Mother of Sorrows


“Mother of Sorrows” Joseph Caspar

“Thank you for helping me do this. I didn’t want to trouble Edward, and I didn’t think I could do it alone.”

As I followed Esme up the front stairs of her house, I realized I’d never been to this part of the second floor. I stopped in the hallway, distracted by what appeared to be a genuine Picasso.

She noticed me staring. “Carlisle was a huge fan of Cubism. Jack and Kitty gave us that painting when we had John.”

I shrugged. “Isn’t that sort of a strange baby gift? I mean, when Rose had David I bought her a Kate Spade diaper bag, and I thought that was kind of extravagant.”

“It was an interesting moment for me. I think I had been in denial until that point.  I thought I’d had a decent idea what kind of family I’d married into, nothing prepared me for the Picasso.”

“Was it a passive-aggressive way of suggesting a nursery theme?”

Esme laughed. “No. In Jack’s mind, it was a practical gift. So many of his father’s contemporaries put bullets in their heads on Black Tuesday. The paintings were meant to be an insurance policy of sorts. If the shit ever hit the fan, if for whatever reason we couldn’t get to our assets, he fully expects us to hawk the art.”

I tried to wrap my mind around how much the painting in front of me was worth. I’d never thought owning fine art was attainable enough to research the cost. For me, it wasn’t.

“Huh.”

“I know. I’ve been…er…was married to Carlisle for twenty-three years, and it still seems like he’s from some sort of alternate universe. Thankfully, his values were a bit different from those of his parents. Jack gave us the John Sloan as well.” She gestured over her shoulder. “It was for Edward. I’m not sure if he became interested in the Ashcan School because he had this, or if it was just a lucky pick on Jack’s part. Who knows? Maybe John would have liked Picasso.”

Esme’s voice wavered slightly on her last sentence, and her hand flew up to her eyes. I walked across the hall and hugged her.

“I’m so sorry.”

“I know.” She took a step back and I dropped my arms as she wiped her eyes. “I’ll stop crying eventually, if for no other reason than I know Carlisle is pissed off that I’m wallowing. At some point, we’ll end up in the same place, wherever that is, and he’ll give me hell.”

I was in complete awe of her. I wondered how long her anger phase lasted, if she’d even had one at all.

She straightened her shoulder and moved down the hall, gesturing me to come along. I tentatively followed her into her bedroom.

Like Edward’s, it was a beautifully decorated suite. Carlisle’s personal effects, however, were omnipresent. In his tragic absence, they were somehow giving the room a life of its own. No wonder Esme was intimidated.

“Are you sure you don’t feel weird helping me?”

I shook my head. “Not if you don’t feel weird with me being here.”

“No. You know I think of you as family. I have since that first weekend down the shore.”

I knew it wasn’t the time, but I still felt I needed to try to explain it to her.   “About what happened at Thanksgiving–”

“I know all about that.” She shook her head dismissively. “Survival instinct works in strange ways, doesn’t it? If Thanksgiving the year before last had been a cocktail, it would be two parts fear to one part self-preservation, shaken and served cold, garnished with shame and chased with a shot of regret.”

“My regret would need its own distillery.”

“I know. Edward doesn’t hold it against you. He just doesn’t want to go through it again. You needed time to heal. So does he.”

“I’m so  sorry I hurt him. I’ve gone over it again and again in my head. I’ve tried to rationalize it by telling myself that he deserved to experience college unencumbered. In actuality, I was being incredibly selfish. I knew it would end sooner or later, and that he’d leave me. I thought I’d be able to cope with it better if it happened on my own terms. Even if Edward eventually forgives me, I don’t know that I will ever be able to forgive myself.”

“I’m not going to lie to you. Your actions hurt Edward a great deal. Even though I had a fairly good understanding of why you acted the way you did, I was never able to make Edward understand. He was absolutely certain that you never  loved him.”

“I still don’t know how he could have believed me.”

“How could he not have? At that point, Edward had lived a fairly charmed life. Granted, he didn’t identify much with his peers but Carlisle compensated a bit for that. He wasn’t capable of truly understanding why you were panicking.”

Her words stabbed me.

“And because of me, now he does,” I muttered bitterly.

“I’m not trying to guilt trip you, but yes, you forever changed his perspective. Edward is an incredible romantic. Despite our warnings to the contrary, he quite naively assumed that true love conquered all. He knew you’d been hurt and thought his love could make you whole, despite our constant warning that you needed to come to terms with your issues on your own. As awful as it was to see Edward suffer, Carlisle and I both understood it was inevitable. What I didn’t understand was why you never called me during your time apart. I’d always thought we had a relationship independent of the one you have with my son.”

“I wanted to call you. I missed you terribly. I just didn’t think you’d want to hear from me.”

