CAN'T GO BACK NOW
I found it on the day of my mother's funeral, tucked in a place she knew I would look. There it was, hanging with her favorite dress, the one I'd always wanted to wear.
"Someday when you are old enough," she used to say.
Is sixteen old enough?
After the last mourners left the house, Dad, my brother, Jim, and I began arguing about Mom's stuff--What were we going to do with it? Who got what? Dad wanted to get rid of everything and I wanted it kept exactly as she left it. After the yelling and the sad, alternating silences became too much, I ran off. Suddenly, I was at my mother's closet door, grabbing the cold black metal knob, turning it and walking inside, pulling it shut behind me, hearing the hard slam as I was eclipsed by darkness. I fumbled for the string to turn on the light and when my fingers closed around the knot at the bottom, I pulled. Tears sprang to my eyes with the illumination of the bulb and a wave of dizziness passed over me, too, and I collapsed onto the footstool Mom uses--no, used--to reach the higher shelves.
That's when I thought: this is a mistake.
Everything around me smelled of her--her perfume, her shampoo, her soap. Looking up from my crouch, knees pulled tight to my chest, I saw how her clothes were just there, as if she were still here, as if at any moment she might walk in, looking for a pair of jeans or one of her teacher smocks, splashed across the front with paint splotches. My gaze fell across skirts that would never be worn again, blouses and light cotton dresses that would likely be given away, her gardening hats in a big pile on a low shelf, everything colorful and bright, like the flowers in her garden and the wild, rainbow collages on the walls of her classroom--all except for one dress.
With my hands bracing the wall for balance, I stood up and waded through the shoes on the floor, shoving everything in my way aside, until I saw it: the dress made of night, in fabric that was the darkest of blues and dotted over with a million glittering specks of gold. My mother sometimes wore it for a walk on a summer's night or to sit in the pretty wire chairs in the middle of her rose garden, where, when I was little, she would read to me under a flowered sky.
Tied to its hanger was a baby blue ribbon, done up neatly in a bow and pulled through a small, perfect circle punched into a brown paper lunch bag. Big, sloping letters in my mother's hand marched across the front in blue marker strokes: Rose's Survival Kit.
My heart began to pound. Mom made Survival Kits for so many people during her lifetime--she was famous for them,but never before had she made one for me. I lifted the dress off the bar, the Survival Kit cradled in its midnight blue layers, and carried it out of her closet and down the hall to my room as if it were a body, gently laying it across the bed.
"Mom?" I whispered, first to the floor, then to the ceiling, then through the open window to the grass and the sky and the flowers in her gardens, as if she might be anywhere. A light summer's breeze snuck up behind me and caressed my cheek and again the word Mom expanded inside me, my attention drawn back to the Survival Kit that was just sitting there, waiting. The top of the bag was creased with a flap so sharp it looked as though she'd ironed it. My fingers fumbled with the fold, the crackle of the paper loud in the silence, when suddenly I stopped. My breath caught and my body shivered, and before I even glimpsed what was inside, I gathered everything into my arms, pressing it against me, and went to my closet. Gowns for homecoming and the prom vied for room among the stacks of folded jeans and sweaters and the cheerleading jacket I'd never worn. Quickly, I shut the dress away with everything else.
I closed my eyes tight. Someday I would be ready to open my Survival Kit, but not yet. It was too soon.
"Rose? Where are you?" Dad's voice rang through the now empty house, causing me to jump, startled. I'd forgotten I wasn't alone, that my father and brother--what was left of my family--were just down the hall.
"Yeah, Dad?" I called back, taking a deep breath and trying to steady myself.
"We need you in the kitchen."
"Okay! I'll be right there!" I shouted, and did my best to shove all thoughts about the Survival Kit away from my mind.
At least for now.