Sitting in the hammock, listening to music with the dog and getting nostalgic because of conversations earlier in the night. There are a handful of you–a big handful, I’m lucky– who have been with me most or all of my life, through the best and hardest of times. Thank you, all of you (many of whom will never read this blog) for helping make me the person I am today. I wouldn’t have known what to do without you.
My sister used to send Happy Wednesday cards, and my mother before her. For all I know, my grandmother sent them, too. For this reason, I’ve always been aware of Wednesdays, and the idea that they’re supposed to be happier than other days.
In my experience, there are happy days, and there are Happy Wednesdays–the Wednesdays somehow ending up better than normal happy (for no explicable reason). Today was just such a Wednesday, and I am grateful.
It was a mellow day, a wake up late and take your time day, a lazy, sit in the sun in the driveway like a lizard day. And at the end of it, before the sun expired, it was a great ride in the warm wind on the back of a damn sexy Harley day. Good vibrations, baby.
Sometimes I wish every day could be Wednesday. Maybe my mother had good luck with Wednesdays, too.
It snowed Sunday night, and Monday morning it looked like the island had been coated with sugar. I almost picked up the phone to call you, and tell you how beautiful it was. Of course, I’d have eventually started complaining about the fact that it would all be slush in a matter of hours. Today it rained–miserable, graceless weather, spitting cold from the sky like bullets. It was fitting, I suppose, as I haven’t felt this bad in months. Too much wine and an hours-long crying jag do not make for a pleasant morning after (big surprise).
I’ve started playing Milles Bornes again. I found a set at the Edgartown Thrift Shop for two dollars; it was the old style with the ugly box, but the cards inside were practically brand new. Games make the winter go a little bit smoother–something to do other than watch television. I miss playing Scrabble with you, even though you did accuse me of cheating when I finally beat you a few Christmases back. On some subconscious level, it feels sometimes like you’re just sitting in your little house in West Wareham, building a model truck, talking to the cat, waiting for the weather to break so you can go out and work in your shop; waiting for me to come visit so we can play Scrabble or stay up until two in the morning talking about trips we’re going to take someday.
I don’t know what to do with your house, or your shop, or your truck. I don’t know if I’ll ever feel alright about any decision I make. In order to rent the house I need to fix it up, but if I change anything, it won’t feel like you’re there anymore. I’m afraid to rent the shop with all of your tools in it because I don’t want anyone to damage them up or hurt themselves, but I know if I sell the tools, I’m going against your wishes, and I don’t want to do that. Really, I don’t want to do anything to any of it. I want to crawl up into the sleeper of the truck with a blanket and a pillow and go to sleep until you come back.
I was thinking this afternoon about the ugly yellow chair in the living room of the house we lived in at the boat yard when I was a kid, and how sometimes when I felt lonely or sad I’d bring my blankets out into the living room and sleep in that hideous recliner so that I was close enough to hear you snore, because for some reason it made me feel better. I remember sitting sideways in the chair to watch TV, with my legs thrown over the arms of it, and how every once in a while if I sat in the chair and held onto the antenna of the TV, Fox would come in clearly and I could watch Beverly Hills, 90210. You’d be sitting up in bed reading, and every once in a while you’d mock one of the characters, or throw a jelly bean at me, and tell me how ridiculous I looked sitting there with my hand up in the air, not moving for fear of losing the signal.
I was remembering, too, the day I went to foster care off-island, and the look of hurt in your eyes when you watched me walk up the ramp of the boat. How badly I wanted to run down the ramp and get back in your little truck and go home. But there was no going home, not for a while. All of that time spent in limbo, not knowing where I belonged–and for nothing. Because of worriers and busybodies who thought for some reason that it would be a good idea to take a motherless, confused teenager away from the person who loved her most in the world, and send her to live with strangers. I didn’t belong with strangers, I belonged with you.