She reached over and squeezed my hands. “Please believe me when I say this to you. In many ways, I think of you as the daughter I never had. No matter what happens with you and Edward, you will always have your own place in my life. However, I’m warning you right now, if you fuck it all up again, I’m not going to be quite so understanding.”

I threw my arms around her. “I love you, Esme.”

“I love you, too.” She stepped out of my embrace, looked around her bedroom, and sighed. “My sister wanted to do this for me, but when she was here I wasn’t ready. I still don’t think I am. Somehow boxing up Carlisle’s things seems more final than lowering him into the ground.”

“You don’t have to do this, Esme. It’s still so soon…”

“It’s  rapidly becoming a shrine. Surrounded by his things, it’s far too easy for me to pretend he’s coming home, that he’s just working a long shift at the hospital. It’s going to hurt, but it will be far worse if I wait. I have this intense fear of postponing this indefinitely, eventually causing this room to turn into the West Wing of Manderley.”

“I don’t think you have any risk of that. You’re mourning your spouse, not your employer with whom you had a bizarre homo-erotic obsession.”

She let out a small laugh. “I suppose. Regardless, it’s unhealthy. I would know. Do you know what the worst part of all of this has been?”

I shook my head. I couldn’t imagine.

“Pity,” she continued. “I am so fucking sick of being pitied.”

“I’m sure everyone means well. It’s just hard to know what to say–”

“Intellectually, I understand that very few people are comfortable with the concept of mortality. They take a look at me and think I’ve gone through the two most painful things imaginable, though the jury is hung as to whether it’s worse to lose a spouse or a child. Every time I venture out of the house, I hear the whispers. It’s only been two weeks, and it’s already gotten old. Sympathy cards are particularly obnoxious. You have drawings of white lilies or other similarly somber flowers and some trite rhyming verse written for Hallmark by an out of work poet, or maybe the 23rd Psalm. People sign their names and send them out of obligation, people who knew Carlisle well and claimed to love him. Lifelong friendships are reduced to a signature on a mass-produced piece of stationary. I don’t want sympathy. I don’t even feel sorry for myself.”

I was dumbfounded. “How can you not?”

“Life is precious, but it’s something we’ve all been given. Love, however, is rare. Not only was I lucky enough to have it, I had it for over twenty years. Everything ends eventually, but that’s what gives it value. Obviously, I’d rather have him with me, but there’s nothing I can do about that. Ironically, I feel as though the most sincere words have come from people who don’t know me. His patients —men and women who were under general anesthesia during the majority of their time with him —have sent me letters. Beautiful, heartfelt letters about how Carlisle helped them. Those I cherish.”

As usual, I was in awe of her.

“How would you like me to help?”

She gestured to a stack of Rubbermaid totes in the corner. “Could you bring me one of those?”

I picked the top one up and followed Esme through a pair of double doors into an enormous walk-in closet. She walked over to a row of men’s shirts and took them off the rod in a single movement, the dropped them into the Rubbermaid tote.

“We’ll need all the totes in here to fit everything. I have someone from a homeless shelter coming to pick it all up this afternoon. I was amazed they were willing to come out, being that it’s Good Friday, but they are so desperate for the donations. I’m giving them all of his clothing. I have a mental image of a man who has been down on his luck going to a job interview in one of Carlisle’s Savile Row suits. I know that would make him so proud. Here’s hoping there’s a guy at the shelter who hangs to the same side as Carlisle.”

“Huh?”

“When a man has a suit custom made, it’s very specific. There’s extra room in one leg for…well…you know.”

I stared at the suits in disbelief. “Wait. They cut the pants to fit the peen?”

Esme giggled. “Yes, they do.”

“How do they know how much fabric is needed?”

“They ask, and they measure. The first time I witnessed this, I laughed hysterically. Carlisle was mortified, and has since banned me from shopping with him in London. I guess the ban has been lifted. Too bad I hate to shop.”

I began to work along Esme, packing everything up. She stopped me when I reached a bizarre orange and black jacket.

“Not this.”

I took a second look at it. Princeton Class of 1986.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t realize what it was until just now.”

“He’d already ordered his new one. Are you familiar with the tradition?”

I shook my head. “Edward mentioned it once, but he didn’t go into detail.”

“Princeton alumni get new P-Rade costumes every five years. Each class year has a theme, and they dress up. They march through campus and congratulate each other on ruling the world. This beer jacket is from his 20th Reunion. The first time I went to P-Rade, the weather report called for severe storms. Carlisle insisted that God doesn’t rain on his own parade, and when the time came to march, the weather would be perfect. Of course, the sky opened up, and it hailed. It was hilarious, and the last time Carlisle ever made a bet with God.

