The summer after my junior year of high school, my mom told me that she had been diagnosed with cancer. She held me in her arms; she said not to worry and that the doctors didn’t know that much yet. She said that she would have surgery and that everything would be okay.
Everything was okay — until it wasn’t. The summer after my senior year, my mom’s doctors discovered that the cancer had spread all over her body. She had two months left.
In those two months, summer turned to fall as I lay with her in the hospital bed in the middle of our living room. It was mid-August in 2014, and instead of coming to UC Berkeley for my freshman year, I deferred a year to be with her. The leaves on the trees started to change, and my childhood home cradled us as if it wanted us to never leave. I wanted us to never leave either.
When my mom passed away in October, though, I had to. I packed everything up and moved in with my dad.
Losing my mom was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my entire life. Leaving our house — filled to the brim with memories of laughing attacks on the kitchen floor, snuggles in my mom’s bed and deer sightings in the backyard — was the second hardest.
For us, as cheesy as it sounds, 139 Humboldt Street wasn’t just a house. It was an oasis where I was comfortable being myself, where I could laugh and dance and cry and obsess and yell and play. It was just my mom and me, and it was growing up.
I spent October through January of last year packing up our home. Fourteen years of our life together was folded neatly in moving boxes and taken away.
In those months, I decided to photograph every inch of our home with my film camera. I thought that having these photos equated to having our house forever and that that would be enough for me.
Needless to say, my photographs cannot bring back my house, and they certainly cannot bring back my mom. But in a time in my life when everything is changing, it is so comforting to be able to look at these moments frozen in time. When I gaze at and take in these pictures, it’s as if I’m right back in my house. There, my mom holds me in her arms and never lets go.
Our fence was a big distinguishing feature of our house. Whenever anyone would drive me home, I would point out the place of its unique arch as where I wanted to be dropped off.
We always left a copy of our house key underneath a potted plant on the table outside. The neighborhood is so safe, filled with children and pets, so the key was always useful when I forgot mine.
The end of our dining room table was always a mess, no matter how we tried to keep it clean. My mom’s leather purse was at the forefront of the clutter, and in that tiny purse, it seemed as though she had everything a mom could ever need.
When I was a little girl, my mom would read me stories when I took a bath. She sat a few feet away from the tub, helping the mermaids in the books come to life and inspiring me to pretend I was a mermaid as well.
One of our favorite activities was collecting shells. Every time my mom came back from a hike or walk, she would always bring me back a shell or rock, and it was often heart-shaped.
Sometimes, when someone made a really funny joke, we ended up on the tiled floor of this kitchen having laughing attacks. The maroon tiles cooled my smiling cheeks, which were hot from laughter.
The big backyard had some sort of celestial quality to it; maybe it was because it was the primary backdrop of many of my adventures with friends, such as tadpole-hunting in the creek and swinging high into the sky.
Folded neatly in a pile, my mom’s clothes often concealed the rocking chair in the corner of her room, as if to protect it from the world. When I was a baby, my mom spent countless hours rocking me in that chair.
The Japanese Maple Tree in our front yard is home to some of my favorite memories. When I was little, my friends and I pretended it was a house and named the different parts of the tree for their particular purpose. Pictured here is the “hammock,” which we loved to climb into, and the “refrigerator,” where we stored all of the sour grass we picked.
We kept a lot of jewelry and trinkets, stockpiled over the years, on the ledge over the sink. The right side, with its many colors and clear lack of sophistication, was mine. My mom’s side consisted of a lot of blue jewelry. It perfectly matched her bright blue eyes.
Our sweet kitty named Ellie spent most of her time nuzzled in my mom’s bed after my mom passed away. It seemed like Ellie was just waiting for her to come home. I was too.
I have been going to my dad’s family’s summer house in Maine for a few weeks every summer since I was born. When I was little and would return home, my mom often made me a sweet sign welcoming me home. In this picture, the sign, which reads “Welcome Home!! I Missed You!!”, is hidden under some clothes on the top right corner.
On this wall above my desk, I taped up some of the notes my friends and family gave me. In the midst of school stress, it always cheered me up to remember the loving things people had said to me.
We kept a lot of our mementos on the mantle above the fireplace. There’s my first workprint from my film photography class, a print by Tom Killion (who is my mom’s favorite artist), some cards, lots of photos of us and a wooden music box I got my mom that plays “You Are My Sunshine.”
My mom hung up some of the drawings I made for her when I was little on the back of her bedroom door. Even though I made them years ago, my mom said that they often reminded her of how much I love her.
Contact Rebecca Hurwitz at [email protected]