My world doesn’t make sense without you in it. Some days I feel like I failed you–like if I’d badgered the doctors a little bit more, or gone to live with you and take care of you, or left work sooner that terrible Friday… but I know it’s just the emptiness making me feel that way. It’s a lot easier to reconcile something like heartbreak or death if you can convince yourself there was a reason, or that someone is to blame. It just doesn’t make any sense to think that the forces that be decided to take you so quickly, and so young, for no reason at all.
I think the hardest part of this is that you’re the person I always used to call when I felt this lonely or sad. Just hearing your voice would make me feel better, and there’s no hug in the world that could heal the way yours could. I remember how I buried my head in your chest when mom died, and sobbed until I was exhausted enough to sleep. I wish I could do that now. I feel like someone has tied an anvil to my ribs and dropped it off of a bridge.
I guess what I’m trying to say is I miss you. And it hurts. I finally feel it, and it fucking hurts.
It’s never the things that you think will make you cry that actually bring the tears. It’s always something stupid like broken plans, or a parking ticket. For the past month and a half, I have been carrying around a load of hurt so heavy that I feel like if I try to put it down, it will crush me. I don’t often cry these days; in fact I think I cry less than I did before. And when I do cry, it’s not about that heavy, heavy hurt. It’s about the disappointment of not being able to move into my new place early, or a stupid comment from a coworker. Once the tears start coming, though, it’s all about Dad, and it comes from somewhere so deep in my guts that it actually feels like it’s being yanked out of me.
This week, there’s been a little of mom, too. Tonight I was recounting to a friend one of my favorite memories of my mother. We were driving in her old black MG (red leather interior), and she had on a flowy head scarf and big sunglasses–the same ones she was wearing in the one picture I have of my parents happy together. We were on a dirt road in Edgartown, going to visit Jim Blaine, her boyfriend at the time, who lived out in the boonies and looked a lot like my dad. It was hot summer, and I was five or so and probably barefoot, and the radio was on loud playing Tina Turner’s “Private Dancer,” and my mom was singing along. I don’t know what we did after we got there, and I don’t think it much matters, because the drive itself was obviously more memorable.
I didn’t realize at first that Wednesday was my mother’s anniversary. I woke up that day in a funk, something more than what I’ve been feeling. I wanted to cry, but I couldn’t. My best friend was in a funk, too, and she couldn’t explain it either. We laid on the floor in her basement apartment and didn’t really talk to each other for an hour. Then we bought pets to cheer ourselves up, but it didn’t last long. I had hoped to hang out with another friend that evening, but they had other plans, and when I snapped my phone shut from reading the message, I burst into tears. The first four or five tears were probably about disappointment, but the rest were about, to quote an old poem, the empty spot that’s so big I should give it a name, and address, an area code. I should have my mail forwarded there.
The next morning I was having coffee with my sister, who it turned out had had an equally horrible Wednesday. At one point, she turned to me in the car and said, “You know what yesterday was, don’t you?” And then the heavy icky feeling and the sensitivity and the piles of tears made sense. On some subconscious level, I think I had known. And for the first time, I was feeling the loss of them both–at the same time.
I cried today, too. This time it started with a mild case of the cold shoulder, and ended with a crying jag in my best friend’s shop that lasted half an hour and somehow ended with me designing a T-shirt in memory of my father and laughing about how funny he would have found it. After I let the big guns out, I didn’t care so much about the brushoff anymore. It was like I’d somehow been recalibrated. I almost wanted to thank the offender for helping me to cry. I’m tempted to contract people to hurt my feelings in some small way once a day, so I can get this heavy hurt off my back faster.
I haven’t felt like myself the past few days. I’ve felt completely uncomfortable in my body, and in my life. Not unhappy with either, just uncomfortable, like shoes that haven’t been broken in yet. I need to break in my new life. I need to take pictures with my new camera and cook dinner in my new apartment, and bring home the first paycheck from one of my two new jobs. I need to remind myself that if something won’t matter a week from now, it’s probably not worth getting upset about now. I need to speak at my father’s memorial service if I can hold it together long enough, and I need to go through his closet and find an old sweatshirt that I can wear when I’m down and keep until it falls apart from wear. I need to start believing that he’s gone. And I need to cry about it.