“You know, as an outsider, P-Rade is kind of an amazing thing to watch. The Old Guard marches, and these guys are in their nineties. You see the occasional woman marching alone in a man’s jacket tailored to fit her. This confused me, because I knew Princeton didn’t accept women until fairly recently. Carlisle explained to me that it’s traditional for widows to march on behalf of their husbands. I didn’t understand it at the time, and the feminist in me was somewhat repulsed. I pitied them, thinking that they must not have any of their own milestones to celebrate. Anyway, I stopped going to these things when Edward became old enough to accompany Carlisle. I’d make an appearance at the tents at some point each weekend, but I let P-Rade be a father/son bonding ritual. Carlisle’s 25th Reunion is this year. I know he was looking forward to marching as a family, since Edward is now a student there. Instead, I’ll be marching as a widow…” Esme began to sob quietly. “I’m fine. Really. Anyway, everything but this can go. I know Edward will want this.”

I finished emptying the closet as Esme stood clutching Carlisle’s beer jacket. It occurred to me that Sunday was Easter, and it would be her first holiday without her husband.

“What are you doing Sunday?” I asked.

“Nothing. Jack and Kitty wanted to come by, but I told them I wasn’t up for a visit. I really meant that I wasn’t up for a visit from Jack and Kitty.” She laughed despite the fact she was still crying.

“I was planning on cooking for Jasper and Alice. I would love it if you and Edward joined us. If you don’t mind slumming, you’ll find I put out a fairly decent spread.”

“Your house is hardly slumming. You should see where I grew up.” She sighed. “That’s a story for another time. Anyway, I graciously accept your  invitation. Let me know what I can bring.”

I didn’t even have to think about it.

“Your son.”

“Oh, I suspect I wouldn’t be able to keep him away from you if I tried. Is there anything you’d like me to bring?”

I wanted to tell her not to trouble herself, but realized that if she was offering, she probably wanted the distraction.

“Does your family have any dishes that you consider part of your traditions?”

“Not really, unless you consider Kitty’s flask food.” She rolled her eyes.

“How about some appetizers? Whatever you would enjoy making I’m sure will be perfect.”

“I have a few ideas. Thank you  for both the invitation and letting me cook. It will feel so good to actually do something. I may be in mourning, but I’m not useless.”

“I would never think that of you.”

And I couldn’t. She was quite possibly the most amazing woman I’d ever known.

I sealed the lid on the last tote. “So what now?”

“That’s pretty much it. We shared a study, and Edward will make use of his medical books, so I don’t feel compelled to sort the contents of that room. I should go to Mass, but I’m not ready to be in a church again. Still, I’d kind of like to get out of the house. I want desperately to laugh again.”

“Do you have to wait for the person from the shelter to come?”

“No. Mrs. Cope can let him in. Why?”

“I’m taking you out. Friday night, Bella style. Wear comfortable shoes. We’ll be walking a bit. I’ll call Edward and have him meet us.”

“As long as I’m not your charity case…”

“Are you kidding? Alice is going to be ecstatic. She’s wanted to hang out with you for ages. Okay, I’m off to call Edward.”

I turned to leave the room, and Esme called out to me.

“Bella?”

“Yes?”

“Thank you. For everything.”

“It’s not a big deal. Really.” I smiled and ran down the steps to call Edward.

Maybe I could finally get something right.





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  1. on 29 Aug 2010 at 3:42 pmizziey

    esme’s strength is astounding.

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  2. on 01 Oct 2010 at 3:11 pmlisa89

    Stop making me cry! Art After 5 continues to move me; it’s astounding stuff, however flawed you find it. :)

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  3. on 13 Nov 2010 at 12:35 amkng1986

    I love Esme. She is so brave and generous.

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  4. on 25 Nov 2010 at 5:54 pmBooksgalore/Bookishqua

    Oy vey, I remember how painful it is going through someone’s things and getting rid of them. I love how Bella helped Esme with this. Shows great growth.

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  5. on 09 Dec 2010 at 11:33 pmNKubie

    I recently lost my dad and this really got me thinking about how my mom must feel. Thank you for giving that. :)

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  6. on 06 Jan 2011 at 8:06 amSea4Me

    Again, wow. I’ve been through a loss where people great you like that. I’ve also said those words…being thankful to have loved at all, even if the time was too short. I hope she can maintain that gratitude going forward. Beautifully done, as always. (Your story, your own experiences & intellect, are making me want to know you as a person, btw.)

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    Colleen reply:

    @Sea4Me,

    your comment made me smile.

    [Reply]


  7. on 29 Jan 2011 at 10:55 pmJanice

    Yeah Bella!!! She’s reaching out now!!

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  8. on 07 Feb 2011 at 11:26 ambomax2

    what a beautify story, and i love the artwork

    [Reply]