True story. Snapshots from a photographic memory.
It was time for a visit. A few years earlier, I had taken the Southwest Coach Amtrak train from Denver, Colorado to Southern California. It had been several years since I had left my home state, and now I would return to visit with family and friends. One of those on my list was to visit my mom's house.
I had only stayed at her home in the high desert for a day or so. She had a large yard, surrounded by cinder blocks. A few dogs and a cat wandered about in the grassy area. The walls of the house were cinder blocks also.
"Come in , Baby. Let's go inside," she said to the cat.
Inside the home, it was much cooler than it was outside, but the first night we were there, we found out that the fireplace was clogged up, and we'd slept near it. Whether it was coincidence or not,, my son and I had gotten sick for several days. . I left her house to visit another friend so we got away from the fireplace. I promised to return and the next day or so to spend more time with her before I went back home. Soon we said our goodbyes and I returned home.
A few months had passed when I got a call from her, and found out she'd fallen outside in the yard and had her arm operated on and she had to have pins put in. She said she had fallen. "I'm so sorry." I wondered how she could have fallen and hurt herself so badly "Tell me the truth. Was anyone there when it happened? Did anyone push you?"
"No. Nobody pushed me. I just stumbled and fell,"
That had to be a pretty bad fall, but she said it was an accident, so there was nothing else for me to say She also told me about her catteract operations. Each eye was operated on one at time, and much to her surprise she could see better than she ever thought she could.
It had been several years since I'd left California the first time, and moved to Colorado. This time I decided to move back to California. I had moved to the same locale as she had been, only one town over, which was something I hadn't considered before.
Upon my return, I was missing her and decided to visit a few homes where my mother had lived at in her later years.
Now, all I could see of her cinder block home was weeds, which had grown up in the yard and nobody lived there now.
I decided to visit the other home, which was at the far side of the same town near the air force base. Almost any day we might have to cover our ears because of the incredibly loud noise the planes overhead made upon take off.
I drove to where it was, first going one way, and then another. I couldn't find it, yet I knew it was there. Had I somehow missed it because of the trees lining the street? I knew it was a short distance from the corner.
I must have drove up and down that street five times before I spotted a vacant lot, also grown with weeds. I wondered if that was it. I walked over to the lot. Yes, that was what was left of her home. The one I had visited often. The one where she cooked and we watched videos at. At some point, they had torn down that building and some smaller ones across the lot from it, and the only remains were those pipes sticking out of the ground for plumbing and such. My face felt hot and somehow I felt robbed. I marched to my car and climbed in and didn't move.
Unwilling tears threatened to spring from my eyes. No. I'm not going to cry. That's just useless, I told myself, yet my stomach quivered and quaked. My mind said one thing, my body another. Wetness spilled down my cheeks. . There was no stopping it, it felt like something inside of. me had burst and came out through my eyes. I allowed myself to go ahead and feel everything and it was a while before my sobbing had stopped. Not only had I lost my mother, but even where she seemed happiest was gone. It was like she never existed, yet the memories were real.
I may be getting a bit ahead of myself here. Let me explain. During the time between my long distance visit and this search for her home, I had returned to Colorado, but discreetly had this box I had saved for her. In it were things she might enjoy--a pretty pink house dress, costume jewelry (she loved that kind of thing), stationary, and several small things. It was months before I decided to send it. What made up my mind was one phone call from her.
"When you going to come visit me again?"
"I don't know. It costs a lot of money to travel."
"I've been having chest pains lately," she said.
She went in but I wasn't hearing her. My mind kept repeating 'chest pains'. I didn't want to alarm her too much, since more than likely it wasn't life threatening. At least I hoped it wasn't. "Well, as you get older you might get aches and pains which you didn't have before." After I said it, I felt kind of like an uncaring snot. It sounded as if I was downsizing her ailments. "Just in case, maybe you should see a doctor...as soon as possible."
"I don't have another appointment for a few weeks."
"Call your doctor anyway." I hadn't even said please.
After we hung up, I glanced at that box I had been saving, and decided maybe I should go ahead and send it. What was I waiting for anyway? It wasn't like I'd be visiting her anytime soon I couldn't I was finishing up my college courses Still, she wasn't getting any younger. She deserved to enjoy some pretty things, things she'd done without for many years. And so I set out to do that.
I even decided to send her a nice greeting card. Looking at the card, I wondered what I could write that would be meaningful. Keep it simple, I thought.and wrote three little words I love you. That was something I didn't usually say. We just knew we lived each other Although, the box cost me more than I cared for, I shipped it off the next day, and then waited to see her reaction.
About a week or so had passed, or so it seemed. No phone call. No response. I grumbled about how slow the mail service was. Did it matter as long as she eventually got it? Nah. So maybe she'd get it next week. Maybe she'd gone to Las Vegas like she sometimes did, if she wasn't broke.
Several more days passed by, and then one day the phone rang again. This time it was my brother, who lived in the same town as her, just a few doors down. How odd was it for him to call rather than her? He never called me. Maybe she got the package. Anxious to hear her reaction, I shrugged it off, thankful that she must have recieved it.
Before I could asked, he said, "Are you sitting down?"
"Sitting down? Why?" Everyone knows that usually when someone says Are you sitting down? you are about to get some bad news. "Did something happen? Is Mom sick?
Is she okay? What's wrong with her?"
"First tell me if you're sitting down."
"No, I'm not. Just tell me what's going on." This time I had enough of his hesitating.
"Sit down first."
I sighed. "I don't want to sit down " I knew he wasn't going to tell me what in the heck is going on. I lied. "Okay, fine, I'm sitting. Is something wrong? Where's Mom?"
"Mom died today," he said.
My jaw dropped open. I sank into a chair. "What? Oh God. No! Don't say that. Don't ever joke about that! Where is she? Let me talk to her. "
"It's true. She had chest pains, went to the hospital, and died on the operating table."
I parroted what he'd said. "Chest pains. Hospital. Died on the operating table.." My sentences were coming out fragmented and in between words I could hear myself making little squeaking sounds. Slowly, my muddled mind realized how everything started to make sense. Why else would he have called? I let him talk. I wasn't even sure what he was saying.
"Are you still there?"
I wondered what caused her to have the heart attack. Had he upset her, hit her, or had her heart just weakened so much that she couldn't get through it?
" Hello? I think we got disconnected," I heard him say.
"I'm here," I managed between sniffles. I had no words of sympathy for him. I knew I'd lash out at him I could barely keep myself together. I walked to the bedroom, sat on the bed, my gaze looked toward that spot where the box had been and wasn't now.
it wasn't until after a little breakdown on my part, that his live-in girlfriend got on the phone. She too rambled on about what happened. I heard the words but it wasn't registering. She was dead!
I remembered our last conversation and what I'd sent her. "The box. Did she get the box?"
"Yes, she got it and it was opened. I don't know if she saw everything in it."
To this day, I still wonder if she had found the card and read it first and whether it was the last thing that she ever saw before her death. I also wondered what those last few minutes were like for her. Did my brother show her love before the day she died or did he take her for granted ? If not, now he'd have to live with it. Either way she did things to show him he was loved, no matter what he said it didn't do, and that's what counts.
Maybe that's how it is. We each have one more thing to do, or one more thing to say or hear before we let go of this life.