I’ve never been really excited about holidays. Not since I was a little kid and looking forward to getting big boxes of presents. Religion passed me by, and I’ve always had a small family, which is perpetually shrinking, and has shrunk now to the point that the people I consider my family are not even related to me in the technical sense. It’s not just Christmas, either. Growing up, I never had a Valentine, and half of the kids in my class didn’t even give me the ones they gave everyone. As an adult, I’ve only been in a relationship at Valentine’s Day twice, and both times were rocky. So Valentine is out, Santa is out. I object to the celebration of Christopher Columbus’s men giving a bunch of Native Americans small pox, so Columbus Day is out. Aside from the fun of using explosives, the Fourth of July is out. I suppose what’s left is Halloween, Thanksgiving (which I celebrate merely for the gluttony), and April Fool’s Day.
Christmas is particularly hard. When I was living in California, I either didn’t celebrate it at all, or I celebrated it by drinking. It seems as though the past few years when I’ve been home, the drinking has followed me. This year, I have to do my best not to turn Christmas into a full-blown, sloppy whiskey jag. In the words of a dear friend, I want to crawl into a hole and pull it in after me.
There are multiple reasons that I dislike Christmas, some deep and some shallow. There’s the obvious sadness that accompanies a holiday that’s bookended with tragedy–my mother’s anniversary is January 9th; my dad died the day before Thanksgiving. There’s the feeling of an ever-shrinking family, the loneliness of surviving, the feeling that survival coupled with such intense loneliness is not survival at all. There’s the cold, and the horrendous bells, and the terrible commercials, and the commercialism, and the awful combination of red and green. There’s the theory that if you’re not well-behaved you’ll get nothing, which in my experience has proven just the opposite. There’s the smell of cinnamon, which makes my nose itch, and the knowledge that my favorite thing about Christmas–egg nog–will very rapidly increase the size of my posterior. There’s the memory of my mother slipping me slightly-spiked egg nog when I was ten, which reminds me of the first time my father gave me a beer, which reminds me how happy he was when I threw him that 50th birthday party, which reminds me that he just barely made it to 60, which makes me want to hurl myself off of something tall just so that I’ll feel enough pain to actually cry.
I haven’t bought most of my Christmas presents yet. I’m broke, and I hate shopping, and every time I go near a mall I have to restrain myself from bashing the bell-ringer (there is a less obnoxious way to do that, I’m sure of it). Most of all, though, the reason I’ve put it all off is because every time I’ve attempted, I find a dozen things I want to buy for my Dad. I want to get him something that will make him smile like the surprise party did, like the iPod I got him for Father’s Day did, like every semester I made the Dean’s List did. But it won’t work. I could spend a thousand bucks on things he’d love and I’d still have no one to give them to. I can make a hundred people smile, but it will never be his smile, and it will never make me feel the way it made me feel to see that he knew that I loved him, and he felt appreciated, and he was proud of me.
A year ago, maybe two, I talked with a good friend of mine about going to Mexico for Christmas, just us girls. It was to be an escape from family, a voluntary excusing of ourselves from the drama and bullshit. I wish that was what I was doing this Christmas. But it wouldn’t be an escape from family this time. It would be an escape from the steel-toed boot that’s been kicking me in the chest every five minutes for almost a month.
Tonight, it was proven to me why I want to move back to Martha’s Vineyard, at least for a while. For the past week or so, two of my good friends have been organizing a benefit concert and dinner to raise money to help me pay for my father’s services and expenses. It’s something my friends did on their own, from finding bands to play for free, to booking the space, to organizing people to bring food and serve it. The newspapers offered free ads, a local cornware merchant donated plates and cups and plasticware, the radio station advertised, a bunch of people stayed afterward to clean… the outpouring of generosity was astounding.
