I’ve been putting this most obvious sense off till last.
Visually – that’s how I remembered it, of course, an image in my mind. I could vaguely conjure up a tall brownish booklet with flowers in Mama’s desk drawer.
Visually – now that Mama’s address book is in front of me, on our table here in Brooklyn and I can open its floral covers and look inside – that’s also how it’s most painful to explore.
I find a patchwork of Mama’s angular handwriting – in ink and ballpoint, black and blue, spanning four decades.
But I find more than that.
Mama’s traces in her book have been annotated. Her address book was not regarded as hers alone. Not during her life, not after it. Maybe she didn’t even regard it that way, who knows.
My father’s handwriting crawls through Mama’s address book, letters like tiny black spiders. My initial intention was to ignore his marks. Pretend, for everyone’s sake, they weren’t there.
No matter that some are helpful (though mostly unnecessary) pointers for me, so I can better place a person.
No matter that some are even touching – like the posthumous entry by him of Dr. Gold, Mama’s last doctor, as underlined by my father, because Dr. Gold was one of the few good doctors Mama encountered during her illness.
I can appreciate these gestures.
How they are made is a different story.
To me they speak volumes: None of them unobtrusive pencil marks that could be erased. Nor post-its that could be taken out. No, this ink is permanent. Impossible to ignore.
He sent me her address book, yes, but not without first having left his mark.
It is not what I expected to find in a place as small and private as my dead mother’s address book.
Visually – up close – I search for her. Just her.