Two days after my mom died, I remember texting a friend that I believed in love. She thought I was delirious. But like a good friend, she just listened and let me rant about life, love, and my parents over sloppily typed text messages in blue boxes that varied in length.
Life had gone up and down for me at that point. My dad had just passed nine months earlier, during my senior year of high school, and now my mom was gone half way through my first semester of college. I didn’t know what to do so I did what my dad always told me to do: I stayed in school. I like to tell people that I buried my mom on Tuesday, I withdrew from Math 103 on Wednesday, and I was back in my Psych 001: Introduction to Experimental Psychology lecture by Thursday, falling asleep peacefully in the middle of a 600 person class in Irvine.
I don’t remember that semester clearly. It comes back in flashes. I remember ignoring phone calls from my older cousins who have now become as close to me as sisters. I remember watching How to Get Away With Murder and how I didn’t grimace at Sam’s dead body (that’s not a spoiler). Instead, I grimaced when Viola Davis took off her wig. The transition between natural, fluffy coils and straight, pressed hair reminded me of the smell of burning grease that plagued my nose as I stood in my mom’s dimly lit doorway every morning, watching her curl her hair with a curling iron as old as me, my dad snoring softly in the corner. I remember tears and friends not knowing what to do. But I still went through the motions and did what I had to do, namely, schoolwork. I joked with my friends that I would be haunted by my dad if I took a year off.
As a first–generation, low–income student, I spent a lot of my life believing that Penn, despite being 20 minutes away from my house, was never a possibility for me. The day I was accepted, I didn’t think I got in because the speakers of my 14–year–old desktop weren’t working at the time so I didn’t hear the cheery melody of "Hurrah!" After a few seconds, I exploded and pounded up the stairs, yelling my dad’s name. He came out of his bedroom, white eyes wide in the darkness of our hallway, and when I told him, he was utterly confused. He didn’t believe me. “College acceptances don’t come over the internet Anea. That’s a scam.” Acceptance slowly set in over the next few days and he called me “Ivy League” for a week. He died two months and two days later. My last Christmas card from him says “Dear Ivy League (insert generic message here) Love Daddy.”
I clutched at that bright green card and read the message written in his sloppy handwriting over and over on the morning of his funeral. My mom yelled at me up the stairs and I placed it on my dresser softly. I glanced in the mirror once, took a deep breath and ran out the door in my heels and floor length black dress.
My dad and I’s favorite movie to watch together was the Jungle Book. When I was little, we would sit patiently in my den, giggling softly and cuddling until our favorite scene came on. When King Louie and all of his followers appeared on screen, we would erupt in laughter and dance around the room like fools as Mowgli, his friends, and all of the monkeys sang “Oh, oobee doo I wanna be like you. I wanna walk like you, talk like you, too. You’ll see it’s true someone like me can learn to be like you.” When I was little enough, he would scoop me up into his arms and I would scream and giggle. I told the crowd gathered in the church over soft giggles and tears that I wanted to be like my dad for the rest of my life. As flawed as he was, he was still such a great dad. He knew how to be there during the happy moments and the sad. He would glare at me as I started to cry at the end of the movie when Mogle leaves all of his friends, tell me to stop crying and to not be so sensitive. I’d cry a little more and eventually he would just sit silently and put an arm around me, reaffirming my sensitivity despite nagging me about it persistently for nearly 18 years. I would snuggle into his arm each time and watch as Mowgli leaves all of his animal friends to join humans in the village just outside of the jungle. Each time, Mowgli clad in a small orange tarp surrounded by brown skin, would look over his shoulder towards Baloo and Bagheera and just give a small smile. He then turns around and never looks back. He just lets go.
The doctors tell me that’s how my my mom died. I never saw my mom’s body after her soul was gone. But the emergency medical examiner told me that it was quick. That one breath she was her and the next, she wasn’t. The heart attack came, it hit her, she fell over, and then she was gone. It was incredibly quick and simple.
The doctors called it dying of a broken heart. My mom was 120 pounds, a little over five feet tall, and was definitely one of those people who gets in more than 10,000 steps a day—she walked everywhere because she was afraid of car accidents and never seeing her family again. Even the healthiest person, when under high stress, can go through life threatening situations silently. Over the months after my dad died, my mom never faltered on the outside. She redid the financial aid applications, switched all the bills into her name, threw my graduation, prom, and college going away parties, and always did it with a smile on her face.
But she really missed him. I don’t talk about this often, but my parents really were in love. They were married for nearly 25 years. My aunt always told me that they were inseparable while they were together, unlike any other married couple that she had seen before. They did absolutely everything together, other than work, and for a long time, they even did that together because they worked at the same place. She couldn’t bear to live without him and her body knew that. Her blood pressure raised silently but steadily over a 9 month period until one day it just shut down. In her final moments, just before the heart attack hit, she laid there silently in their bed with his pillow just a foot away from her. And she tried to get up, it just hit her and she laid back down and just let go.
I imagine that the purest form of love is just that simple. It’s standing on the edge of the universe, darkness everlasting, and just falling, having faith that some greater force is going to catch you. It’s just laying back down and letting a massive heart attack from months of built up stress overtake you or letting your small, overly sensitive daughter cry as she watched a small make–believe boy leave his talking bear friend for the 10th time. It doesn’t really make sense in the moment but in the grand scheme of time, after all the tears in your dorm room, hidden panic attacks in Van Pelt, and going through the depressive state that is mourning, it will. I was a result of strong love and that’s why I’m still here despite all of it. It’s just that simple.