Twenty Years Ago Today

My mother, Kathleen Ann (Killebrew) Leverett died on Sunday, November 2nd, 1997, while I was at college. My father called me, and I came home, where he told me the news. He met me outside, since, by the time I’d gotten home, the rest of the family had arrived at the house, and he wanted to tell me in private, before I dealt with them. The rest of that day, with a few exceptions, is a blur.

Today, as I look out the window at the blue, blue sky and white, fluffy clouds, too pretty and dispersed to threaten a storm, I am reminded of November 2, 1997. A Sunday. I found my father outside, in our backyard in Bakersfield, CA. It was chilly, but not cold, sometime in the early afternoon, I think. The sky was blue and crisp, like today, but I don’t remember any clouds. When I asked him what he was doing out there, he told me “I wanted to know what kind of day it was, when your mother died. It’s a pretty day. A very pretty day.” He started to cry again, and I did too.

That same day, I wondered what I would be feeling twenty years from then. That same question has bubbled up every now and again–what will I feel when it has been twenty years? On that Sunday in 1997, it seemed impossible that day would ever arrive.

On a Thursday in 2017, that twenty years seemed like it took more than a million, and like the leap forward in time was less than an instant.

I’ve done a lot since then–graduated college, got my PhD, got a job, published academic work, published fiction, got tenure, wrote a few novels, got married, published a novel, wrote some more. Certainly I’ve missed my mother at all the milestones, but I’ve missed her just as much and more in small quiet moments, where memories come to me for no reason.

When I look back, I wonder if I met myself, would I recognize me? But grief¬†is an anchor to that young woman. Most of the time, I barely feel it–the thin filament of loss that connects me to her.¬†Looking out my sliding glass door at the clouds drifting by, and blinking the tears out of my eyes, I feel the same way that I did twenty years ago. The loss is acute, a physical pain in my chest. I imagine this will be so twenty years from now, too.

I thought a lot about what I might do today to commemorate my mom. I could go shopping–she did love that. I could work myself into a political rant about what it’s like to be a woman–her rants would fit in perfectly today, too. I could hide away. I could go through my memories.

In the end, I decided to finish grading, to try to help someone, to be a sounding board to my loved ones, and to go see a good movie.

My mom got shit done, cared for people and made them feel special, and loved, loved to be with people. So that’s what I’ll do. I’ll honor who she was by being who I am.

The last thing I’ll do, today and every day I can, is write. My mom had a personality that filled a room–I’ve rarely seen anything like it. She had a voice, and, believe me, people heard it loud and clear. When I think about what she taught me, both explicitly and by the way she lived, I know what she wanted for me was to find my voice. I have–just ask anyone who knows me.

I know my mom would be proud of me, but I think my writing would be what made her happiest. We have that in common, too. Out of all the things I do and love, writing is the thing that makes me the most happy. If I could share anything of me with her, it would be that.

So, to answer my question from twenty years ago, what do I feel today? The same and different. I love and miss her as much as I did that day. I know her better, in some ways, because of my experiences. Not a day goes by that I don’t wish she was here–that I could ask her advice, talk with her about my life.

Time changes a lot of things, but, it hasn’t changed either the love or the grief, and that’s okay with me.

I’ve included her senior portrait from her obituary from her East Bakersfield High alumni class notes below. Yes. I know I look a bit like her. (Or at least I did when I was 18).

Kathleen Ann (Killebrew) Leverett 1945-1997

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