By Deborah E. Louis, Ph.D.
It is precisely because
Cherry blossoms scatter
That we find them appealing.
Does anything endure for long
In this world of sorrows?
– “Tales of Ise” 125
Mother was sitting at her Singer sewing machine nestled in the corner of our formal dining room when she called Alicia and me into the room.
“Girrlsss!” Her beckoning, soulful tone filled the hallways of our home.
To our mother’s loving New England voice, I, a ten year-old tomboy, and my sister, a twelve year-old genius and my hero, scampered from our peach-colored bedroom with twin beds placed against a beautiful and broad bay window where lightning bugs visited on warm, southern Texas nights. When we arrived, the reliable whirr of the sewing machine stopped. We hadn’t a clew of what she wanted: perhaps she would assign another Saturday chore of housecleaning, perhaps she would announce an upcoming evening event at which I could wear the new Easter dress that I had been allowed to wear only once, the delicate white fabric scattered with red cherry blossoms. She had not called for Jimmy, our little brother, so maybe it was just a girl thing, something about dinner fixings, a fitting, or maybe—a secret. She continued peering at the unmanifested fabric as she quietly said, “Girls, I need to tell you something. I have leukemia.”
What? What did she say? What . . . did . . . she . . . say? I stood there listening, but I didn’t hear. She didn’t cry, so I wasn’t afraid. She didn’t elaborate, so I didn’t understand. What was she telling me? What had to be for her and what should have been for me, a heart-wrenching revelation, was stated so matter-of-factly, that it felt like she was announcing a typical afternoon appointment or an errand to run, and Alicia and I would be expected to watch over Jimmy. And where was Dad? If this were really important, wouldn’t Dad be with her, with us?
I don’t remember what else she said, really. I only remember that spring was gone, summer had begun, a cool Saturday afternoon aired before me, and I should be out in it, riding my blue bike around the neighborhood or finding the tallest oak tree to climb.
It has been more than fifty years since that day, and I still seek the tallest oaks to climb; but, every once in a while I remember that afternoon. Like last night, after a memorable day at Pacifica Graduate Institute of Dr. Miller taking me “down and into” convex and concave mirrors, leading me forward and backward with images of Caravaggio and Picasso, of altered kaleidoscopes and rippled reflections, as I lay on my twin bed in the solitude of my private chamber, overlooking a garden where hummingbirds visit me on cool Santa Barbara nights, I cried for my mother’s comforting New England voice and the beautiful, scattered cherry blossoms.