I couldn't fathom why, at the age of 64, with an adoring wife and rewarding work, my father had just given up. During those final months, I could tell he wanted to die and to me that meant we weren't worth living for. Once he was gone, I labored under the shame of my failure, hating myself for letting my father go. He would not witness my marriage, celebrate my successes, hold my children. I loved him, I missed him, I blamed him.
By the time my boyfriend returned, I was cooking up a storm. Tarts of roasted tomatoes and eggplant from my garden. Fresh corn pudding. Blackberry granita with fruit I picked on hikes in the mountains. Every night I presented my mother and him with some obsessively orchestrated meal, but I was constantly cranky and moody. They bonded over how mean I was to them both. She even set aside her disdain for nicknames and profanity and fell into calling me "Kitchen Bitch" like he did. I felt my separateness from others very acutely, as though my skin did not so much contain me as protect me from contact. I slept in my own twin bed, and my fiancé endured this without much complaint, seeming to understand that I needed space. I wanted to be taken care of but rejected sympathy.
At the end of September, I wrenched myself away from the terrifying sight of my mother standing alone in the doorway of her empty home and went back to New York. I moved in with my husband-to-be, and began reinventing my life with a new respect for its possibilities. I was happily planning our nuptials, slated for the end of December in Santa Cruz, but I had nightmares that were black holes echoing with sneering voices, and I woke sweating and tearing at the sheets.