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Last Dance For Mary Jayne/Part 1/15/15

In Should I Even Be Talking About This?, Writing on January 15, 2014 at 9:08 pm

I didn’t believe my mother was dead.

I thought of all of our fights, how angry we would get at each other, just seething, dripping anger- and now it all seems so trivial. You hear this all of the time: Don’t fight with your loved ones, you never know when the last time you’ll see them is. You hear it ad nauseum, but it is so hard to put into practice. In the heat of the moment, when your anger sizzles, it seems like you and this person are here to stay for infinity, in fact the leaving would be the good part. Terrible thoughts. I wished I could take them back, or at least apologize for my part in these rows. As Elizabeth Strout put it, in The Burgess Boys: ‘And it was too late. No one wants to believe something is too late, but it is always becoming too late, and then it is’

This isn’t to say that my mother and I fought all the time- far from it. My mother was my one true champion. Other than my husband and son, she was the one person who had my back. She pointed out my strengths, glossed over my flaws, and she truly wanted the best for me. I didn’t come from a family that was close- in fact, once my ‘original’ family was broken up by divorce when I was just eleven, there was a step-mother a new brother,  and relocations , even side chicks.  Families morphing into different families- like television shows being re-cast, only to fail in the ratings. None of these combinations even remotely worked.(And I didn’t even blame the step-mother: How can you possibly love new, half-formed kids anywhere close to how much you love your own flesh and blood? It’s not possible) During it all, my mother was there to let me vent, and always took my side.

The last time my mother came to visit me, I met her at the airport, taking for granted that this was just another visit from Mom. Happy-but not over-the-moon: I’ve always been a little put out by overnight company. Throws my routine completely out of whack- even when I adore the guests.

I started getting restless, as her plane had already arrived from New York.  I’d watched  what seemed like a hundred passengers  spill into the arrival area- everyone but her. A woman stood directly in front of me, and I looked around her trying to  find my Mom. I remember thinking ‘Gosh, Lady- can I have some personal space here?’ until  the woman cleared her throat in a familiar way and said my name. The ‘woman’ was my mother. She’d lost about 40 pounds, and her cheeks were hollow. Her white-blonde hair was up in a neat bun. She wore a tan trench coat over dark jeans and bright white Keds. She looked tiny. None of this seemed right- I’d just seen her a few months prior. “Oh, Lee-Lee!” she said, hugging me- realizing I hadn’t recognized her.

“Mom???” I was shocked. “What happened, Ma? You’re  so skinny!” I said, alarmed.

“I know- finally!” she said, laughing. She handed me the hardcover book in her hand, telling me I’d love it. Books were our thing. My mother sent me shipments of books- two, three, sometimes four at a time, all current, all hardcover. She made me promise to never send her any books: ‘They’re so gosh darn expensive, and I get them on sale, she’d say! Spend your money on your family!” I pretended I didn’t know she wasn’t buying the books on sale. Sometimes a receipt would flutter out of one of the books, and I’d be surprised at how much she spent.  Since she insisted I not buy her books we sent each other bookmarks as well- writing things on them, personalizing them according to our likes. Mom liked Marilyn Monroe, nautical designs, the Cathy cartoon (I would explain to the salesperson ‘This is for my mother’- like he or she really cared, embarrassed that they might think was the Cathy fan) My mom sent me : Leopard print, crescent moons, black cats and bookmarks advertising book stores. I never ran out of bookmarks or books, and as far as I’m concerned, that’s still the best way to live, crammed in with books.

“Mom- is something wrong?” I asked, opening up her unbuttoned coat like a curtain, and seeing her much smaller body, bordering on frail. Mom was 58, far from old, but she seemed to have aged tremendously in the face, and had lost so much weight since last year, when I’d visited her in Connecticut.

“Look at my nails, Lee Lee!” she said, pulling away, holding out one hand and hoisting her purse onto her shoulder with the other. She was standing guard above the N.Y. Giants duffle bag she’d carried on by placing a bright white ked on either side. No criminal mind could outsmart this woman, no sirree! If you were in the market for pastel turtlenecks, coral based lipsticks and enamel brooches, look elsewhere, pal. You weren’t swiping her stuff.

She fanned her fingers in front of me, showing off ultra long  fingernails painted coral, which matched her lipstick. “Wow!” I said “I love them! Acrylics?”

“Yup! I splurged. I figured: What the hell?” she said, laughing. I loved long nails- even when every fashion magazine and maven said they were tacky and a ‘Don’t’, I still really liked the way they looked. The few times I tried acrylics they incapacitated me, and I couldn’t do the simplest of things. I kept trying them, but when I had to drive to a friend’s house and have her zip up a beautiful dress on a night I suspected I was being proposed to, that was it for me and fake daggers. So I was relegated to admiring them on others. I reached down and picked up her Giants bag, hoisting it up, surprised at the weight of it, quickly adjusting to hold the strap with both hands, the book in the crook of my arm. My own purse zip-lined down my arm, landing on the bag. A comedy of errors. I sighed and readjusted everything, while Mom laughed.

