She is flawless. Her skin, porcelain and wax-like, properly decorated with neutral contouring and eyeshadow. Her lashes light with a brown mascara, not at all thick and heavy by the weight of falsies… like the ones she used to wear out to nightclubs. Her lips are painted with a coat of muted, matte red lipstick, not too bright as to offend or to give an improper impression, but just the right shade to balance her facial tone. The dusting of rose blush helps to accentuate her bit of cheekbone, which she inherited from her late Austrian grandmother, Lena.
I recall a time when my Rosie was almost five years old, running straight into Lena’s outspread, inviting arms when she’d come to the states for a visit one year. They had an immediate connection that I never quite understood, since Rosie was always so shy around strangers, even family members she didn’t know well. Lena had come for her first visit in almost six years and the two had not even spoken by phone. So, I was amazed at how Rosie so easily gravitated to her, and I confess I was a bit jealous while observing their chemistry. Twenty years later, and I still feel that pang of jealousy. Rosie and I lost our chemistry sometime during her pre-teen years, when she developed a sharp, dismissive attitude toward me. Slowly, or quickly perhaps, she distanced herself from me. If I’m honest, Rosie and I never had that special mother-daughter bond. She was daddy’s little girl from the moment she was pulled out of me and handed to Rob, with me laying there in a pool of sweat and weary from eight hours of intense labor.
My relationships with my other children are very different. Maggie is our first-born. Sweet and industrious, she and I share similar styles and interests, and our weekly conversations are always fruitful. She is an elegant beauty, married to a violinist. Maggie recently confessed that they’ve been “trying.” I instantly imagined Rob and myself as grandparents, and got all flushed and soggy with emotion. Our second born, Richard, is a travel blogger and an adrenaline junkie, though generally low-keyed. He is quite handsome, though he barely recognizes this quality. Richard is a dutiful son, calling home every other day to “check in.” Oliver, or Ollie as we call him, is our third-born, and was a child prodigy. He is the most successful of all our children. After graduating from Harvard Medical School with a PhD, Ollie took up residence at a local hospital close to home and soon started his own practice. He currently lives a block away from us with his ‘nurse’ girlfriend, and our visits are routine.
Maggie, Richard and Ollie stand on either side of me, each gripping the other’s hand firmly, interlocked like a chain necklace. Maggie stands to my right, and Richard and Ollie to my left. Rob has disappeared, again. He is probably in the men’s room, trying to gather himself. He is so emotional today, and I can barely muster the strength to console him. My poor husband. I remain standing with my children, supported by them. I wear a respectable black dress, shapeless with capped sleeves and high neckline. A string of pearls, gifted to me by Ollie a few years ago, are tastefully draped around my neck. My smart-looking pumps, however, are mercilessly cutting into my bunions, but I don’t care. Perhaps, it’s my penance. I did try to schedule my monthly root touch-up, but my colorist was on vacation. Thankfully, Maggie was able to style my hair nicely and complement the look with some make-up tricks to hide the grays. I feel presentable, almost proud.
Rob finally emerges from the men’s room, looking pale and gaunt. He’s dropped fourteen pounds this past week. I kind of admire him for that, but keep all admiration boxed, noting the inappropriateness. He makes his way to the four of us. Maggie is weeping in her graceful, polite way. Richard is broken, quiet and slouched. Ollie is strong, staying focused and engaged. As for myself, I am a sack of nerves under a veil of contemplative sadness. Rosie is gone. At twenty-five, she is gone from us. The darkness is undeniable, but there is a light I can see, a small tiny light, barely visible. I know I must stay focused on that light, and will it with all I have in me, for it to get bigger, though it will take time.
