One of my mother’s early paintings, probably painted in the late 60s/early 70s.
I wake up slowly this morning, groggy, disoriented. I lie quietly for several minutes to get my bearings, and then open my eyes and sit up. I slept hard last night, dreaming active dreams that were peopled with the faces of long departed loved ones, beloved pets, friends…many I lost decades ago. My dreams were active and continuous and in most I was traveling along rivers and oceans, up and down mountains, floating through the heavens, spinning through a hallucinogenic mishmash of colors, sensations and emotions.
I am still a bit groggy, disoriented and sleepy. I look around the room. To my right I see a futon that doubles as a couch and as another bed and a small chest of drawers.
On the left wall is a closed doorway that I know leads through a small closet to the bathroom, with a chipped sink, leaking toilet, and broken tile. I hear the shower running. To the right of the doorway, along the wall, is a rickety entertainment center that houses an old analogue television set and beside that is a linoleum counter top sitting atop a small refrigerator and cabinet. A microwave oven sits above the counter top on open shelving that shows a limited inventory of mismatched plates, pots, and drinking glasses.
Directly across from me is a large sliding glass door that spans almost the entire width of the room except for an area to the left where the small kitchen sink sits. A square table with three chairs stands in the middle of the view. If I open the sliding door and step outside to the small balcony, I can look out beyond the swimming pool and parking lot, over the sand dunes and the waving sea oats, across the craggy driftwood forest and see the ocean, with its gentle, rolling waves, lapping the shoreline as it deposits its debris of starfish, scraggly seaweed, broken shells. I am on the second floor of an old house that has been divided up into a fourplex that is managed by the old rundown motel right next door.
The last time I stayed here was at the end of the summer of 1985. My mother was coming for a visit and wanted to go to the beach. When I called to make the reservation, the manager told me, “Hope you don’t mind, but you’ll be the only guests here that week and the last guests we house. The very next week the bulldozers come in and level the whole place. It’ll be some new expensive condominiums next time you come out this way.” My mom and I had a wonderful time.
I was 27 years old and had finally gotten through the most painful parts of a divorce from a man who had been demeaning, abusive and who had managed to squash my self image to a place of worthlessness. Enough time had passed that I had gotten back some confidence, gained some perspective and was taking some positive steps to rebuild my life.
My mom was 54 years old. Our relationship had been a little strained after she ended her 26 year marriage to my Father. Not because I had a hard time accepting her decision, but because she had become a person I could not recognize as my mother. On past visits, I had a hard time relating to her. On this trip, she had finally settled down a little and I could see some bits of my mother in her. We were still mother and daughter, but we had begun to forge a new woman-to-woman relationship. It was the last time I saw my mother so happy and the last time I could bask in her unconditional love and acceptance.
The very next Memorial Day, my older brother died in a motorcycle accident, on a remote stretch of Alaska’s scenic Seward Highway. There at the turn off to Hope, Alaska where the road makes a deep curve, my brother hit the curve too fast, swung out into the other lane of traffic and hit a truck head on. The attending paramedic told me at my high school reunion a few days later, “It all happened so fast, he never knew anything.” His body was cremated and on my 28th birthday we took his ashes out in a fishing boat from Seward Alaska to Thumb Cove and spread them in Resurrection Bay.
Turns out, I lost two people that day. For when my brother died, my mother disappeared into a deep abyss of grief and mourning and I never saw her smile again. Later that fall cancer wrapped its tenacious tentacles around my Mom who was stranded in the abyss and a year later we made another trip to Thumb Cove with my mother’s ashes.
I stand up from the bed and walk over to the sliding glass door. My 56 year old self stands at the window, gazing out at the gentle waves, the careening seagulls, thinking about the day ahead. I hear the door open behind me and a voice, “Rise and shine sweet Jujubean. The day’s waiting!” I turn and smile into my mother’s eyes.