Baby Love

I said goodbye to my biological mother this morning.

I went to the hospital alone, and suited up in a blue plastic gown and gloves.  A precaution due to possible infection – CDIFF.  When I walked in she said, “I knew you were here…I saw your orange shoes.”

I took her hand  in mine and we talked.  I told her about S. not showing up yesterday and played her a YouTube video of one of his songs.  And I cried.  Not about S.  But because we were having this kind of conversation, because she had oxygen tubes in her nostrils and because I felt the hospital bed rise and fall under me and I doubted that we would do this again.

I turned on Pandora and we danced to the O’ Jays Love Train. “Tell all the folks over in Africa.”  “Been there,” she said, pointing to me.  “Tell all the folks in Egypt and Israel too.”  “Been there,” I said.  “Israel.”

She had asked for no tears when I arrived on Friday.  But today I sobbed.  I apologized, and she said it was OK.  She told me to thank Mel (my dad) and Linda (my mom) and my birthdad (who I am also in touch with) for all of his good thoughts.  I had called him before I came and told him about her condition.

A doctor came in and asked her for permission to talk with a skilled-care facility.  She nodded.

She told me we would stay in touch.  And I reminded her how hard it is for her to talk on the phone.  She told me she could listen.

She told me that she loved me and that I was beautiful and I had lived a good life and that I would live a good life.  I touched her face and her hair and we looked into each other’s brown eyes.   The same eyes. She didn’t cry.  I touched her legs and told her she was strong.

She seemed at peace.  Resolved.  I sang Ain’t no Mountain High Enough.  A nurse came in to administer her respiratory treatment.  Another showed up to take an x-ray.  “He’s cute,” I said.  And we laughed.

I walked out backwards, pulling off my gloves and gown, waving with both hands and singing “No wind. No rain. No winter storm…..”

I washed my hands through two rounds of Happy Birthday, just as I was instructed, and sobbed.

Back at her home I told my Aunt about our visit.  How we had promised we’d stay in touch but we knew we were lying.  I threw myself in her arms and made those wounded animal sounds I had made in the hours before I met her three years ago, when my then-husband layed at my side.   I couldn’t breathe.  She held me and said, “You will.  Maybe just not on this plane.”

She took me to the airport.  And when I got to the gate I plugged in my cellphone.  Pandora turned itself on without any intention on my part.  Baby Love was playing.  I shook my head, smiled and cried.

Honey Grace

I’ve been carrying around a remnant of my chuppah (wedding canopy) in my bag since I left Seattle in late August.  It’s a piece a green fabric that my friend Rainey embroidered.  It reads “honey grace.”

I remember asking her what it meant when she gave it to me 10 years ago.  She said, “You know… Honey. Grace.”  I didn’t know.

I had wanted Lee and I to disassemble the chuppah together as a separation ritual when we divorced.  He thought it was too painful.  So on my last day in Seattle, I sat alone on my deck overlooking Bainbridge Island, holding a seam ripper and my chuppah, and I pulled off the panel reading “honey grace.”  It tore at the edges.  I thought it both symbolic and poetic.  Like Jews ripping their clothing when a loved one has died.

This morning, as we were preparing to go the hospital, my biological Aunt Julie shared some of her fears and feelings with me in terms of having courageous conversations with her sister, my biological mother, who is dying.  I told her something I had learned in church basements – to bring her G-d along with her in all her endeavors today.  I added that when she does, her heart has no choice but to stay open, and she will experience grace.  And I showed her my scrap of green embroidered fabric and told her its story.

Later today, I went to one of those church basements.

I was expecting to see S. today – the cute boy/man I met Friday night here in Charleston.  We had talked and made out like teenagers until the wee hours of the morning in the parking lot of a frozen yogurt shop.  The next day he drove two hours roundtrip to spend three hours with me, and asked if he could see me today.  And then never texted or called.

He had seemed like honey in my time of sorrow.  And he was.

Grace was me not waiting around on him.  I went for a walk.  Talked to some friends and heard myself say out loud I hadn’t done anything wrong.  That this was “his stuff.” And that just because he wasn’t showing up today, didn’t mean that yesterday and the day before wasn’t real.  That it wasn’t honey.

Grace was me going to that church basement — where and I saw his friend A.  She had approached me when I first met her on Friday and told me how much she appreciated my story about staying sober through my divorce.  About leaving my marriage with grace and dignity.

Since then, she had asked her boyfriend to move out.   We spoke for a while and she told me  she wanted what I talked about – to leave with grace.   I pulled out my chuppah remnant again and told her its origins.

As I spoke, I yanked at its edges, trying to rip it in two. But I couldn’t.  A. offered that she had a knife in her car, and we walked toward it.  I folded the green fabric over the blade and started a tear.  The fabric separated easily.  I handed her “grace” and I kept “honey” for myself.

“Now you walk away with grace,” I said.  “Literally.”  And we put our arms around each other.

And I walked away with honey.

Beating the Storm to Say Goodbye

I got a call on Tuesday that my birth mother is dying.  At least she was dying.  Because now she doesn’t seem to be.  She told me that she is not ready to go.  Those were the first words out of her mouth when I arrived in Charleston, SC on Friday.

I flew out of Chicago yesterday, my only prayer being “Get me there ahead of the hurricane….if it is your will.”  And so it was.

Pharen (my birth mom) has COPD.  And pneumonia.  She is 59 and to me, far too young to die.

Her body is bruised from multiple needle pokes and she is wearing oxygen 24/7.  But she is swearing.  And that is a good sign.

When I visited her later in the evening, she told me she wanted to hear some music.  I remembered that I had just downloaded Pandora on to my smart phone and I turned to the Joni Mitchell station.  After a few bars she asked me for Motown.  We are from Detroit after all.  I danced to Natalie Cole, “This Will Be An Everlasting Love.”  The wooden heels of my orange suede booties echoing on the linoleum floor.  I held her hand and we danced.

“You brought a lot of sunshine into my life….You gave me happiness I never knew…And nothing, nothing can take the place of you….”

I closed the door when I got a funny look from the nurse.  She asked to hear The Platters.  And then I showed her a photograph from a recent visit with my birth dad.  She reminded me that he was the love of her life for many, many years.

I told her I had to go.   I knew in that moment that we were complete no matter what happened.  She asked me to bring her chocolate milk in the morning.

I did that today.  But I forgot her Walkman ( Yep. A Walkman) and her cellphone.  I will bring that to her later.

Today I massaged her feet and her legs and her back.  And I told her about a cute boy I met in a church basement here who knows all of my friends in Chicago.  She gave me a double thumbs up.   And I left again….for a little while.