26 Nov 15
Hi! Just wanted to let you know I’m thinking of you and hope all goes well for December. Happy thanksgiving! X
27 Nov 15
Hey and I pray that this missive find you and yours filled with joy and peace on this day of Thanksgiving. I am always happy even when things aren’t going my way. I go up in January on the 6th day to be exact. Although the race is not to the swiftest but to the one that endures the most. I have been a endurer all my life. And I know without a shadow of a doubt that I am in good hands. You have a great day and send my love to the family. May God bless you take care.
I found the letter in a trunk in the attic when I was cleaning out.
Judith was highly organised. Highly organised. Almost obsessively so. Arranging matters after she died hadn’t actually been very complicated. Her papers were in order. She had pre-planned and pre-paid her funeral. Her will was clear, lodged with her lawyer, with her copy clearly marked in a file in her top desk drawer labelled ‘PAPERS FOR WHEN I DIE’. She wasn’t romantic or poetic, Judith. Direct is a generous description. Blunt is another. Anyway, the paperwork was easy to manage.
Likewise, her clothes. Judith was one of those classically conservative stylish women. She believed in a ‘capsule wardrobe’. And every January and every July, she boxed up ‘last season’, drove to Birmingham, dropped that off at the women’s shelter, went to Parisian (and, later, when Parisian closed to Saks), and bought ‘this season’. Streamlined. All I had to do was box ‘this season’ and put it to the side for when I next went to Birmingham.
The rest of the stuff was a bit more complicated.
I hadn’t lived in the house for years, decades. But Judith hadn’t changed much since I had left for college and, as much as I had wanted to believe I had turned my back on everything, I did find myself oddly attached to some of the furniture and paintings and even, god help me, some of the knick-knacks.
I decided to put the core of the house to the side and head to the attic. I reckoned that anyone as organised as Judith wouldn’t have an overly cluttered attack. That I could probably clear most of it in an afternoon, feel that I had accomplished something, and use that momentum to face the rest.
I was right.
There was barely anything in the attic. There wasn’t even that much dust.
I knew that every year Judith and LuLu would have a ‘good clear out’ and would clean the house top to bottom. And from the looks of the place, that was a tradition Judith had continued even after LuLu was gone.
Anyway, the attic was mostly clear.
There were a few boxes with things that had belonged to her husbands. Coats. Suits. Books. Degrees and diplomas. Watches. A pen and pencil set. A paperweight. I guess even Judith had been a wee bit sentimental. Even Judith couldn’t force herself to part completely with the last remnants of her men. Judith was a woman who didn’t like loose ends. She was a woman who took pride in taking care of herself. It must have irked her to know she was incapable of managing this last task.
Still. I had buried a husband. I knew there were things you couldn’t do yourself. Hell, I hadn’t actually even buried a him. Cremated. In a jar. With me always. Someone would have to toss my actual husband when it came time to clear out after me.
I was hardly going to begrudge Judith this last task.
The only other thing up there was a chest, pushed way to the back corner.
Judith had never surprised in all my time of knowing her. I learned very early on who she was and how she operated. I don’t think I would ever say that my childhood home was a loving one, but there was a degree of certainty that most children don’t have. There were no surprises.
The trunk was dusty, and rusted, and not cared for. My mind did that thing where for an instant I wondered if I’d open it up to find a skeleton or the mummified remains of a dog or maybe millions in Confederate dollars.
I think none of that would have surprised me as much.
Inside were baby clothes. A christening gown. Old yearbooks. Photos from infancy through college.
On top, there were two envelopes.
The smaller of the two was a faded letter, handwritten:
Dear Mrs Leevy
You don’t know me, I realise, but I am a very close friend of your daughter. She and I met a few years ago, at school, and I was struck at that time by her incredible spirit. That spirit drew me to her in a way that I’ve never otherwise experienced. I cherish her, and I cherish my friendship with her.
I’m sure that as her mother, you also cherish that spirit – that beauty, that intensity – and that you have known for far longer than I have that spirit that strong feels pain perhaps even more deeply than the rest of us do.
I fear this is the case now. I’m writing to you because I don’t know who else I can turn to. I know you and she have fallen out in the past. I know this is because you believe her behaviour is inappropriate and that you cannot condone her use of drugs and alcohol. I know this, and I understand this. But I believe I must tell you that your daughter is not well. Her health is deteriorating.
I also must tell you, and there is a possibility she will never forgive me for doing this, but I feel you must know – you have a grandchild.
It went on a bit longer. Contact details. An address. A telephone number. Signed by someone named Natalie Palmer.
The other envelope, the larger one, contained three documents: my birth certificate; the letter Judith had sent back to Natalie, returned, I presume, by my mother; and a letter from my mother.
Judith’s letter was brief:
Dear Miss Palmer
As you noted in your letter, I can in no way condone my daughter’s behaviour. I have told her on more than one occasion that if she wishes to be happy she must take control of her life. I believe the phrase often used at this point is that one must ‘hit rock bottom’ in order to regain control. I recommend you drop my daughter at the women’s shelter so she can experience what a life without control is like.
You can send the child to me.
My mother’s letter briefer still:
Her name is Billy. Tell her I’m dead.
Now, you’d be forgiven for believing this is where I start my search for my mother.
But this isn’t that book.