“Some people, and I am one of them, hate happy ends. We feel cheated. Harm is the norm. ” – Vladimir Nabokov
My mother kept a journal, and she used to say that writing it all down was a mild form of rebellion. For most of my life, I never really knew what she meant by that, but I know now.
When I think of my Mom, I think of her crunching potato chips, the cool snap from a can of Coke being opened, sitting poolside with her, about to have lunch, wrapped in the rough comfort of a beach towel. She watched All My Children every afternoon, and held no grand ambitions beyond having children, keeping them safe, and being able to take them to Florida every once in awhile. She danced while she vacuumed, didn’t care for ethnic food, and liked to sing. She was maybe the most American person I ever knew, from an age before the middle-class chasm became so large it was assumed that folks on the poorer side of it were all uneducated hillbillies with no taste. Part of a dying breed, the best kind of American, she could do everything one might now be inclined to associate with poor America, and do it with all the charm and class of someone who knew and appreciated her own worth by the very fact that she was American. She thought what made the country best was that you didn’t have to be rich to be worth something. So, every year, to celebrate, we went on vacation.
I haven’t looked at her face since I was thirteen years old. Haven’t felt her long red nails scratch my back. Haven’t been humbled by her sense. It never occurred to my Mother to second-guess the dignity of watching a soap opera, because what kind of fool second-guesses life’s simple pleasures or small blessings. She loved the pool, loved the sun, and loved to swim. She was at her happiest when eating potato chips and making turkey sandwiches, telling us to get out and dry off soon, because lunch would be ready in five. She’d watch us ignore her, and let us settle for eating wet when the time came. I loved her and she is gone, and so I guess I’ve always felt compelled to rebel, even if mildly…
When I walked up to the Star-Lite, the white sand swirled on the black asphalt in the exact same way it had when I’d crossed the street as a kid. I remembered that it would be at its most unbearably hot, the asphalt, around one in the afternoon. There were bright violet flowers everywhere. I never knew their name, but many years had passed since I had been there, and they too looked just the same, especially gorgeous, scattered and delicate when the concrete crumbled and gave way to the white sand of the beach. It was always very nice at night, the whole place, breeze off the gulf and all that. The palm trees stood vigil above the sun faded pink rooftop and cast cool, unconcerned, moonlight shadows, just witnesses. I had left my car in the Aloha Kai parking lot and walked. A woman walking alone at night wasn’t anything to shake a sandal at in a beach town; evening walks were a hobby for many. Like I said, it’s very nice at night. When I was thirteen, two days before I lost my Mom, I had taken a long walk on that very beach with Scotty. His dad, Ben, ran the Star-Lite Siesta and Scotty was a dream- tan and tee-shirted and seventeen.
I stood out front of the crumbling motel, beneath the pink neon of the giant old Star-Lite sign and tried to calm myself. I’ve always felt guilty that my memory of my last day with her isn’t razor-sharp, but trauma being what it is, the chaos that follows is often more memorable than anything that preceded it. Before it became the worst day of your life, it was just any other goddamn day. The last thing I remember was her singing to me, singing my name and scratching my back as I fell asleep on the couch of our rented suite. They must have put me to bed. Everyone else had gone to bed- my two older brothers, my younger brother and little sister. Dad had gone to bed too. When he woke up she was gone. Then it was chaos…
Read the rest in SN7: Women’s Day, coming out August 26th!