I never figured myself a nostalgist. Mom was always looking back, reminiscing and talking about when things were always rosy and comfortable.
Her tendency to glaze over the rough peaks and low valleys, filling them in with downy fluff always made my head hurt.
“Why think of only the bad times?” I remember her saying to me on numerous occasions when I simply wanted to connect about things that were real, unhealed and unsolved.
I suppose that’s when I became a “fixer.” I recall many moments when I just wanted a connection about something real, and all Mom wanted was a connection about a memory she held dear. Which is not to say that the memories she tended were not real; they were just distilled through her filters. Mom’s filters were soft, pink, tender, sweet and miraculous, which of course meant my filters had to be sterile, harsh, coarse, acidic and flawed.
So memories have been loaded for me, especially when they came from her, or from other people. Accepting other peoples’ versions of events meant, for a long time to me, that my own versions were wholly incorrect, so as a result, some of my memories have been hazy. Was I 8, 16 or 12? Did that happen in NY or VA? Was that even me?
“Don’t look back in anger, Maaally,” Mom would say
often constantly. But it was the only way I could look back; because so much of my moments with Mom were so challenging and confused so I learned to suppress or re-dress what I experienced into more of an “interpretation.”
Since her death, the memories have come back, some fiercely as though propelled like a massive gas bubble, shiny, translucent round and wide at the top, narrowing to a point at the tail as it races through murky depths only to burst at the surface. My body feels like a picture frame at times, doing all it can to contain the kaleidoscopic blasts and sensations when those bubbles erupt.
For a few days last week, a year and change after her death and burial, I was conscious of the anniversary seemed to just exist and go with the flow, yet I was keenly present in my own family’s affairs. All three boys have lessons or practices several times a week and I got them there on time. Last year, I forgot to take people to lessons or pick them up. Murphy had a cyst erupt and that had to be dealt with. I managed to go for a row and make a new friend. I even made dinner –in advance– three nights in a row with no stress. The house was ready for the cleaning ladies (a feat in itself). I even cycled out the battery on my Kindle reading halfway through “The Prince of Tides.”
Late last week, I spoke with a friend by extension about writing and what to do with this trove of content I’ve created. She’s an SVP at a major publisher. Her idea, delivered in that gloriously fast and exacting New York City style I love so much is daunting yet totally appealing: “In your copious free time, define what you wish to offer and create. You’ve got a lot of vantage points here, but for it to work, you need to narrow down. Get a proposal together, nothing too huge, but something that tells someone what you want to do. I’ll try to share it with people, they’ll look at your work and we’ll see what sticks.”
She was also very comforting about self-publishing. “Those days of launching an e-book on your own and then feeling as though you’ve ruined any chance of a big house publishing you are over; the industry has changed so much, so if you decided to go that route, the doors are still quite open.”
So now what? I’m on it.
. . . . . . .
While I’d managed to be present, on Friday I was pulled back to the 1970s. My father made plans to take a train to see my brother and his family for the weekend and I drove him to the station. For me, it was a perfect visit: we weren’t going to a doctor or running an errand. We had a destination and he got to look forward to resting on a train with his laptop and watch the cities fly by.
On my way, my cell phone rang when I had about 45 seconds to go before I was supposed to be at his house, 70 minutes before his train left.
“Hi Dad! I’m on Wiseass Road … I’ll be there in 60 seconds….”
“Where are you, hon-nee?” He asked.
I repeated myself. We hung up cheerfully.
When I pulled into his driveway, he was already out and about, locking up his car and padding his tweed jacket’s pockets for his keys and cell phone and other trinkets.
I took his wheelie and heaved it into my middle row.
I could hear his keys rattle and medicine pills bounce around in their vials as he poured into my car.
We exchanged niceties, he thanked me for helping him out and all that.
“I have something for you, but I’ll give it to you at the station, when you drop me off…” he said a few moments after he settled into place and the car was riding along.
I followed his instructions to get to the interstate near his home. That sounds terrible, doesn’t it — that I needed directions from my dad, who lives very close to me, on how to get to the interstate. It’s not like that. The highways are constantly in a state of flux around here and sometimes traffic is such that Dad wants me to go a different way. Better to not rouse an octogenarian who’s got a train to catch by taking the wrong way to the highway… I’ve learned.
His cell phone rang. It was my other brother, just checking in to say hello and see how things were going on the way to the train.
“Molly’s driving me, she’s taking me now, we’re on our way to the highway. Take this road, here on the right, hon.”
I took that road on the right.
“Are you working? Preaching this weekend? Oh yeah? What’re you working on … Get in the center lane, honey, this is an exit only …”
I drifted to the center lane, which I was on my way to doing anyway, I can READ A SIGN, Dad.
“That sounds interesting. When I get on the train, I’ll call you … I’ll make it my official first call … we’re rounding a bend here to see how it’s going on the highway, OH NO…. JEEEEZUS… Go into the left lane, and we’ll run along the road on a parallel local road … Yeah, I’ll call you later.” His red Sprint handset slaps closed.
“I just haven’t adjusted to the time I guess; I thought people were still on vacation … ” he said, sounding frustrated and aged, lending to me a feeling as though because he was older that the roads were more unpredictable. “There’s always some construction going on … I hope we get there on time…”
So I went to the light, and I turned left and we hummed along the highway, which was eventually humming along as well. “We will absolutely get there on time. It won’t be an issue.” I said.
