First, I would like to borrow a line from dear Christine, who wrote, when her mother Kay passed away this summer: Please forgive anything I ever said or did that was less than the love of Great Spirit.
Everything beautiful reminds me of her ~ every sunny, beautiful moment and how I can still see her arm in arm with me, as we crossed Union Square in San Francisco. Like a ‘70s movie, bright and sunny and warm.
She had that ‘70s soft and golden aura about her. She laughed easily.
I’ll never forget this: Once, after her divorce, she said—we were driving back across the bridge from the city— “Who can give me back my years? Who?”
She also thought I would one day write a book about her. It was part of her grandiosity, part of her illness. In a way, she was very right. My disappeared muse.
Maman jaan, this book is for you. With all the love in my heart.
I have to tell you this.
I am sitting on the floor of my living room with sky blue walls and all kinds of French antiquey furniture, a few knick-knacks and many paintings abound. It is too hot to light a candle this afternoon, and on the glass table in front of me, a cup of iced coffee and a cup of passion tea
Pink and gold tufted ottoman
A tuning fork holding an archangelic frequency, I am told: Raphael
Art books, Bonnard and Balthus, Goya’s
Something has happened, and I have to tell you
I was in Nordstrom’s department store in Walnut Creek, California last night.
I think I have missed her my whole life, even when I was fighting with my father on behalf of her ~ it was always a struggle, somehow
and then I lost her.
I mean, I lost her. We all did, but I was the only one in the family who was utterly vocal about it. Shrieking like a banshee.
What did we lose?
The classiest, most elegant, sunny woman ever.
That was my mother.
Is it true that she wants nothing to do with me since I hospitalized her?
Perhaps. Yes. Most definitely.
But that doesn’t matter.
She had virtue. A modern-day Joan of Arc, whom she greatly admired.
And an intense glamour, not unlike Vivien Leigh’s. Or I. Magnin’s.
Hanging out with her was like visiting I. Magnin’s for the afternoon: elegant, warm, infinitely chic, inviting and kind.
Never mind that she wasn’t always the kindest to me. She wanted me to be a copy of her, which I resisted with all my might. But I loved her. Once I got past my resentments, I loved her more than I knew or could imagine. With a huge kind of love that may, I see now, go totally unrecognized by her until she or I die.
For years, I cried in the bathtub almost every night over her. I was crying because we were all losing her, and only I was seeing this fact and in anguish about it, or so it seemed. Everyone else seemed more blasé, more this-too-shall-pass and saying things like, “Well, at least she has money.” I was even accused by a relative—indirectly of course, via another—of wanting her money. Then I was called crazy myself.
And then, seven years into her illness, I was called on by my grandmother, her mother, to hospitalize her.
The next year, trying again to hospitalize my mother, this same relative shouted—this time, to me, on the phone, “Your mother never loved you!”
After year eight, something happened. I was able to distance myself from her, to stop wanting her to be different. I kind of gave up on her. I gave up my anger toward her too. I accepted. And she became for me like somebody dead … maybe because it hurt too much to know she lived five minutes away and wouldn’t see me. Even death was no longer taboo to me, she was such a great teacher. I never thought such a teacher would ever crack.
Still—and this, according to my friend Janey, is right action—I sent her gifts and cards and called her occasionally, not wishing to disturb or distress her or fix or change her, just wanting to sob—and sometimes I have sobbed, as I did on Mother’s Day this year, into her message machine. About how much I respect her, and how I see now, all these years later, how right she was about so many things.
When I realized how much of what she had said in anger against my father was actually true.
And how blind I had been, how much of a kid inside.
Wanting approval, wanting at least one parent to love me, wanting so much I would never ever admit to.
I have to tell you this, because for far too long I didn’t think I needed to tell anyone. I didn’t think I would ever need people in this way, and now I do. Why? Because my heart has grown so big and full and soft and round, and because we are all in this together and something in me is bursting to write this all down for all of you!
So I am following its guiding call by saying Yes.
It is Sunday, dusk. I have just returned from an afternoon of thoughtful, slow shopping at Nordstrom department store, where Heidrun, my caring shopping consultant and someone who has come through at least one of my angel paintings, makes sure I have accrued all the triple rewards points due me for my knitted sweater and classic Ralph Lauren camel-colored dress.
I am crazy with grief and longing.