“C’mon- let’s go to the car..” I said, and we walked through the fancy Palm Beach International terminal. Mom whistled, long and slow:”Boy, This airport is really something else!” she said. “Fancy Schmancy!..I wish we had something like this!”

“Are you kidding?” I asked, scrunching up my face “I looove the New York airport! It’s so  much more…..epic!”

“Yeah, well, ‘epic’ you can have , missy!” she said, rolling her eyes. My mom rarely traveled, so her opinion of airports wasn’t exactly based on experience. She had flown down to Florida when my son was two. Before that,  the last flight she’d been on had been shortly after my parent’s divorce, when she went to Lake Tahoe with her  single gal pals in search of  Tequila Sunrises,  mustachioed men and conferences on women’s lib. I was twelve at the time. And here she was, gushing about the airport like a seasoned traveler. “Just look around!” she said, “everything is so clean! There’s no pushing or shoving, or any of those ‘outta my way’ people, like back home, where everyone is in such a gosh darn hurry!” Mom shook her head. The way she said ‘back home’ made me long for the days of living up North.

“Well, you know- a lot of the population down here is elderly, so they can’t really hurry…..you know…what with osteoporosis and all!” I laughed with the pure joy and disconnect of someone well under forty, someone who wouldn’t have to deal with aging issues anytime soon, if ever.

We drove to the house my husband and I had recently bought, our first. She loved it. She made a big fuss over her grandson, now 9- marveling over everything he did, wore and said. She stalked him like the paparazzi taking pictures and ambushing him with hugs.  She  claimed a white plastic chair out by our kidney shaped pool, where she’d sit and smoke her Salem’s, sometimes starting as early as 5 am. My mother didn’t start smoking when she was 33. (who does that?) She soaked up the sun, and was soon as brown as a chestnut. It was overall a fun, stress free visit.

But there were still moments when she drove me nuts. She was always washing dishes (fine-have at it!) but I started noticing a film on the glasses, a dullness to the plates. After several days, I finally spoke up and asked her if she knew what that was about. She admitted she couldn’t find the dish detergent, and hadn’t asked me about it, assuming I was out. In a way, I could understand- I had taken to using a fancy glass bottle with a pouring spout as my clear dish liquid container. But it was right there next to the sponge. I pointed this out to her. It was an idea I’d gotten from Martha Stewart (whose advice could only lead to no good) But if in fact, I was out- why wouldn’t she ask me to get some from the store five minutes away? She shrugged  her shoulders.

“Didn’t you see  this bottle, right here?’ I asked her, holding it up.

“Yes, but I didn’t know it was soap”

“What did you think it was? Right there next to the sponge?” I asked.

“To be honest, it looked like vodka” she answered quietly.

Oh my God! Did my mother think I had a full bottle of vodka at the edge of the sink with a convenient pouring spout attached? That I was swiggin’ it down like Neely, from Valley Of The Dolls?  And if she did, why wouldn’t she say something?! Needless to say, that ended my foray into Martha-land. I immediately went back to the Palmolive Green in its plastic squirt bottle, and my glasses and dishware once again sparkled. And I suppose a mom who minded her own business was a blessing as well…..as long as she wasn’t in charge of the dishes.

  1. I wish i had this same connection. I sometimes think about how il feel and react…shouldnt i choke uo thinking about such a horrible and forseeable ending? But,its not there. I choke up wishing it were there,but its not. It never really was and faded over time like newsprint in the Sun. You were lucky youre Mom had your back.Mine continues to show me she never will…and its unfathomable to me given my own relationship with my own daughter. Its almost criminal. I understood mostly all if your last paragraph…yeah,food…always. How many years has it been? Did you change the timeline?..15 years?! If thats so,i cant believe it. I want to read more. Im goung to read this again. Xo

    A Kick

    Like

    • Haha…the last ‘paragraph’ was actually notes to myself. No matter what I do I will always send out posts with glaring mistakes that I can only see after I press ‘Publish’. The food aspect will surprise you, as it’s not what you may think. It used to make me angry that the one person who really ‘had my back’ was the first one gone (too young and tragically) but I choose to look at it as unfortunate for her, and not about me at all. I assume that the future is open to possibility, and that it gets written as we go.

      Technically, I think it’s fourteen years, and yeah, time flies. And now I’ve gotten in my cliche of the day! I know it was before 9/11- and I was glad she didn’t see that, at least.

      Speaking for myself, we can’t always have the relationships we want with the people we want them with. If you have any good ones at all, that’s a win. And so many times, the best people in your life are not connected through blood. It just isn’t a requirement.

      Like

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