Two years ago today she was admitted to the hospital. Today we had lunch like it was no big thing.
Can you believe it? Two years. What a goddamn two years.
I love you, mama.
The thing about May in Berkeley is that it’s supposed to be beautiful. Warm, sunny, soft, sparkling, springy, ripe, a little bit exciting and maybe even sexy in its earthy oddball way.
That’s how I ended up at Berkeley, anyway. A perfect May day. I was 16, about to graduate from high school, and living in a tiny town in what at the time I considered to be shitscreek nowhere, a combination ski town and hickville way up in the Colorado Rockies. I applied to a wide variety of schools, got into half of them, and one was Berkeley. I’m certain almost any of the others would have been better for me, the girl I was then, but the girl I was then was stubborn and when she wanted what she wanted, she found a way to get it. A single visit to Berkeley and the Cal campus on a May afternoon, the Northern California sun honeying up the air, scattered students relaxing just after finals and soaking in the green everywhere, the green that seemed to spread all the way down to the beautiful Bay: I was done for.
It was probably the first time in my life I felt smitten by a place, or at least the first time I remember being so, was old enough to recognize what that was. Coming to Berkeley was never about the school, except maybe the name. It was about the place. The Berkeley-ness I thought I’d find there, the excitement of people believing in things and wanting to change the world and themselves, what I’d seen on that May day, and what I’d wanted to be and to become.
We all know how those things usually work out. No surprise either that I never ended up liking the university and that Berkeley itself makes me a little crazy but I still, to this day, love the East Bay.
Today it’s gray outside, cold and overcast. Supposedly tomorrow it will rain, and again this week. It’s been an odd spring, a bait and switch season of warm and cold. It feels like a fitting, awkward ending to what has been a year. Just that: A year. The hardest, yes, and also one the most important and instructive.
Eleven months ago today my mom went into the hospital. One month shy of a year. At once it feels like another lifetime and yet it is more immediate than memories I have from last week. I remember thinking last May that a change was in the air; I could feel it and wondered what was coming. Here I am again, and I think another change is coming. This time, whatever it may be, all I ask is that it bring nice weather with it.
This is a photo from 2008. I took it when I was first getting into photography beyond a digital point and shoot, with the first film camera I owned - a Pentax K1000 SE, of course - besides that Spectra Polaroid that started the whole damn thing.
That’s my mom. She’s sitting across the table from me at a favorite restaurant, on their patio, in September when it’s momentarily warm enough here to sit outside in the evenings. We had a feast that night. The dog was with us, under the table, and he was delighted as always, because my mom spoils him and slips him treats constantly. Despite her protestations that she doesn’t like dogs.
My mom also doesn’t like having her photo taken. I respect that by rarely taking them - or at least by not showing them in public. Then this past year went and happened, and suddenly I hated the lack of photos more than I ever imagined possible. Not only as someone who likes to record and to remember, but as someone who suddenly realized how many huge gaping holes there were in my photographic memories.
Because without those photographs, where were my memories? All faded and in many cases, lost forever.
So without this photo, I would never remember this particular evening. It would have slipped by like any other dinner, any other evening. Instead I remember how the little votive glowed next to the tiny succulent, and how, every time I go to that restaurant, I find it impossible to stay away from their rosemary-infused olive oil. Oh, and that rosé. Yeah, that rosé.
But what I’d have forgotten most of all was the lovely time my mom and I had. Because people who love each other don’t always have great times. Sometimes they have good times, sometimes they have bad times, sometimes they have the absolute best times, and sometimes they want to throttle the crap out of each other.
But of course, sometimes they take a step back and are just really, really grateful they have each other. And they do their very best to accept each other’s limitations and peccadilloes, the no photos and the grumpy moments and the eye rolls and the heavy sighs and the princessy daughter moments and the motherly guilt. Because that’s part of what love is, right?
So let’s hear it for photographs and memories (and Jim Croce, apparently), especially the ones that aren’t idealized moments but leave a little to the imagination. And let’s hear it for complicated lives and adult relationships, and the fact that nothing is easy and no one is perfect, because perfect really is the enemy of the good and we’re all - well, most of us anyway - doing the best we can, and please stop beating yourselves up, some of you. And let’s hear it for the moms, especially for moms on the first Mother’s Day when one year ago you were just about to embark on The Year of Hell that made you think you might not ever have a mom on Mother’s Day again.
GPOY in the waiting area of the cancer center taking a break from the treatment room which is a little dark but which is also where a few hours earlier my mom told me how much she likes the movie Hustle & Flow and how the theme song was stuck in her head and then proceded to sing to me, repeatedly, “It’s hard out there for a pimp” and that’s kind of the best thing ever W
I found this on my desk just now, printed on a little torn out bit of magazine. My mom gave it to me, some time earlier this year.
Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all,
And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.
I’ve heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.