More people came to the show than I could ever have expected, and the benefit raised over 1900 dollars. Because I don’t feel right about taking the money outright, I’m going to donate a matching amount back to the community, after his estate is settled, in the form of a Scholarship Fund in my dad’s name for high school students who want to pursue metal working.
I’m completely overwhelmed with gratitude and a sense of community–this wouldn’t happen anywhere else I’ve ever lived. I don’t really know what to say, except Thanks, Martha’s Vineyard–Thank you for caring, and for remembering my Dad so fondly. Even if I only end up staying a month or two and leaving in the spring, I’ll know what it was that brought me back, and will continue to bring me back throughout my life. The Vineyard, as twisted and backwards as it can be at times, has a firm grasp on what it means to be a community. This island helps its own, without asking why, and every one of its children is raised by a lot more than a village. Even when you leave for years, it will remember you, and it will be there when you need it to be. Thanks again, islanders. I won’t forget to give back.
Tonight while I was at work, I happened to notice that a customer looked rather familiar. For a moment, I wondered if he was a smalltime celebrity, but I nixed that idea the moment he spoke–his voice was familiar, too. As I walked away from the table, I immediately realized who it was. I checked the ID that was left for the pool table and sure enough, the last name on the card (which was actually his female companion’s card) was O’Connor, just as I’d suspected. I was then convinced that the familiar-looking guy was, in fact, Mr. Tim O’Connor– my former counselor from the camp I attended for three summers in New Hampshire from 1990 to 1992. Almost sixteen years ago.
I approached the table and posed the inevitable question: “Were you a counselor at Brantwood Camp in New Hampshire in 1992?” As I’d expected, the man gave a sort of stunned smile and confirmed that yes, he had been. “Mr. O’Connor,” I said. He nodded and smiled a bit wider. “I was one of your campers for three years,” I said. I told him my name, and he remembered me, then he introduced me (or should I say re-introduced me) to his wife, who had been a camper and later a counselor while I’d been at the camp. As soon as she said her name, her face became familiar, too. “Wow,” they both said.
We spent a few minutes recounting old memories, and they filled me in on some happenings at the camp (they’re involved in the Alumni Association, which I haven’t managed to join yet, though I should). They showed me a picture of their two sons, who are adorable. We agreed to exchange email addresses before they left, and they said they’d pass on my information to another former counselor who lives in Boston, who I made a failed attempt at contacting last year.
This story would seem incredibly surprising if this sort of thing didn’t happen to me all the time. For example, not more than a month ago, a guy came in at the end of the night and I had the same “I know you” feeling–I asked him, and it turned out that he was the ex-stepson of my former Big Sister from Big Brothers/Big Sisters, and I’d met him while she and his father were in the final stages of planning their wedding. My instinct that time had been “I know he’s someone I know’s older brother…” and sure enough, it was his younger brother Charlie who I spent more time with, because he was closer to my age.
I have run into people I know from the Vineyard in Eugene (OR), Big Sur (CA), at least half a dozen in Monterey (CA), and a dozen or so on the T and in passing here in Boston, and a few more in other places. I ran into a couple I’d met in a bar one evening in Monterey at the San Jose Airport months later. I found out that a former bartender at my current place of employment spent part of her honeymoon hanging out at the bar I used to work at in Monterey–and it was a Sunday night, which meant that I was there, working–she described every person I worked with and a handful of regulars to a tee. The new waitress at my work used to hang out with the group of kids I partied with when I lived in Hyannis, only she hung out with them years later. I’ve seen Monterey friends unexpectedly in Portland and San Francisco. I was once on a plane from Oakland to Boston and was seated in the row across from a girl I went to school with on the island from kindergarten through high school.
