"I am leaving you all my journals," she said, facing the shuttered window as we lay there. "But you must promise me that you will not look at them until after I am gone."
I gave her my word. And then she told me where they were. I hadn't even known my mother kept journals.
A week later, she died. That night the moon looked as though it were encircled by ice crystals. I told myself it was the illumined face of my mother.
In the disorienting days following her death, I often felt like I was drowning in loneliness. Many weeks passed during which I was simply treading the turbulent waters. I finally sought out the journals as a lifeline that could pull me to solid ground.
They were where she'd said they would be, downstairs in a closet, meticulously aligned on three hidden shelves. Each was bound in cloth—floral prints, denim, linen—their spines more akin to quilts than books.
I ran my fingers across their backs just as I had rubbed my mother's back; in that moment she felt very present. And suddenly the journals seemed too private for a daughter. I realized how little I knew of my mother's inner life, how little of herself she revealed to others. I was afraid of her hidden heart.
I closed the closet. I would wait. Better to leave them for another time when I might be in greater need.
Upstairs, I made myself a cup of tea. It was a beautiful winter day. Salt Lake City was a mirror of white light reflecting off recent snow. Mother had left me her journals. It was my birthright to read them. I finished my tea and walked back downstairs. Now was the time.
I opened the closet and pulled out the first journal. It was blank. I flipped through the empty pages. Nothing. I opened the second journal. It, too, was blank. As were the third journal, the fourth, the fifth, the sixth. I went through every journal on every shelf praying to find her script, but all I found was a collection of white pages perfectly bound. My mother had left me her journals, and all her journals were blank. I had hoped to find her deepest thoughts, her dreams, her struggles, alongside her wisdom. What she left me were her silences.
Next: What do you do with a bunch of empty books?