She died of a heart attack. Face down on the kitchen table. The neighbor found her after a few days. She’s with Jesus now, my mother said. I feel sorry for Jesus, my father said. We kissed her forehead before they closed the casket. She was clammy, cold; I felt the heavy makeup on my lips. The casket was heavier than I expected. The walk from the hearse to the grave was long. I slipped on the wet grass. My brother shook his head at me. After we buried her my father’s boss grabbed my arm. Your father is the best man I’ve ever known, he said. I’m not sure why he said that. He’s a son of a bitch, my father said. My father died on a treadmill. He had a heart attack and hit his head. His boss killed him, my mother said. She moved to Idaho to be close to my brother and his kids. My parents met in Idaho at a wedding. She was the maid of honor; he was the best man. Aw, I heart that story, my girlfriend says. I heart that story so much. Two weeks after they met they were engaged. God wanted them to get married, he told her. She agreed with God. When my mother told her father he kicked a chair across the room and broke his foot. My company sent me to Zagreb, Croatia. I had enough pills for six months. There’s no such thing as mental illness, our pastor said. Only spiritual illness. Pray that you will love God more. I told my parents I wanted to die. I was sixteen. They sent me to a homeopathic doctor. I told them after we got back from my grandmother’s. On the way back there was a woman screaming for help on the side of the road. She’d driven her car off the road and flipped it. She’d been standing in the dark for hours. No one had stopped. She was crying and kept saying, Thank you, thank you. It was the Day of the Dead. I was sitting in a bar in Zagreb. I should light a candle for them. In the cathedral. After I finish my drink. My father and grandmother used to argue. You never say you love me, my grandmother said. Yes, I do, my father said. No, you never say that. I’ve never heard you say that. I must have done something wrong when my only child doesn’t say he loves me. I love you, grandma, I said. Aw, my girlfriend says. That’s so sweet. I get that tightness in my chest. That tingling in my arm. That shooting pain in my back. It’s heartburn, I think. I should visit their graves. When I get back to the States I’ll go. The last time I saw my grandmother she was intubated, a tube down her throat. I held her hand as she struggled to pull it out. The doctors didn’t see her Do Not Resuscitate Order. She would’ve died, my mother said. My mother sends a care package. Inside, Honey Nut Cheerios (“Heart Healthy”), homemade cookies, peanut butter, dill pickles, and a romance novel. I open to a random page: “Jean-Pierre followed me into the room. What are you doing here? I said. My mother will be back in a minute. He put his finger to my lips. Do not speak, he said. He closed the door. He grabbed me in his arms and kissed me. My heart was racing. His kiss was passionate but tender. He ripped my blouse off. The buttons seemed to twirl in slow motion through the air. Could this be happening? Now? When I was going to be married in three hours? To Kevin? Jean-Pierre ripped the rest of my clothes off. He was ferocious, an animal. I was naked. He was naked. Jean Pierre! I said. He kissed me again as if to answer my protests and pushed me further onto the bed. I knew it was wrong but I couldn’t stop. His touch on my naked body was exhilarating. With each caress, I felt more alive. It was never this way with Kevin. I had been dead before. Jean-Pierre was resurrecting me. Oh God, I moaned. Oh, Jean-Pierre! Oh, God!”
One day I woke up and pretended not to remember my mother and father. I refused to get out of bed. I was a poet, that’s all I knew. My mother came in. She was wearing her usual denim skirt and blouse buttoned up to her chin. That was my uniform too, how everyone in our little community of homeschoolers had to dress. My mother used to be pretty—I had a picture of her I took from an old photo album and kept hidden in my poetry notebook. She was young and beautiful and had long black hair and was wearing a man’s button down shirt, the top three buttons undone so you could see a glimpse of her bra. Very seductive, my mother. But when she asked Jesus into her heart, Jesus asked her to wear ugly and uncomfortable clothing.