About nine years ago, I ran into another former Brantwood camper when I knocked on her dorm room door to ask for a lighter because my high school friend (who my friend Jamie and I were visiting at college) said the girl in that room would be the most likely to have one. I wasn’t as practiced at my “don’t I know you” spiel then as I am now, so I simply rattled off her name and address like an automaton and waited for her to realize who I was (we’d written for a short time after camp ended). Sure enough, she did. We are still in touch. A few years before that, I was working at the Flying Horses Carousel in Oak Bluffs, and in walked Cathy and Tracy Freel, two sisters I’d raised a bit of hell with at camp my second year (one of them, I can’t remember which, had hidden cigarettes in the cinder block beneath her tent).
I’ve run into a girl named Else, who I met on a bus in New Zealand four years ago, twice–once on Martha’s Vineyard the following summer, and once in Boston last winter.
I don’t know why, but it seems like these random run-ins happen to me exponentially more often than they happen to anyone else. It could be accounted for by the fact that I have an exceptionally good memory for faces and therefore perhaps I tend to recognize people in situations that others would not (9 times out of 10 I’m the one who recognizes them). Perhaps it’s because Vineyarders are well-traveled, myself included.
But how the hell do you account for Else?! That shit just doesn’t happen twice. But I’m sure it will happen again. In a few months or a few years, I will be in New York, or Toronto, or Guatemala, and I will run into Else–again. The last time, we exchanged phone numbers and didn’t call. Maybe next time we’ll become friends.
For the past several days, since its long-awaited and much-hyped release, my roommate has been tirelessly reading the latest (and purportedly final) installment in the Harry Potter book series. He sits for hours on the porch, absorbed–he doesn’t speak unless spoken to; in fact the only sound he makes is the occasional chuckle, which is directed, of course, at the fictional characters within, and not at any human within his proximity.
On one level, I understand his rapt intensity: I have been a reader of this sort my entire life. When I was in my early twenties, I read all of Alexandra Ripley’s Gone With The Wind sequel in a single sitting–eight hundred pages in seven or eight hours on Christmas night. When my sister came down in the morning to make coffee, she saw me sitting at the kitchen table, where I’d been when she went to bed. You’re up early, she said. No, I replied, I’m up late. I closed the cover of the book and pushed it across the table at her. You’re kidding me, she said. I shook my head. I am no stranger to picking off a book in one go, regardless of the length of the thing–provided I have the time. Les Miserables, of course, took a few days, maybe a week. I am also very familiar with the sort of exclusionary hypnotism a good book provides–particularly a good book of fiction. Unfortunately, due to a monumentous school reading load and an inability to get back on the horse after the semester finished, I can’t remember when I was last in that trance.
On the other hand, I can not relate to my roommate’s unrelenting consumption of pages because I seem to be the only adult woman alive who has not even opened the cover of a Harry Potter book. I haven’t seen the movies, either. All I know about Harry Potter is that he’s a pint-sized wizard, he’s got a dorky redheaded friend and a cute one and maybe one other, and apparently they’re all enrolled in some magician school of sorts. Something about Warts. I know that the people behind the merchandising empire have found a way to make a little bag of jelly beans cost seven dollars, and I know that the woman who wrote the books was facing homelessness before they were picked up, and now she’s a bazillionaire.
The reason I haven’t read Harry Potter is simple. I was an underpaid employee at Borders in Monterey when the first book came out, and the second. If that’s not telling enough, let me elaborate: For weeks on end, I answered the same question, moved and re-moved thousands of copies of the same book, directed people to the same area of the store, tendered the exact same transaction. Though Christmas is gift-wrapping season, and Potter was not released at Christmas, I gift-wrapped hundreds of copies of it in a matter of less than a month. I went through this horror twice–at an astounding pay rate of seven dollars an hour (jelly beans, anyone?). So no, I had no desire to read the thing myself. As far as I was concerned, it was a thirty dollar paperweight. Kindling, perhaps, but not worth my precious reading time. In addition, I assumed that as I tend not to be enthralled by what everyone in America is obsessed with (Britney Spears, The Matrix, The Arcade Fire, etc.), it would be an expensive waste of time anyway.
However, I find myself strangely envious of my roommate. I want a book that will do that to me again.
