It started with a Strawberry Shortcake doll. She had red hair and a polka-dot dress, striped green stockings and freckles on her cheeks. When I pressed her to my face, she smelled like baby powder and plastic. There was only one problem. She was identical to the birthday present I had received the day before.
"It's okay," I tried to tell Helen, my mom's secretary. "I don't mind having two."
But Helen would not be consoled. She gathered me in her arms, her black curls tickling my neck, and cried and cried and cried.
The tears didn't stop there.
A few days later, I'm prancing in my fancy dress, the white one with the blue ribbons. My hair is in pig-tails, and I'm weaving in and out of the folding chairs.
"She's so brave," my aunt said to my grandma, a box of tissues between them. "Look, not a single tear shed."
I wasn't brave. I was five years old. I didn't understand.
My brother understood. He was six, and he knew -- he just knew -- that if he leaped up and kissed my mother, she would wake up and come back to us.
But he got scared. My mother looked different. A layer of pancake covered her cheeks. Her lips were red like paint, and the hair was too black, too stiff. So instead of hoisting himself onto the casket, he turned away and hid behind my father's legs.
For years afterwards, my brother would beat himself up over this act of cowardice. If he had only been brave enough, if he had only kissed her like the fairy tales instructed, my mother would be with us today.
What is heartbreak?
Heartbreak is crying myself to sleep because the thing I remember most about my mother's funeral is how much fun it was to push the casket.
It is my brother blaming himself for a tragedy beyond his control.
But the biggest, truest heartbreak of all? Living my life without my mother.