Tag Archives: mother daughter

Duetting: Memoir 34

Duetting: Memoir 34 Robin Botie of ithaca, New York, photoshops a party scene to illustrate her daughter's first apartment, and adds her daughter's poem about partying.

When I think of all the times I could have said No to my daughter, I am so grateful that someone reminded me to “pick my battles,” and that my intuition or just plain love got in the way of my saying No. And luckily, Marika’s will was stronger than mine.

She was moving out of the house. I was gnawing at my nails. Visions of dirt, lethal germs, and total abandonment of discipline clouded my appreciation of her excitement. But I knew how much she craved independence. Every single chance to be on her own had been foiled by leukemia. So now that she’d finally found a way to afford leaving home, I had to embrace her dream. The day after we learned there would be no transplant Marika began the move to her friend Julie’s apartment with her new dog and new hope.

She moved in slowly. Cautiously. First she moved her belongings. For weeks she hung out and partied at the apartment but did not stay overnight. Then, when she started to sleep there, she came back to the house for showers and meals. And she always returned home to do laundry. Whenever she arrived at the house, I stopped whatever I was doing. Something in me soared each time she showed up.

The apartment was a typical tumbledown Collegetown rental. As soon as I entered, I remembered my own best times in my first home away from my family. The sink and counters were filled with dirty dishes. Mountains of beer bottles and pizza boxes took up most of the kitchen floor. Doors were always open, heat on high, and lights left on no matter what the season or time of day. Dust. Mold. Mysterious odors and dark, dank narrow halls. A rust-stained bathroom sink with a constant drip and a shower that dared you to try to find a clean inch to put down your bare feet. A huge stained couch built to accommodate masses monopolized the living room. The place was begging for a party. Marika moved in and lit it up like Christmas. Plastic palm trees, blinking lights, posters. A psychedelic bedspread, magenta pillows and rugs. We shopped at Target for utensils and dishes to go with the lively décor. My housewarming gift.

The apartment had a high turnover and an ever-expanding cast of characters. One day two guys she’d never met moved in. Friends of friends would come and go, sometimes camping out on the couches, sometimes coupling, playing music, always coming back and partying. Rachel, escaping the stresses of relationships and school, hung at the apartment whenever she was home on breaks. When I visited, my eyes would focus past the people to the piles of beer bottles. Does Marika drink? Didn’t the doctors say, “no alcohol”?

I never knew who I’d run into. If I looked strange or out of place there, no one seemed to notice or care. Everyone and everything was in transition, on hold, waiting to see what was next. Hence, they called the place “Limbo.” And somehow community developed, which was just what Marika craved. I had to be happy for her. And she was a lot easier to live with now that we had separate homes. Was this what it’s like to have a grown adult daughter?

When Marika finally completed her move to Limbo, her puppy Suki became a regular resident too. Coming and going as much as anyone else, Suki was in and out of Facebook photo pages, another partygoer. If Suki could write a book it would be filled with parties, road trips, leftover pizza crusts, carloads of friends, couch-loads of friends, and her quiet adventures with me. Suki became my Sunday morning hiking partner when I discovered that Sunday morning didn’t exist for Marika and her apartment mates. Sunday mornings at Limbo were like the day after Doomsday. Bodies lay all over amidst decaying remains of Chinese take-outs. No signs of life anywhere. It soon became our regular arrangement, my rescuing Suki on Saturday afternoons before the festivities began.

“Mom, did you have dinner yet?” she would call just after I’d eaten. “Can you take Suki for the night? Do you have an extra set of measuring cups?”
“Sure, I’m in Wegmans. Do you need any— ”
“Sushi?”
“Okay, I’ll be right over.”

Her apartment was just a fifteen-minute drive from the house. I stopped by regularly to bring dinner or pick her up for our trips to Rochester. In the middle of the night I drove the empty streets across town to bring her home when she phoned she was sick. I kept my clothes out, ready for those calls at two in the morning. It was good to still be needed. There was always frozen fruit for smoothies, extra eggs, and bacon in my house for the mornings she woke up hungry at home. That was our deal: call when you need me. I never had to wait long.

 

Duetting: Memoir 32

Duetting: Memoir 32 Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops a photo of Marika Warden taken by Ray Possen that depicts the lifesaving dog that was bought as a cancer companion.