Truth be told, I could probably pick up book one, and within a day be finished with it–and likely enjoy it despite the fact that I’m convinced it’s probably a Tolkien rip-off but with younger, more kid-friendly characters. Once I’d finished the first book, I’d devour the second, the third… and then I’d be waiting with the rest of America for the next installment. I went through that routine once with the Robert Jordan series and I gave up after the second book. And of course, there’s the whole loyalty-to-principles issue–I’ve stayed with my Potter boycott so long that I don’t want to give up now.
I could re-read the Lord Of The Rings trilogy–but I know how it ends, and that would take away the magic. Similarly, I could re-read Atlas Shrugged or The Fountainhead, two books which had me so transfixed that I finished the former while sitting in a bathroom in a motel in Memphis because my father insisted I shut out the light in the room. Then again, I know how those end, too. I want a thousand pages of someone else’s imagination that will so wholly seduce me that I will forget to go to work, eat, and sleep–and I just can’t find it.
So I beseech you, dear readers: Give me an alternative. Recommend to me a well-written fictional book or series that a) is not Harry Potter; b) has more than five hundred pages; c) is not written by a depressing Russian, d) does not involve months of anticipation for a sequel; and most importantly e) will hold me in a state of such singular awe that I will unknowingly make wide-eyed faces like the one my roommate just made, laugh out loud, cry real tears, and lament having reached the end too soon.
Until then, I’ll be reading Lester Bangs’ and Chuck Klosterman’s essays, one at a time, on the train.
Every once in a while there comes an incident or a conversation which makes you re-examine your own behavior and beliefs, and indeed your own memory. Memory is, after all, largely associative, and completely connotative. What we remember is colored by how we felt about a certain situation, or how we wanted to feel–our own interests often dictate what parts of an occurrence we choose (subconsciously) to remember. Sometimes we think we remember things we don’t actually remember because we’ve heard stories about them so many times that we start to believe we remember–for instance, I’ve heard it said so many times that I was bald as a baby and mistaken for a boy, that I can picture myself there in the stroller, gender-misidentified, as though I actually remember it, which I decidedly do not. Similarly I remember a fight between my parents which I’m sure I was too young to remember, but which I’ve heard described so many times by both of them that I can visualize it. I was there, but I was too young to have cognizantly recalled the fight the way my mind paints the picture. The power of suggestion is amazing.
That said, I’m digressing from my original point.
I have recently come back into contact with an old friend from whom I’ve been estranged for nearly a decade. We did not have a single falling out; it was more like a series of miniature falling-outs which were never mentioned or dealt with until finally the whole thing unraveled, leaving me perhaps more bitter than I should have been. After all, none of the things over which we clashed were worth the effort–certainly not the man who turned out to be the catalyst of our friendship’s slow self-destruction. As she said in her email to me today, “we both did some really bitchy things to each other,” which is entirely true–however, I think I’d forgotten about the bitchy things I’d done because in our little petty, worthless competition, she turned out “victorious” (she won a whole lot of asshole), and I ended up spurned, nursing my wounded pride and having lost not one friend, but two. Our friendship, and in truth every relationship in our fucked-up little triangle was, to use her words, a trainwreck–and neither of us tried to right the damn train.
What I failed to take into consideration in resenting this friend for years afterward, was that though I was feeling hurt, deceived and eventually cast aside, I never once stood up for myself, or addressed the fact that I knew our friendship was falling apart. I didn’t fight for it. I resented my friend silently, and I never told her how hurt I felt by her behavior. I was content to think I’d been trampled on, but I was too chicken to say so. In addition, we BOTH violated the cardinal rule of friendship–we put the attention of a guy that we both knew wouldn’t last before friendship.
When I received her first email–she was the one who made contact after all this time–I neglected to consider that there are at least two sides to every story, and that my own jadedness may have prevented me from seeing that she didn’t have a grand time of it either. I never got her side of the story because I never asked for it. In truth, it’s all irrelevant now, because we’re both ten years older, and if age teaches us anything, it’s that high school doesn’t matter once the cap and gown come off. Still, it’s refreshing to get a wake-up call sometimes to remind you of your own folly.
