Brianna Ashby on Fried Green Tomatoes (1991):
“My mother died on June 17, 2000, the morning of my high school graduation. I was standing barefoot in my best friend’s kitchen as my grandmother tried to lie to me over the phone, her voice twice it’s normal pitch and entirely lacking it’s customary softness and sparkle. Her forced nonchalance made my knees buckle, and the lump in my throat had me gasping for air even before she could finally bring herself to say the word, that word. And then, the lightning strike. White light, white heat. Blindness. The next thing I remember I was shifting anxiously in my plastic folding chair, waiting for my name to come over the microphone, cursing the cap and gown I could have sworn were made of lead. I’m still surprised I heard my name at all.
I received a standing ovation when I crossed the stage to claim my diploma—the audience having been led through a moment of silence in my mother’s honor just a few minutes prior—but I was so focused on simply trying to keep my atoms from scattering themselves in all directions that I had no idea. The whiteness blanketed everything; I saw, but I couldn’t see. My world came to a grinding halt, even as things continued to move around me as they always had, their rhythms unchanged. How could everything be so completely different and yet entirely the same? I was a floe of ice drifting aimlessly on a shifting sea.
A heart can be broken, but it will keep beating just the same.
For years I laid awake at night, imagining the world with my mother still in it. I had prosaic dreams where she’d call me on the phone to ask a simple question, or I’d walk by our kitchen and see her standing over the stove. With little effort at all I could vividly conjure up her image, picturing the way her nose wrinkled when she laughed, or the way she looked when she was perched on the couch, engrossed in a book. The stunning ease with which I could reproduce it all made it difficult to accept that it was nothing more than a composite of moments already spent. The realization that I would never again see the face of someone I loved so fiercely nearly defied comprehension. When someone is so deeply alive in your heart, how can they possibly be dead?”
This is an excerpt from the current issue of Bright Wall/Dark Room magazine. To read the rest of this essay, purchase a copy of the issue for $2, or subscribe online now.