I met him at the Metropolitan. It was love at first sight. But I didn’t get his name or number.
Am I ready to start a new relationship? Probably not since I’m asking the question. Sometimes I think I will never allow myself to come close to another human being again. Because nothing lasts forever and I don’t know how much loss I can take.
Shortly after my daughter died I found a small gold ring in her room. A ring, an unbroken circle, symbolizes infinity and undying love in many cultures. But this ring was one of those adjustable bands where the ends don’t meet. As soon as I put it on I knew it would snag on something someday and fall off. Nevertheless, I decided to wear Marika’s ring. That it would be okay when I lost it. I would not regret not tucking it away someplace safe.
Can I treat people this way? Like they are not forever?
How differently would we all live if we had expiration dates stamped on us like cartons of milk? What is safe? When is ready?
I promised myself I would learn from Marika. She lived like the lights could go out at any time, like she had only an hour left. She said, “Mom, get a life.” So maybe …
What am I doing, crazed and frantic, alone at home on a Saturday night? My friends are all out. Unavailable. I’m having a major breakdown and there’s no one to call. I’m miserable.
Why? I ask myself. And when answers don’t surface I move on to my three questions:
What do I need to feel better?
What is it I really need?
Which one of these will I be able to do something about right now?
At this moment, I can only get as far as the first. I’m starving. Food will make me feel better.
That’s how I end up in Wegmans.
Who dares to go to Wegmans hungry? Everyone knows this is dangerous. Unless you bring your camera and head straight for the fresh produce aisles.
Two hours and 98 photographs later it is after 9pm and I’ve stalked through most of the store. By this time Wegmans’ sub shop and Chinese buffet have closed down. The Julie Jordan salad booth is empty. Grabbing a sushi take-out, I finally check out and find my car. On the drive home, I leave the radio and the audio book off. I want to get back in touch with whatever it was that brought me to Wegmans on this Saturday night when I should be out anywhere else having fun with my friends.
But now, except for still being hungry, I feel pretty good. And all I can think about is going to Kyle Thompson’s website to see his photographs gone viral. And how I will photo-shop myself in Wegmans, drowning in the sweet potatoes.
“Mom, you hafta follow the chocolates and read the clues to get your present,” Marika said, over five years ago. And 50 chocolate kisses later I found an elegant dinner of Caesar salad and linguini laced with red sauce, shrimp and scallops. There were flowers on the table. And candles and chocolate cake.
I was not her favorite person. To say the least. But on holidays she was generous. She always had something red for me. A new red sweater, capris, socks. Red velvet cake.
When she died, first I thought all I had left of her was her dog, her clothes, and a few songs. Then came the surprises:
The tiny book she’d made for me when she was eleven, that fell out of my night-table on Christmas Eve after she died. The Welcome Home Mom sign with a rabbit drawn in a heart that I found the day before I left to scatter her ashes in Australia. And her journals with the poems and prose that inspired me to write and then changed my life.
It’s like getting a gift each time I discover something of Marika’s. She died 2 ½ years ago; there can’t possibly be anything more to find of hers, I tell myself.
But last month, putting on her warm fleece jacket, I found a little plastic spoon and a Papa John’s Pizza gift-card for $20 in the pocket. An Old Navy card with $9.56 surfaced in her old closet recently. I found her watch in a box left in the garage. And last week in the mail there was a notice about her inactive investment account.
As the days grow darker and the holidays draw near, I gather all these “gifts.” At this time of the year I used to plan what presents I would give her. And now I consider all the ways she has gifted me.
“Mom, I locked my key in the car. Can you do me a favor?” my son calls me on my cell phone.
I am about to dive into a chocolate cake and two bottles of aged port with friends. We are twelve miles north of Ithaca. I will have to go home first to find his spare keys before I drive to the downtown restaurant where he is stuck.
“I’ll be right there,” I say. Then I drive the dark empty country roads and the wet city streets reflecting store lights, singing “I’m being followed by a Moon Shadow.” That’s how much I want to be needed, to be doing something, to have a goal and have work.
I’m addicted to working.
But no one wants to hire a photo-shopper, another writer, an out-loud reader, or someone who will drop everything to rescue a bad situation. It’s time to get creative. To remedy the lack of a job, get out of the house, and keep my self-esteem I have started to write a semimonthly column called Up and Out for a small online newsletter, www.tinytowntimes.com. If you enjoy my writing please check it out. Except for this first introduction, it will be an exploration of the overlooked and under-appreciated gems to be found in a tiny town like Ithaca, New York.
So now I’m wearing a new hat. Actually it’s an old one that belonged to my daughter. But it fits. If it weren’t for her and all her words I found after she died, I would never have discovered my own love for writing.
Sometimes when you lose someone you find someone or something else. I’m finding myself. And all the things I never imagined I could do.