The day after I got back from sailing camp and two weeks before I was supposed to take the SATs, my uncle shot himself and my mother did these things, in this order:
1. Cut off seven inches of her hair. She chose a short bob, and it hung there, around her face, straight, thick, and black, like it was freshly ironed.
2. Walked in the front door, as if everything was the same, insouciant. My dad and I were sitting in the living room, he on the couch, me on the carpet doing vocab flashcards.
3. Dumped her rattle of keys into the shell that always sat on the front table.
4. Strolled over to our puke-green leather couch.
5. Gave my dad a perfunctory kiss.
6. Walked toward the kitchen. “Hey, what happened to your hair?” he yelled after her and jumped up to follow her into the kitchen. I stood and trotted after them both.
7. Answered, “Well, I got a haircut,” brusque, nonchalant.
8. Poured herself a glass of grapefruit juice. I sat on one of the stools near the marble island in the middle of our kitchen, watching them.
9. Turned to me, hair-ends swinging.
10. Said, “Your grandpa and Uncle Greg never wanted me to cut it.”
11. Glanced back at my dad to say, “’It’s the prettiest thing about you. Keep it long,’ that’s what they told me the whole time I was growing up. I always wanted it short.” I told her it looked good. I spun back and forth on the stool. I thought we were just talking about her hair.
12. Took a gulp of her juice. Dad leaned against the fridge by the kitchen door, one hand in his jeans pocket. He looked serenely concerned, the same face he made when he overdid it on the fast-forward button, trying to skip the commercials.
13. Finished her juice.
14. Looked at me and then at my dad.
15. Asked, “Did you finish your homework?” I told her I had.
16. Raised her left eyebrow at me. “Well except calc, I still have to do my calc problem set.”
17. Walked by me saying, “Okay, well, get to it, bug,” giving me two quick taps on the back.
18. “Hey, can I talk to you upstairs?” This was directed toward my dad as she left the room.
I didn’t hear her scream or cry upstairs, and that weekend I didn’t see her cry at the funeral either.
19. Ran the event like people say she runs her business. Quick, efficient, clean. Sell the houses, rent the houses.
20. Wore her sunglasses the entire time, including when we got in the Lincoln Town Car at the end.
21. Rolled down the window as we were pulling out of the cemetery. I could see the reflection of the clouds in her sunglasses, but I couldn’t see her eyes. We drove toward the reception. On the freeway the air picked up, blowing in her face.
22. Ran her flat-tipped fingers, the ends like rectangles, through her hair. They stayed there, tense at her breastbones, combing a few inches lower than where they should, like they could still feel the memory of where those dark filaments used to be.
Janet Frishberg lives in a light blue room in San Francisco. She’s currently editing her first book, a memoir. You can find her @jfrishberg, where she’s trying to tweet more consistently.
Lead image: “Funeral” (via Flickr user Daniel Lobo)