“Mom, why can’t I get a puppy?” Marika asked, as we made our way to Rochester for a routine bone marrow biopsy.
“Mareek, I don’t even want a houseplant right now. We still have a lot of time in the hospital and then you’ll be going off to college again. A dog just doesn’t fit into our lives.” She sighed heavily and put her earphones back on.

Laurie called that evening.
“Robin, I’m really worried about Marika. She is so depressed. I’m serious. She needs a puppy.” (I learned later that Aunt Laurie had already promised her a puppy).
“She has a cat. And guess who ends up feeding it all the time and having to find cat-care whenever we leave home?” I countered.
“Her life depends on this puppy,” she stated, in the same tone as the doctors who insisted her life depended on getting a bone marrow transplant. In our little triad, no one of us could fight the other two united. So I finally relented. We found Suki online, near Rochester, the only female in a small litter of jolly Havanese puppies. We visited her on the way home from a day at the hospital. She was round, fuzzy, and tough, with an attitude that rivaled Marika’s. Still too young to come home with us, she lit Marika’s eyes up and recharged her heart.

Marika’s spirits were lifted even more when she got her driver’s license back.
“Mareek, I need to be in the car with you when you drive the first time or two,” I told her. The Toyota Avalon my mother had given me years before had seen better days. I’d let Marika keep it at college for her second semester. CDs and musty clothes were scattered over the seats and floors, and a cotton-candy air freshener dangled in the windshield. Marika was one of the few women with wheels in her crowd, and the car was a gas-guzzler, so an old coffee can labeled “Donations for Marika” lay conspicuously on the passenger side floor.
“No, Mom. Get a life,” she hissed, horrified at the thought of my monitoring her driving.

Unprepared for this reaction, I yelled, “Mareek, I’m about to finally GIVE you the car but you haven’t driven in months and I’m not gonna GIVE you the car until I know you’re not gonna drive it into a tree.” I gulped, surprised at my own resolve, and even more by her sudden cooperation. Later that evening she came downstairs bubbly, wearing eye make-up and a beaded necklace, a short skirt and strappy little tanktop under her worn-out gray winter coat.
“I’m recording with Russ tonight,” she shared as we negotiated the logistics of the driving. It was still light out as we pulled up to a familiar house and she parked the car.

“Mareek, I know this place. We came here for a party when you were four.”
“It’s Russ’s house,” she said, like I should have known.
“Oh, THAT Russ.” I recalled a rambunctious four-year-old flying down the banister. “I remember him. I took flying lessons with his father at the East Hill Flying Club before you two were even born,” I said. Unimpressed, Marika shot out of the car. I took over her warmed driver’s seat.

“Call me when you want to be picked up,” I shouted out the window, adding something about practicing night driving. She was gone. But her perfume, a hint of lily-of-the-valley mixed with a tanginess reminiscent of mustard, lingered after her as I turned the car to go home. I would wait for her call while she sang for hours with Russ, a percussionist who recorded his music for her so she could uncover melodies and create lyrics. She was proud of her first efforts and shared them with me in the beginning. Making music became her passion. Then it became one more secret, another thing that didn’t include me.

On the day the puppy was finally old enough to come home, the breeder held it up to us. One of the puppy’s eyes drifted sideways. Its top hair was pulled up tightly in a pink barrette. Marika and Suki curiously examined each other face to face.

“This hairdo has to go,” Marika said, pulling the barrette out as soon as we got in the car. Settling Suki in her arms for the long ride home, she cuddled and cooed, and they both fell asleep. Driving, I remembered the first times bringing my babies home. And I wondered if someone with no immune system should be housebreaking a puppy.

“Let’s go potty, Suki. Where’s your potty, Suki?” I chanted in the driveway. For weeks, I took Suki on extra walks so she wouldn’t ‘go’ in the house. I thought we’d agreed to crate-train the puppy, but one morning I brought a breakfast tray up and discovered Suki in the bed, sound asleep, nestled between the pillow and Marika’s chin. The crate sat on the floor, door shut, under a pile of dirty clothes.

