She gave me language, and wanted nothing at all in return for it — what could I give her? Even after she had stopped speaking I couldn’t give it back, letters of the alphabet falling like ash and settling in our hair, on our shoulders, every word that would never be said now; she wanted only what she had already, and less and less of that, so that when I want nothing, when I manage to delude myself that I could relinquish it all this very moment, I suppose it’s what I have from her as gift — what, to join her in death? Unconditional love: the dark side. Things began disappearing years ago, the contents of childhoods shaken out of boxes and given away; she knew we didn’t need them, so she didn’t ask, until by the end even her travel diary was sucked into the pool of unremembering and lost; one day it was gone from its shelf, she would or could not say where, that precious dog-eared spiral stenographer’s pad she had carried through every state but one for a span of forty years; nothing was precious, and one day it was her wedding ring’s turn to go, speaking of years; what was that moment like, of casting it away, if there was a moment? Unsentimental to a fault, or wary of sentiment, when the plainest moment of tenderness so easily made tears well up I’d want to uncause them; it’s true; I thought of her as a deep well, never to be seen into; she kept our secrets for us, as she kept her own; she preferred to be all right. When I happened to mention, sitting by Dad’s bedside at the hospice at the very end, that my wristwatch was broken and I’d need another, she reached over without a thought, pulled the Timex off his arm as he lay there in his coma and handed it to me, saying, Here, Dad’s not going to need this one any more; the way that, in her dementia, in her travel outside the mind, she reached a positive regard for every moment that seemed like grace, a grace she’d always had, and more so now, entering any room for the thousandth time saying, This is so pretty in here, eating her simple boiled or microwaved plate of lunch and pronouncing like God at the end of another day’s creation, This is really good, until saying even that was not needed, leaving the world at peace, holding onto nothing. She’s the one, you could say, who trained me to love books more than I loved people; they were more durably kind, staying the same or changing over time as they chose to, privately, in my head, the one perfect way I found not to be here, but without going, which was a kind of salvation after all; you could say she threw out everything, and at last herself; still, I’m left with this, less complete than it used to be but holding up bravely one life to another in its battered tin box, a set of wooden letters of the alphabet, that she saved for me.