.” My dad comes into the kitchen, wearing only a towel, his skin red and inflamed from the heat of the bath.

I woke up into a rare New York thunderstorm and got up to close the windows on the south side of our apartment. The version of my mother in the dream was not her, it was some demonic version, snakelike and seething, her soft stoicism lost to desire and vice. Already, in the dream, I was rewriting my childhood with a new storyline—my mother as an alcoholic. Leave it to me, I thought to myself as I lay back in bed, to connect my vague, unexplained unhappiness as a child to her illness now: imagining that there was some invisible force, unbeknownst to me, that kept my parents aloof from me, wrapped up in themselves—and that was now coming back to poison her.

In April, I went with my mother to pick out a spot in the graveyard in her town. She had received a map by mail, after calling in—a photocopy of a drawing done by hand, showing the available empty plots, $400 each. Unlike the trip to the undertaker’s, where a woman who looked comically embalmed—stiff hair, heavily powdered skin, as though she had come to envy the look of the dead—hurriedly talked us through various financial options, and unlike the trips to the hospital, where young nurses do their curls in ringlets and move around a lot to suggest youth, but really just suggest the irrelevance of most of their superficial efforts, social and medical, the cemetery was inoffensive. It was there, and we came to it. It did not impose itself on us.

In moments of clarity, there’s nothing to work on, nothing to process.


The weather had been foggy all week. We pulled the car in on the gravel road between graves and crept along in first gear. We would survey two general areas: one in the back, near where she, her neighbor—Eleanor—and I had picked blueberries last summer, plants that had overflowed from the field next to the cemetery, and one closer to the road, from which point you can see a familiar mountain. My mother and I had come here once to try to see a meteor shower. My mom said that Eleanor had been nicer to her since she realized they’d be buried in the same cemetery. We passed Eleanor’s husband’s grave—she’ll be buried next to him—and came to a stop.

A flock of turkeys was stepping among the graves. It’s hard to overstate how comforting this was, that the graveyard was crawling with life. We turned off the car to listen to their gurgling sounds. There were a couple of males, strutting with their back feathers unfurled in amorous display. One had a face and neck that was an otherworldly pale blue. My mom whispered to me to get out of the car, walk around to the flock’s side, and try to get a photo. They collapsed their feathers and walked away from me, not running but somewhat urgent. But I think I got some of the gurgling on video.

Last week, I had my final phone session with my analyst before she began her maternity leave. I described to her some situation, as I have described many situations before, and then fell silent. I said, I don’t know why I don’t have anything more to say about this. She commented that whenever I feel like I can see things clearly, I grow defeated. Yes, I said. In moments of clarity, there’s nothing to work on, nothing to process. It’s a sense of calm that translates into nothing: no expression, no emotion, no action, no art.

The gravesites, the fog, all the American flags, the turkeys, my videos. I cannot differentiate between the peace of such a place—the sense that I can hold it all in mind at once—and that familiar sensation of defeat. Both feelings produce in me a loss for words. I got back into the car and we looped around the top of the cemetery to look at the spots. My mother was planning a headstone, too, from a local sculptor. I asked her what she would put on it. She said, “Maybe just”—and then made a motion with her hands like she was designing a marquee—“‘thank you for my beautiful life.’” On the way out, the road became abruptly unpaved and unclear, and she had to make several sharp turns, the manual car rolling down the hill. I had to laugh; she may have driven over someone’s grave. The turkeys had exited the scene.

She bought two plots this week—one for her, and one for my father. She was cheery, as if now that she had gone through the stress of buying her plot, she could finally enjoy it. “Sweetie,” she said, “now we can begin decorating.”

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