When Marika’s friends went back to their colleges after the holiday break, we went off to puppy training classes at PetSmart. We sneaked Suki into the physical therapy sessions and the local hospital for the Monday morning blood draws. The nurses in the Hematology Lab fussed over them both, bringing doggie treats and cans of soda. The undercover slinking about with Suki was nerve-wracking for me but such a thrill to Marika that I allowed it to continue for months. Until the day we got busted. Suki was too big to fit in her travel bag by the time some hospital staff reported us.

Suki seemed to be the lifesaver we needed. Back at the house, we couldn’t help but laugh as Suki climbed to the tops of couches, to the shoulders of anyone sitting on the couches, and to Marika’s bed where she rested happily among the stuffed animals. And one day while Marika slept, leaving me to dog-sit, Suki and the cat cornered a mouse. When the mouse darted toward her, Suki gave a surprised squeak, caught it, and threw it high into the air. The cat and I watched in awe as the mouse fell down in the middle of us, dead. I tried hard not to love this adorable dog that was to, one day, leave home for good with Marika.

 

Duetting: Memoir 6

Duetting: Memoir 6  Robin Botie 0f Ithaca, New York, photoshops a bereaved mother searching through her deceased daughter's facebook page as if it is a window to another world.One night in Massachusetts, my sister Laurie and I watch the stars. Then she takes me to Marika’s Facebook page. There we find love letters, poems, stunned friends from all over pouring their hearts out to Marika through the internet. One friend touches another through words that ripple outward, beckoning to an aunt and a mother huddled over a laptop like it’s a window to another world. Invisible webs stretch among us all. So this is what Facebook is, I think. I cast her name out into cyberspace: Marika Joy Warden, who are you and where have you been? Words radiate from my fingertips tapping on plastic. My plea rains over all the planet before waves of warmth come back to me.

On the screen, I see familiar names and photos of children I once knew, now grown. For many of them, Marika’s was their first death. For many more, it was the first death of someone their own age. A few had phoned me on her birthday and on Mothers’ Day. They are traveling or still at college. In all corners of the world, they are getting on with their lives.

I am not getting on. I want my daughter back. I will try anything to keep her close. Wear her clothes. Sleep with her stuffed Puppy, and build a nest in my bed for her real dog, Suki. Marika loved sushi, so I take Rachel out for sushi dinners. Over and over, I play the few songs Marika had recorded. Yearning to know what it’s like to sing before a crowd, and how she could keep practicing a song “until it’s right,” I sing. One song. Musician/songwriter Susan Ceili Murphy put the first poem I found of Marika’s, “Atop a Mountain,” to music. I practice until I can get through it without bawling. Then I take it to France with me and sing it under vaulted ceilings in castles and cathedrals, wherever I find an echo. I sing it over hilltops, off the top of my hotel in Nice, in a boat on the Seine. I sing it to twelve goats in a barn in the Loire Valley, as the biggest goat cocks her head and squints skeptically at me. And back in Ithaca, walking Marika’s dog at night in the driveway, I sing the song to the stars. Finally, I sing it at the memorial in the middle of June.

No one in Ithaca, other than my babies, has ever heard me sing. Setting up for the memorial at the Stewart Park Pavilion on Cayuga Lake, I test the mic with the first lines of the song. There is a sudden hush and I realize I’ve grabbed people’s attention.
“You sound just like Marika,” someone says. Pleased about this, I step before the crowd shortly after, take a deep breath, and begin “Atop a Mountain.” It will take many more months to recognize that my singing would not be the way to hold onto my daughter. But at the memorial, I follow Marika’s voice through the song, without a crack until the last note. My heart pounds as I find my seat, and scoop my inherited dog up into my lap.

Her dog. People had wanted to see Suki. So I brought her, but I’m wondering if this was a mistake. She squirms uncharacteristically. Seeing and smelling so many of Marika’s friends, Suki’s searching frantically for her shining girl. Even though I had quickly become her new girl and she’d become my shadow, waiting for me in her nest by the front door whenever I’d leave the house. Having lost one of her girls, she does what she can to keep on top of the other. My song over, I bury my tears in Suki’s fur. She whines, and looks mournfully at the friends as Rachel begins “Changed for Good,” a song from the show, Wicked. Marika had once silenced a crowd at camp with that song. And now, out of Rachel’s mouth comes perfection. Even when she starts sobbing into the mic, and then apologizes. No one blinks when Rachel sings. And then Cassie sings. And Julie sings. Songs for Marika from those of us who rarely open our mouths in public. I imagine Marika watching us from above, dumbstruck.