As we approached the train station, I told him he didn’t need to tell me how to get there, “It’s off Callahan Street,” I said.
“YES! What a good memory!” he said to me. I notice now as I type that exchange, that I do have a good memory, that what I recall might not always be super-duper fantastic Betty Crocker Brady Bunch Cosby Show moments, but that what I recall is likely very accurate, mine, and that it’s ok if it doesn’t synch up or please everyone else.
“Yes, I used to work down here, remember?”
“Yes, for that publisher; your boss, Jim McGovern? Joe McGavern? McGuiness?”
“Close, it’s not a common Irish name in America anyway; but you’re close …” and I told him what it was. “He taught me some amazing lessons about business and publishing and editing. I remember one instance when I …”
“Turn left here. And then we’ll swoop around down to the right and you can stop to drop me off in front.”
That story I was going to tell didn’t matter, I guess. He was excited. We were on time. He was going to see family on a beautiful weekend, for the first time ever unencumbered by Mom and her anxieties and -isms.
I turned, swooped and stopped. Put the car in park and prepared to open my door to get his wheelie out and help him to the doors.
“Hey, wait. I found this and I want you to have it.” He said as he was starting to lean out the passenger door of my SUV. He was reaching into his pocket and handed it to me. “Here. You know what this is…” he said in a gentle, singsongy and sincere voice. “I know she’d want you to have it. I want you to have it.”
It was a locket. A gold, 2″ oval etched locket that Mom wore all the days of her life that I can remember. There is no mistake in this memory. I can see and smell and hear that locket swish along the ropey gold chain she wore and see it nestled on her chest, or in the crease between her breasts, or rest on a cashmere sweater that smelled of her, wool and Chanel No. 5. For as long as I can remember, that locket has housed two photos. One of me, when I was in kindergarten, and one of my older brother (whom my father was about to visit) when he was likely in second grade.
” ‘Shee Chrishhee. Shee Chrishhee…’ ” Dad said as he handed it to me.
I opened it up and the tears bounded out like that bubble from the murk. They poured out of me, and are again. That locket was not amongst her things when she died. It wasn’t in that plastic bag the nurse gave me the night I left her body at the hospital. I wondered where it was. I wasn’t ever going to ask Dad, but I’d wondered for 375 days. I was reluctant to ask.
“Shee Chrishhee.” I whimpered back, vaulted to my toddler self, recalling the phrase I used to utter to Mom to glimpse the picture of my brother.
When I saw the pictures of myself and my brother, they were as I’ve always remembered. The photo of my brother is patchy and worn slightly, likely from my fingers and thumb rubbing it upon my numerous requests to see the pictures, on demand.
Here is the image of me, still under its little plastic cover which Mom likely added to protect it from destruction as the image of my brother had been worn.
Do you have an image or photo of yourself that you love so much? That when you see it, it all comes flooding back? God, I was so little. I have always cherished this image of myself.
I remember that top. I loved it. It was a blue “Health-Tex” turtleneck with tortoise-y false buttons running down the red-fringed ruffle. I had blue and red gingham pants and a skirt that went with it.
I won’t share the picture of my brother because he’d likely disown me if I did. He is a terrifically handsome man and was a great looking kid too, but per the mode of the time, he is wearing a David Cassidy-inspired vest over a massive-collared pale paisley print man-blouse. His hair is also David Cassidy, in the fashion of the day and his smile is gentle and kind. His teeth are … his teeth have been addressed orthodontically so they are completely different now, but I sense he’d kill me if I shared it so I won’t.
So I see how this goes, at least for the moment. Nostalgia is imminent. Ha. It is though. The following evening I went to a mini-high school reunion and caught up with friends. It was so lovely to be with them all. We’ve all aged beautifully, I might add.
The phrase of the night was “AOOOMAIIIGAAAD! You haven’t changed a bit!!!” and I had to brace a little at that; I spoke with a dear friend about that utterance that night and she said, “Yikes. I hope I have. I hope I’ve evolved! I’ve done so much growing and work…” we laughed.
I decided that I wanted to hear and say this, “You look great! You’ve taken such good care of yourself…” and that that would be enough.
I’ll be around. I’ll be poking at the proposal from my friend in publishing. I’m trying to figure it all out. Maybe this is enough; maybe the blogging is enough. I doubt it though; I need to let myself have bigger plans. I need to let myself chase a dream. Chasing that dream requires I go backwards too, especially if I want to call it a memoir; just don’t ask me to call it ‘nostalgia.’
Pat Conroy – very excellent writer. His descriptions are so vivid. In one of his other books, he writes one of my favorite descriptions. (Context: two people are outside and one person is inside playing the piano.) “The notes floated down like petals into the garden.” LOVE IT.
Anyways, great (gripping) expression in your writing. It is always a surprise to me how much physical pain can accompany a memory.
On an unrelated note, I finally shared the Empathy video with my senior director, who LOVED it and will pass it on to those who report to her. I am hoping to see it make its way into the workforce – I think it would be such a great resource for those who don’t know what to say.
love pat conroy… he makes me swoon. he reminds me of fitzgerald; that level of description takes you to a place where you forget you’re reading. xoxox