When I’d gone to meet Rosie at her studio apartment last weekend, I’d brought the four hundred dollars she’d reluctantly asked of me. She said it was for rent, but I knew she was lying. We didn’t hug during our initial greeting. Why would we? “Does daddy know you’re here?” she asked pointedly. “No, of course not! You asked me not to tell him!” I retorted, defensively. Honestly, I always felt awful lying to Rob about my visits to Rosie’s, so my defensiveness was actually more about my own guilt. “Don’t shout at me!” Rosie snarled. And there we were, at odds with each other again. This vortex of misguided animosity, defiance and resentment, on both parts, was truly tiring. Rob could never see Rosie in this state of addiction, with her unwashed hair and body odor, tattooed arms and chest, and her yellowed teeth. Rob’s image of Rosie was unblemished, through a doting father’s filtered lens. He would be devastated by this reality. He couldn’t handle it. He wouldn’t.
“Here’s the money!” I tossed the bills of twenties onto her unmade cot, which laid waywardly on the cold floor of the studio. “I’ll tell your father that we shared a nice evening, enjoying your signature-style spaghetti and meatballs, with extra garlic,” I said, sarcastically. Rosie ignored my comment, but I knew it burned her, nonetheless. She busily gathered up the money and started counting it, without even as much as a gesture of gratitude. No snarky comeback to the dinner comment, either. Nothing. I felt sad for Rosie, but even sadder for myself. And far sadder for Rob, who was at home, blissfully clueless. Protected, rather.
I collected myself and started for the door to let myself out. Through the corner of my eye, I discovered a giant cockroach climbing the wall adjacent to the door and I jumped at the sight, gasping out loud. “Oh please, mom. Stop being so dramatic,” Rosie scolded. “God, I hate you.” Those last four words were casually whispered, almost not wanting to be heard. But, loud enough to catch me. “What!?” I asked Rosie, bewildered and half-daring her to repeat it directly to my face. I was now staring at her eye to eye, woman to woman, mother to daughter, enabler to addict. “What?” Rosie replied uneasily. “I didn’t say anything. You must be hearing things.” She then brushed me off after her nonchalant response, expecting me to just ignore her and leave. But, I didn’t.
As I stand here this evening in solidarity with my family, I project strength. It’s a façade, of course. How can I be strong when our baby is lying in a casket, a mere ten feet away? There are more than a hundred people here tonight at Woodburn Funeral Parlor paying their respects: Former school teachers and classmates, friends, ex-lovers, former co-workers and neighbors. About thirty of Rob’s colleagues and closest friends are here, along with members from my Bridge club, and the ladies from my weekly Krav Maga class. Everyone is here to support us, to support me. I’m the mother, the most fragile of the family. Condolences are well-meaning, but no one could know the gravity of my pain and the years of turmoil I’d endured: How I helped hide Rosie’s drug addiction and poor choices in boyfriends; how I helped bathe her on days when she couldn’t help herself; how I cleaned up her apartment of garbage of paraphernalia almost weekly; and how I tried getting her help more times than I can count. I’m physically exhausted and emotionally tapped. My eyes are glazed, absent. I hadn’t had a proper night’s rest in almost ten years.
Maggie leans in and confirms to me that the navy dress I chose for Rosie is perfect on her. It covers all her tattoos and only reveals the exquisite ivory skin around her clavicle. Rosie is picture-perfect. She is innocent all over again, just like she was on the day she was born. I embrace this image, accepting that the baby of our family is now gone forever. Admittedly, she was gone a long time ago.
Rob takes Maggie’s free hand, and the five of us stand united, interlocked. Giddily, I’m fairly certain I detect a slight bump under Maggie’s dress, but I refrain from any probing questions. For now, anyway. And, I’m curious about Richard’s next adventure, even though his answer will undoubtedly cause me anxiety, I muse inwardly. Ollie’s girlfriend is here, and I fantasize about a possible impending wedding. I glance over at Rob, my loving, hardworking, loyal husband of thirty-four years, and I want to hold him close. I want to tell him that we will be fine. We will all be fine.
I truly want, and expect, all to be fine, but I stare at my youngest child, still and peaceful, and I question everything. My fiery, rebellious and incorrigible daughter, Rosanna Lee. I brought that little spitfire into this world, and then removed her with my own bare hands. I quietly pray and ask for her forgiveness and to allow us to move on as a family without her… to allow me to move on… without her.