For my mother
We shared the same address once for two years, my mom and I. I don’t remember her being there or her leaving, I was two years old. My father and I were standing in our driveway, the house had a blue trim then and the 12 foot tree that she had planted hadn’t been chopped down yet. I imagine that she got into a cab and my two year old brain thought that she’d return and that I’d wait for her, right there. “Linds, you better come inside, it’s going to be awhile,” I imagine this is what my dad told me as he picked me up and took me into our house that was now empty even though we were in it. That was our first goodbye and the last time my mom had a home. Birthday after birthday passed and I stopped wishing for her to come home with every flickering of the candlelight. Darkness ensued. I had begun to realize that our house wasn’t her home anymore.
When my dad cut down that tree she planted I was 9 and holding the ladder. He lost his balance and landed resentfully on his back. That was the first and only time I’ve had to call 9-1-1 and the last time she would hurt him. Nothing but a tiny stump remains. Three clocks have always hung on the walls of my mother’s kitchen. One read the time in Hawaii, another for San Francisco and the last for Arlington, Virginia. I didn’t remember who she had been in any of these places. My mother, whose name is Ann, has driven across the country thrice. I never sat in the passenger seat of her white, Volkswagen Jetta for any part of those 2,683 mile slogs. Instead two white dogs, Cody and Ziggy were buckled into their own car seats in the back, sitting on rainbow colored beach towels. I imagined her eyes flashing to her rearview mirror and seeing two, furry faces, tongues lollygagging.
I saw her most clearly there, the dark brown eyes in the mirror identical to my own, her shoulder length brown hair, all five feet of her endurance crammed into the driver’s seat. She was not lost because it was on the road that she felt most intact. She was in transition, ambiguity had become her address.
Since then she had scattered pieces of herself at intersections in Washington D.C. and Fortworth, Texas. She once called me from a landline in Georgia with area code 229. She fell asleep alone in an apartment in San Francisco and hiked in the company of ash and yellow poplar trees in Virginia’s Shenandoah forest. I watched her do this. Turning to the road when she needed a blank canvas. She could never draw anything but circles, looking for a reason to stray around non-existent edges but always ending up where she started, with moving boxes and a map with no direction.
March 2014 I found my 20 year old self in a room that I had never slept in and would never sleep in again. My mom had moved into an apartment in Denver, Colorado. The same three clocks hung on the white kitchen walls and Cody and Ziggy had found familiarity on the red couch in the living room. The Rocky Mountains could be seen from her bedroom window. They stood alone and answered only to the sky. On her nightstand I found myself staring at a photo of my younger self at 4 years old. It was my birthday and my dad and his father were holding me up so I could see my cake and candles afire. Mom fell asleep here every night, next to a photo of a family she no longer had. After years we were finally under the same roof again but we were forced to behold the distance, the absence, barefaced. Putting a face to emails that ended in “take care of yourself”.
She would tell me about these recurring dreams that she would have. I was “up ahead”, she could hear my laughter, glimpse my voice but she mostly saw my back. She said she could never catch up with me… somewhere up ahead. We were living in that dream whilst sitting across from each other at her dining room table, staring down at globe placemats that seems to represent a world of distance, the span of heartache. It was too much. 20 years of un-wiped tears tore us a part.
My socks, underwear, and laptop had been flung from the bedroom that was supposed to be mine into the hallways of her apartment complex. “You don’t even care about me,” she screamed, “I’m trying here!” We were swearing at each other in between violent sobs.
“What the fuck are you talking about, mom!” I yelled back.
“Get the hell out, I never want to see you again,” she said as the door slammed in my face.
It opened again as I was hysterically shoving the contents of my life back into a suitcase. “Get the hell back inside,” she commanded.
“No,” I said, to her, and to myself.
I had never felt further apart through she was probably weeping on the other side of the wall. When I first wrote about this I was 21 and it was February in the year 2015. I had recently talked with my mom on the phone about my graduation from college coming up in May as I walked home from classes on Broadway. She was still in Denver though I didn’t know her address, she no longer lived in that building. I had to inform her that my dad’s girlfriend of six years, Rika, and her 20 year old daughter, Erin would also be coming to the commencement ceremonies. “Who’s Rika?” she asked as her voice trembled. I knew her heart broke again in that instance. I knew it broke every morning when she woke up without a family. I knew it broke again as she looked at the time in Hawaii. The stump in our front yard remains but around it, grows life.
Yet my mom hasn't given up, she is still drawing those circles. I don’t know how she does this but she does. “Run on empty” is tattooed on my left forearms. I got this done in Colorado two years before, without knowing what this place would come to represent for our relationship, but it seems to be telltale of veiled courage. She didn’t teach me how to tie my shoes or how to use a tampon but she did teach me that love endures, even after countless goodbyes. I would see her again one day and I hoped to stay more than one night.