After I died, my mother lit herself on fire.
Not a large fire. Not her whole body, although I know that’s how she imagined it, the flames roaring from her feet to the top of her head, her body encased in a column of heat. She lit a match and held it to her stomach. It came from a matchbook she found between the pages of a magazine in the hotel room of her honeymoon, a room with a queen bed where she and my father could wake up to fingers of sunlight stroking the green hills of Ireland. She’d kept it for years.
I was never her child. I was never a child at all. I was a child-shaped hole in her universe. She painted my nursery blue after I died. She had to rest frequently as she painted. She got tired more easily now. I took a lot of her blood. I am selfish like that.
She let the flames of the match stroke her stomach, let it burn and bubble and blister. She wanted to know if she could burn a hole inside herself, cauterize the wound I’d created in her when I left her stomach before my birth. When she screamed, he ran to her and pinched the match with his bare fingertips. They held each other in silence, in a dark room with a queen bed. This one looked out not at hills but at concrete, the fenced stone that was their backyard. The only bits of grass were the pieces that poked up from the cracks.
It took a while after I was gone, but they found a real baby, birthed by a woman who could carry a child to term. They took him in and named him Noah and gave him all the things that were supposed to be mine. But I didn’t care. Noah grew into a blue-eyed boy with curly blond hair and dimples when he smiled, very different than me. My mother held him close and kissed him often, but I could see something else in her eyes when she looked through him, into the hole I’d left, far beyond his gold curls.
That’s when I knew I’d always have my mother, holding her captive in those moments between sleep and consciousness, existing as her memories carried me forward to the present. Her dreams are forever mine to carry.