I know that it will take time to get back to where we once were as friends, if it happens at all–but I’m willing now to take the time, and I’m willing to suspend my reservations and get to know her again. In her email, she reminded me of how much fun we used to have before it all went to hell, and I’m hoping we can get to that point again. One thing that I’ve learned in the ten years since we’ve seen each other is that you can never have too many friends–and that friendship is something that requires reciprocation and effort–upkeep, essentially.
So here’s to old friends becoming new ones, and to letting old bullshit lie in the past where it should.
For most of my life, my mother has been my “big mystery.” She is a person to whom I am intricately connected, but whom I barely got the chance to know. My grief over her death ran most of its course over a decade ago, when I was a young teenager, trying to find direction in a world without rudders. At this stage in my life, I am so accustomed to my mother’s absence, and to the effect it has had on my upbringing and my development as a woman, that I don’t often get upset about it anymore. Every once in a while, however, the tears come–and they come in torrents.
This afternoon, my father dropped off a few boxes of books that had been stored for the past two years in his shed, since I didn’t have space for them in the places I’ve lived since my move to Boston. My new apartment, however, has plenty of space, and roommates hungry for my accumulated wealth of literature. One of the boxes my father brought was unexpected–it did not contain books; rather, it contained journals and date books–more specifically, my mother’s journals and date books.
My mother kept a written record of nearly everything that happened in her life. She wrote primarily in Steno notebooks and date books with Degas paintings on their covers. The date books she used to record a day’s events, rather than to plan upcoming engagements. The pages of her life are peppered with nuggets of truth, such as “Punkin cranky today,” (Punkin is me), or “cannot feed self, cannot garden” (when Multiple Sclerosis had taken its toll on her body). I have paged through most of these books, but I have not read them all in their entirety, and I was surprised to flip one open this afternoon and discover a sort of letter–a voice from the grave. Her words were directed at me, but I imagine they were more of an internal monologue of her own with me in mind–she likely never expected me to see them.
25 Jun 90
…you had a big ow gouge in your knee when you were last here….I have a phone; consideration is easier than distrust. Let’s make good times–we must, there aren’t that many. Each cupful is precious. Will you show up tomorrow?
…But he did drive away and leave while I cried in the snow. (Crying in the snow is dumb, but I’d still do it.)
I feel that way about you, too. THAT is, I care about you having consideration, manners, thank yous, ability to maintain a schedule…Wish I could produce someone to help you. A grown-up friend. Suzanne not old enuf, Tanya either.
…Do you remember painting the boat? The brush was almost as big as you were.
This entry was written shortly before my mother moved to California, after I’d stopped living with her and moved in with my father. We’d grown distant unintentionally, as school scooped up much of my time, and illness and preparation much of hers. Also, at ten, I was too shortsighted to realize how little time I had left with her, though she as an adult (with a clear plan of self-deliverance from her illness) knew precisely how dear each moment was.
Sitting in my living room this afternoon, fifteen and a half years after her suicide, I found what is the closest thing to my mother’s voice that I have. I was both grateful and devastated: grateful to have found it, and devastated all over again at how profound the loss of this woman has been in my life. I wished for a way to assure her that I do have manners, and consideration, and have learned to follow a schedule. I wanted to tell her that it took me a while, but I found people to help me through the hard times, women who mothered me as well as anyone can mother a daughter who is not their own. I wanted to apologize for the difficulty I put her through when she was ill–for every entry that said, “Punkin angry, spiteful,” or “Punkin out of control.” More than anything, however, I wanted her to see how far I’ve come–despite the inherent pride I feel in my accomplishments of late, there’s still a part of me that feels like none of it’s completely real because she wasn’t there to see that I turned out okay after all.
I ran my fingers over the ballpoint indentation of my mother’s words, and I wept. I turned the pages and watched her handwriting grow more and more illegible as the illness overtook her body; there were parts even I could not decipher, after years of practice.
