My mother ran.
She kept on running with plantar fasciitis. It’s a condition that causes stabbing heel pain and is common in runners. Fifteen years have passed and I’m still clinging to her dingy right shoe, a Saucony in fuchsia and chartreuse, good running colors, I guess. I wouldn’t know. I’m not a runner, and at twenty-one, I’m already content with being soft in the middle. Her shoe has retained the funk of stinky feet, although it could be anybody’s stinky feet. I’ve long lost the ability to distinguish her smell.
There is the unmistakable smell of chocolate coming from the half-open mouth of the woman seated next to me. She’s probably in her mid-forties, older than my mother would’ve been the day it happened. She pats my arm like a grandmother would and offers me a few squares, which I take, despite the fact I’ve never liked chocolate. Not liking chocolate is something my boyfriend accused me of faking to get attention. We broke up last week after he said it was selfish of me to take this trip alone. He wanted to spend my graduation money on some backpacking trip to Bryce Canyon. He thought the hoodoos would help us reach God. He’d been going on and on about God lately, ever since our last day of college, when he scaled the lighthouse after swallowing a couple of what he said were bad hits.
This middle-aged woman with chocolate breath and I are on a bus with too many other wide-eyed tourists. We’re headed to the Cliffs of Moher, Ireland’s most visited attraction. I’ve been there before, but remember nothing of their lush greenness or their spectacular views. I don’t let myself remember Mom falling or Dad almost going over after her. I don’t have the perfect selfie she was trying for at the edge either. Her phone went with her. So did her left shoe and Dad’s sanity.
The idea that memories don’t fade is bullshit. I was six and I do have memories of her, but they’re blurred and warped like the old prints people used to hide in albums and dig out as conversation starters at family reunions with brats and jello salads or over pumpkin pie and coffee at Thanksgiving. I remember the day she took me apple picking in Kindergarten. We saw a herd of deer, their delicate heads to the ground munching the fallen fruit. When I asked Dad about it, he scolded me like a toddler, saying no, no, it was Gene The Pumpkin Man’s pumpkin patch. Without a doubt, my mother told him I refused to choose a pumpkin. The only thing I cared about was chasing and shrieking after a bunch of wild turkeys, and the dumb birds ran in circles because they’re too stupid to fly away.
Memories aside, I wish I had Mom’s selfie instead of her fucking useless shoe. Our feet are the same size, but there’s only the one. A lot of my friends are more into dronies now (you wouldn’t believe how cheap you can get a drone these days), and yes, I suppose there’s the chance this trend could’ve spared my mother had it been around, but what I wouldn’t give to archive the last photo ever taken of her. My boyfriend, ex-boyfriend, thinks it would have been too hard for me to see the look on her face, that I should picture my mother’s face up in heaven, forever young and free of pain and fear, but how the hell does he know she was afraid? It’s not impossible that she could have reflected surprise or maybe joy. She was the kind of mom who walked through caution tape or stepped over barriers to grab life by the throat.
“Honey,” the woman beside me says, “we’re here.” My mother called me honey, but she wouldn’t have wasted her time pressing and folding the wrapper of a chocolate bar like that, as if it were Irish lace.
I stretch and climb down from the bus. I can just make out the rock formation the driver said is known as Hags Head, the seated woman at the southern edge of the Cliffs who gazes longingly out to the sea. Legend has it she, too, fell to her death. At least she fell in the name of true love. I’m not sure what my mother fell for. I pray it was more worthwhile than Instagram.
I ditch my right flat and lace up Mom’s shoe. The tourists swarm and flock, snapping mindless photos. Rain spits from the sky, a gray trench coat of anger and sadness. You can taste salt in the air here. I leave my group behind, willing my legs to wobble and run full speed toward the Atlantic, and that’s when I feel something close to relief.