Duetting: Memoir 1

Duetting: Memoir 1 Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, uses photoshop to print and illustrate a poem written by her daughter who died.My dead daughter drags me up the stairs and into her bedroom. I thought I’d left her for good, in the hospital, in Rochester. But she walked in with me when I got home. Now, she is all over the house, excited, calling me to look, see this, find that. And she pulls me up the stairs. I don’t want to see that room. But I can’t sit still. Can’t think. Can’t eat. I want to be where she is. I want to be dead. It’s almost bedtime now and for hours I’ve resisted her luring me up here. But she wins.

Look, she says.
For what, I wonder? I scan my daughter’s room, trying not to believe she’s ninety miles north, in a bag, in the hospital’s basement refrigerator. No. Remember her here. In this room. She slept with her eye makeup on, smudged, her red painted toes peeking out from under four quilts. I’d wake her with breakfast trays—smoothies and grilled cheese sandwiches—to coax her into the morning. Now, sinking nose-down into the princess’s bed, I sniff, searching for her dwindling scent left buried in the linens. I roll over to see the room like she did. It feels like her hundred thirty-five pounds are sitting on my chest. Is she okay, I wonder? No. Nothing’s okay. I can’t keep her warm and comfortable anymore. Who am I without her? Am I still her mother? Now what? What am I supposed to do now, Marika?

Floor to ceiling, every inch and corner is filled with stuffed animals, photos, books, and memorabilia. Clothes. Papers. Nothing has been thrown out in three years. Since cancer. The room is crammed, and I am completely empty.

Look, she kicks me.
In the middle of the bookcase, a small spiral-bound notebook stands out an inch from the other books. It appears to be an unused journal. Until I pick it up and flip the pages backwards. There, on the first page, written in her most polished handwriting, is the poem above.

A wave crashes over my head. Inside me a seawall breaks. I take the poem and her stuffed Puppy to bed. The night fills with images of my almost twenty-one-year-old Marika flying over hills and mountains. And in the morning, I find myself back upstairs, haunted. Hungry for more. Another journal beckons, and then another. Rummaging through her things I find sketchbooks. Notebooks with poems and plays. Letters. When did she write all this? Songs. Diary entries. Bittersweet glimpses into her short life. And it’s like an invitation. I’ve found my daughter again. Marika’s not gone. She is upstairs in her room in a dozen different journals, in a million words, waiting for me to finally—really—get to know her.


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2 thoughts on “Duetting: Memoir 1

  1. Elaine Mansfield

    Exquisite, Robin. Thank you. I’m still finding Vic treasures as I sort through piles and drawers I’ve neglected too long. Plus I found a postcard from my teacher Marion Woodman, so another unexpected treasure from the dead. It’s amazing for you to contact Marika’s inner worlds in this way. I’m so glad you listened to her voice in you and looked. Her poem is deeply moving and sad, but she was learning to let go and fly–so there’s hope, too.

    1. Robin Botie Post author

      Thank YOU, Elaine. It’s good to hear that I’m not the only one who has all sorts of surprising treasures pop up years after a loved one has died. I regularly clean and clear my house but things keep resurfacing from out of the past.
      So I’m going through my manuscript once again, after abandoning it for almost a year. It still manages to bring her back to me. Even as I labor to restructure it from 65,000 words in 21 chapters to 80-100 blogs of 400-1000 words each. Not sure this is going to work. But I’m enjoying it anyway and I find I love trying to photoshop an illustration for each little section. The idea of photo-shopping a hundred pictures of Marika is not at all daunting.


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