 

 

 

 

Focusing on the Important Things

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops joyful color of a fallen leaf in focusing on life and death, the important things.“Selling isn’t the important thing,” I said, “I just want people to see my work.” It was my first solo show as a photographer in Ithaca. The focus of the exhibit was death and grieving, reframing our views of these. Assuring myself the focal point of the event would be my artwork, not myself, I’d chosen to wear a black dress and over-the-knee black boots to recede into the background. But I’d put on the red beads my mother bought me, so I wouldn’t vanish entirely. The red necklace was to keep guests from fixating on the tragedy of That Woman Whose Daughter Died. After all, the core of the show was supposed to be creativity and healing. If people couldn’t see the forest from the trees, at least they might spot the joyful color of a fallen leaf.

At the reception, after making the rounds of the fourteen huge photographs, people headed over to me one-by-one or in twos. Suddenly I was the center of attention. But I didn’t know how to operate in the spotlight. I didn’t know how to break off speaking with an individual or small group in order to be with the next. Guests waited patiently for me to get to them, and then they gave up and walked away. The couple of times I excused myself saying, “Oh, I need to give that person behind you a hug,” it felt like cutting people off. And the few rare moments I stood alone, I was too shy to approach the strangers examining my work. I was entirely clueless in the art of mingling.

A mother and daughter came through, stopping to study each piece. I wondered what the girl thought of my story and images. I wondered what the mother was saying. Several of the pictures were of my own daughter: Marika as a baby. Marika at age four, at nineteen. We had never attended a show centered on death. Maybe if Marika and I had seen an exhibit like this we’d have had a discussion about dying.

Beyond the friends talking to me, the mother and daughter I didn’t know were ready to leave. I wanted to greet them, thank them for coming. Maybe I could answer a question, or ask which piece they liked best.

I didn’t stop them. But I stood there wishing and hoping my photos would start a conversation between them. Focusing on life and death. The important things.

 

So – does anyone have any tips for how to circulate when you’re in the spotlight?

 

In Another World

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, Photoshops her daughter who died, Marika Warden, with a tessellation of puppies in the background.Right away, the old mother was drawn to the girl at the end of the table who sat clutching a stuffed animal, her mascaraed eyes staring straight ahead.

How could the mother not be reminded of her own beautiful daughter? From the million images tessellating in her head, one arose of her daughter sitting up in a hospital bed, clinging to her stuffed puppy as doctors announced, “You’re eighteen. So you’re the adult in charge.” And now, here was this unknown almost-adult girl seated across the table, hugging her stuffed animal and looking dazed. Why was this girl here?

“ …When my mom died,” the girl said, shortly after. Then something inside the mother burst. “My mom won’t be here for my graduation, or when I get married, or when I have kids,” the girl continued, and the old mother remembered for the billionth time that her own daughter would never get to graduate college, get married or have kids.

She had watched her daughter suffer and wondered why she herself hadn’t been the one to get cancer. Maybe in a different dimension of existence, in an alternate reality or some parallel universe, things were different. In another world her daughter might still be alive. But here, in this world, at the other end of the table was a daughter who lost her mother.

Suddenly the girl sat down next to the mother. The girl’s eyes were even more radiant up close, with a familiar hint of opalescent eye shadow and perfectly painted waterproof mascara. There was much the old woman would have liked to say to the girl but she couldn’t find her words, couldn’t begin, and now the girl was so close, smiling and crying at the same time. Tears ran down both their faces.

“I’m gonna get a tattoo with my mom’s name,” the girl said.
“I have a tattoo,” the mother said, peeling off her sweater to show the girl her shoulder tattooed with her daughter’s name. “Can you read it?” the mother asked. “Yes. That’s right. It’s Marika.” The girl beamed.

“And who’s this?” the mother asked, already knowing, pointing to the stuffed animal the girl clung to, thinking of the stuffed puppy she’d given her own daughter at birth and now kept on the mantle in the middle of her house (and kissed goodnight most nights). The girl held out her fuzzy stuffed dog.
“My mother gave it to me,” she said, turning it over to show the stitched-on tag that spelled LOVE ME.