I don’t remember the day my mother left my father and siblings and the sea-green stucco house on Sigman Street. I don’t remember the fight that drove her to leave. There were so many fights every day, all day long.
I don’t remember arriving at my grandparents’ trailer in Downey, a city in Southeast Los Angeles, or how long we stayed there. Was it hours or days? I can’t recall. I don’t remember coming back home. All I remember is the primal bliss of having my mother all to myself. I was three and she was 37.
She, with her milky-white skin, towered above me in splendor like one of the three graces in the cameo she often pinned to her dress on Sundays.
In the mornings she carried me across the trailer park’s pea gravel parking lot to a cinderblock stall of showers. It was the happiest occasion of my short life. It was quiet and warm outside and the showers were cool and clean. I was eye-level with my mother’s knees as we showered. She, with her milky-white skin, towered above me in splendor like one of the three graces in the cameo she often pinned to her dress on Sundays. They were naked and innocent and full of mirth, like her.
In those moments, away from my violent father, she was the queen of her own life. When we were done showering she wrapped herself in a robe and put me in a towel and draped another over my head like a veil. I miraculously entered the world of the baby on the Downy bottle, a world of soft pink and blue hues. That empty bottle with the picture of the well-cared-for baby stayed on top of the dryer at the sea-green house. I asked everyone who that baby was but nobody could ever tell me.
On that day, I was the baby on that sky blue bottle. I was as naked as I was the hour I was born and I was in my mother’s arms and nobody was ever going to take her away from me.
The Crayon I Hated
My mother walked back across the pea gravel parking lot to the turquoise aluminum fortress that was a 1950s portable trailer. Oh, how I loved sitting outside underneath its awning. But, soon, we were back home again inside the sea-green stucco house. Sea-green like the crayon in my box of 64 Crayolas. The crayon I hated because it was the color of fighting and fear and shame.
I don’t remember leaving the trailer, just longing for it all the days of my life. Longing for my mother. I cannot hear the chumble of tiny gravel under my feet, without recalling our long sadness and our momentary bliss.
Cracked Open, Bypassed, Threaded, Stinted
In 2007, I found myself alone, yet again, in a hospital room with my mother. She’d been cracked open, bypassed, threaded, and stinted at least half a dozen times. She was elderly, now, and had pneumonia. I went to see her every day when I got off work and sat next to her hospital bed and watched her rest. Her shoulders shook as she coughed in her sleep.
The days of that illness stretched into weeks. Once she was well I signed her up for an art class as if painting would make the heart disease go away. I met her every week at the YMCA during open swim where we wrapped ourselves in towels once again.
At night, I tossed and turned and stared up at the ceiling. An elephant on my chest. I needed to schedule my annual mammogram and catch up on five years of scrapbooking. A report in the mail showed that my anticipated social security earnings were going down and I grew wide-eyed at the thought of losing my mother. How can I live half of my life without my mother? Who would want to? Why do our mothers have to leave us? Who thought this would ever be OK?
A Boot On Her Aorta
Nothing could undo the years of damage to my mother’s heart. This is what happens when you spend your life with a tyrant. He took a toll on every chamber of her heart, his cruel boot on her aorta every day of her precious life. Eventually, her arteries stopped working, starving her heart of oxygen. She died alone in the wee hours of Christmas Eve 2017. No doubt, she was trying to hang on for one more day. Our presents, wrapped in turquoise foil, were stacked upon her table.
It was the saddest day of my life.
A Gift for Bridgy
Finally, when my daughter Bridgette turned 13 a few years later I gave her a vintage cameo I found on Etsy along with a note:
Dear Super Bridgy,
The beautiful women in this vintage cameo are called the three graces. Carved from sea-green agate they are strong, pure, and enchanting just like you. For centuries they’ve danced with ribbons and played tambourines. They are not a myth, Bridgette. They are your mother, your grandmother and you.
All My Love, Mommy