In one date book, I found an entry that put a smile where the tears had been. It was from February, 1989, my week-long school vacation. Reade overnight, it said. Monopoly all day. Great. 3 hotels on Boardwalk for Reade. I remember the day as though it were yesterday. It was snowing, and Reade (my childhood best friend since her birth 3 days after my own) and I were off from school. The three of us sat on my mother’s huge bed and played the game for hours–the majority of the day. I was eliminated after about three hours, but Reade and my mother played on, until finally my friend was victorious. It is one of my few clear memories of my mother, and one of even fewer in which she was truly happy. To read in her date book that the day had been as special for her as it was for me was rewarding, a confirmation that the memory was accurate, and that she really was as happy as I remember.
Tonight, Reade came over to see my new apartment. She’s six months pregnant with her first child, and she’s radiant. I wish my mother could see her. The two of us were raised for a time by each other’s mothers as well as our own–we have been family from the very beginning, and it would have overjoyed my mother to see Reade so happy.
For Reade’s “something borrowed” in her wedding, I suggested she choose a piece of jewelry that my mother made-and wore-and wear it during the ceremony. She chose a silver bracelet that my mother wore every day. I knew my mother would have been proud of the choice: it was simple, elegant and graceful, like Reade.
This evening, I shared my discoveries with Reade–she is perhaps my only friend who would understand the depth of emotion that can arise in me when such a thing is uncovered, and she is the closest to my heart; she’s known me nearly as long as I’ve known myself, and probably knows me better. Also, she remembers my mother. Most of my friends never even met my mother, but Reade remembers her–at times, I think, better than I do. She loved my mother, and my mother loved her.
With Reade there, i felt comfortable voicing my own regret–regret that I know intellectually is foolish because no nine-year-old has perfect manners, and no child can know the strain that their own behavior puts on a parent. Similarly, I felt she’d understand my gratitude for being granted an intimate glimpse into my mother’s last months, regardless of how painful that gilmpse was.
Looking at Reade across my new kitchen table, I was instantly transported back into my mother’s bedroom, on that snowy afternoon, before grief and adolescence and responsibility made a smile on my face such a rare occurrence for such a long time. Even during the dark parts, though, there was this friend–this one person who did not for one moment allow me to question her loyalty or her love. I’m so lucky, I thought, and that child in her belly is the luckiest kid in the world.
My mother gave me this friend. She and Reade’s mother were in Lamazze class together when they were pregnant, and from our earliest stages of infancy, we were together. In childhood we’d spend days on end at each other’s houses, and we celebrated every birthday together. During adolescence we did not see much of each other–we had different friends by then–but still I knew that Reade was the one true friend I could turn to without ever doubting her. That’s what family is. And as we left high school for what would eventually bear the title of “adulthood,” we reconnected, and have been as close as ever since then.
At the risk of sounding overly sentimental, I’m eternally grateful to my mother for her role in Reade’s presence in my life–and I’m equally grateful that Reade has grown to be every bit the woman I’m sure my mother expected her to be, and that she’s still a close part of my life. She has a wisdom beyond her years, and a heart that is beyond measure, and I love her as only family can love. Likewise, I’m glad to have someone around who remembers me–and my mother–before tragedy took us down and made us merely shells of what we once were. She has been here for the long haul; she’s seen the ups and downs, the scary parts and the dreams come true, and she knows me better than anyone I’m not related to.
I realized, too, as I sat talking with Reade this evening, that it is she who has been one of my most significant role models. She has always been kind, and polite, and dependable, and when I am around her, I am my best self. My mother wished for an “adult” role model to teach me manners, and gratitude, and grace–little could she have known I’d learn them from someone no older than myself, the girl with whom I’ve suffered all of my growing pains, and without whom I probably wouldn’t have made it past the fifth grade.
As I watched Reade’s silver car drive away tonight, I thought to myself, “You never know who the angels will be.” But maybe–just maybe–my mother did know.