Though I appear to be a happy-go-lucky girl/woman in a sunhat and cute skirt, it is all I can do to stifle a sob, looking at the winter boots set out on table after table in the shoe department. I find a tan, calf-length pair that fairly mimics what my mother, style diva that she was, would have worn. The salesman is kind and remembers me. I can’t believe I actually ask him if I can try on these boots—only because, with my back to the sales floor, I have already wiped away my tears. I turn away as he hurries off, to look at more boots. The high-heeled ones were the ones she would have chosen. Since my car accident in 2002, I can’t wear high heels for any great length of time. Still, I love to stop and admire. I gaze at the Guccis, austere in their elegance, and sigh with a breath of recognition.
I linger over the boots—thigh-highs and calf-lengths and even the short scruffy ones.
I miss my mother so much, the feeling has no place in this world—it has taken over the world and expands right out into the galaxies, into the center of the cosmos. Something irretrievable has happened, some horrid wrong step taken. I never could save her, and nobody wants to stop and listen. Grief this vast, unplumbed, can bury us all. It covers everything in a blanket of blue and lavender. I see it as a painting of soft grey-white edges, and a lavender/blue field in the middle.
After all, she is still living—so it’s not as if she has passed—rather, rather….
This grief fills my eyes, my stomach. It takes me home to God, super early.
The boots, those tan calf-length Italian ones she wore, does she still have them? I wonder. No matter, I am almost a puddle on the floor.
Is it my grief? Family grief I am handling?
She has been gone from my world since 1999, and I just realized that is why I don’t go to department stores very often.
In the dressing room, each time I turn to look at myself, it is her face I see—it’s true, I look like her now—and so I often tell Heidrun, “No, not this cape—it’s so New York, so Paris, but too much my Mom. Not the sweater, either, please.” Heidrun gives me an understanding nod and quickly whisks them away, these pieces that bring me pain with their light beingness and a sheath of reminiscence.
She and my father once took a road trip up north. In an antique shop in Mendocino, she saw a small golden horse that she gave me—I was a teenager and hulking around, out of sorts—as a good-luck charm for my writing, to bless it.
All these years, I took this horse with me from house to house—it fits perfectly in my palm and has been sitting, quiet and radiant, on every writing desk in every home over the years—but until recently, when I looked at it and remembered every detail, I had forgotten my mother’s words and her intention to bless my art. I curl my fingers tighter around the little gold horse. Now, I won’t write without it. Some part of her comes back to me, her eternal belief in beauty, her sustaining that high note…
I used to think she was acting. That was my biggest accusation to her. “You’re fake!” I finally said one day. “You’re not real!”
“How should I be?” she asked, in the nicest way. “Tell me how to be, and I will be that.”
She said the same thing to my father every time he yelled at her. “How should I be? Tell me, and I will be that.” I can still hear the sweetness in her voice.
But I was wrong.
She really was that sunny.
And I recognize now the courage it took for her to be that alive and bright in the face of my father’s constant barrages.
One day I stood in the center of my studio and said out loud, “Very well. If you won’t see me, I will dedicate all my paintings to you.”
But today I see that nothing I will ever write will bring her back. Or those sunny days.
Nothing I paint either.
That I really do need new dreams ~ which I have been embarked on for so long, but now fully. Having out of necessity turned to gently close a door I never knew was there, on my family.
I wasn’t easy, back when she knew me. But I was standing for some crazy truth, out in the howling wind, or so I thought. “I’m the family German Shepherd,” I would tell her. “I will protect you.”
Yet it’s more twisted that that. Perhaps more twisted than I can describe. (You have to read my memoir, it’s all in there. This is not a plug for the memoir either, not really.)
Nothing happened out of the blue, all that family meanness and my playing into it and my resistance to it without being able to name it, thinking I was the problem, had its roots somewhere—elsewhere.
I miss her. I wish somebody had told me, when we would go shopping together, that one day I would long for just these minutes I was cursing back then, thinking she was…what, superficial?
My heart cringes when I remember those moments.
She is gone, forever gone. I am so very afraid, into the deepest heart of the world.
A legend just by being. A legend, having been.
I understood too late what she had been trying to say: Heart. You must Love the very people who will let you down and tear your clothes and set fire to your house. You must Love. To go through the eye of the Universe, to be a true daughter of Mine, you must Love.
All the while, she was looking at something else. We never suspected.
Kind and lovely, sad and trapped. Now lost and sad but happy. She is herself. She has arrived at herself.
We all eventually just yelled at her.
We all criticized, in one way or another ~ She was pretty soft, malleable. In her own world. We never knew.
(originally posted on Monday, October 25, 2010: With great thanks for all the wonderful comments readers made on my former blog site, making this post so memorable! Yours in light & joy & gratitude …)