My mother wanted to see the fjords of Norway, to sail down the crevasse in a ship with her children beside her. She wanted to take a Fire and Ice cruise from Hawaii to Alaska and to see the tigers in China. Most of all, my mother wanted to go to the Galapagos to see the blue-footed boobies and Lonesome George, the 100 year old tortoise (relation to Arthur, her pet tortoise who vanished from our deck one night, never to be seen again, say "tortoise", "turtle", "Arthur" around my mother and tears would roll for "that guy".) It was one of her last wishes, going to the Galapagos, and Petey wanted to take her, but the journey was too long, so I promised her one day I would go with my brothers and she smiled, and said, "You can only go if you promise me one thing: that you'll have fun." And I promised, and we will, Mom. We will go, and we will have fun.
It snowed the other day, and I wrote snow! and my husband wrote I'm not ready and I wrote it's not ours to choose so "Throw away your little bedsocks and
your Welsh wool knitted jacket, I will warm the sheets like an electric
toaster, I will lie by your side like the Sunday roast" (Under Milk Wood, Dylan Thomas). Time is short, my love, and there is not enough of it. I want to lock the door and lie in our bed and read (Proust, Little Women, The Giving Tree, Edith Wharton, Anne of Green Gables, Little House on the Prairie, books of home, memory, childhood). I want to read myself in a circle, until I come out the other side, fortified by incantations I know and those I have not yet met, ready to begin my book. I want to go home and open my mother's closet and touch her clothes and wear her moccasins. I want to use her eye cream (I don't think she ever used it), and sit at the table in the kitchen and look at the jewelry that was my grandmother's, then my mother's, and now mine, locked away in a safe. More than anything, I want to ask my mother where the pearl necklace with the gold leaf clasp came from, and me too, Mom, where did I come from. I want to try on her white velvet wedding dress, but she never picked it up from the dry-cleaners, and it wouldn't fit me, anyhow. There is too much I want to do, my love, but I am tired. We do not get to choose when it snows, we do not get to choose when our mothers die.
Time is not forever, my love. What we have is slippery, it shifts in our awkward hands. Families change, friends move away, neighborhoods are overtaken. I thought that maybe, like R., I too would wake one day, 6 months after, and realize I wanted to have a child. It will be 6 months on Tuesday, and I do not think I will want a child on Tuesday, or the next Tuesday, or the Tuesday after that. But this is the thing: as she was dying, I know my mother did not think of the fjords she did not see, the tigers she did not pet, the 100 year old tortoise she did not meet. She thought of her children, she thought of her parents. She thought of who she had made, and who made her. I cannot imagine wanting to be a mother without my mother.
I would like to turn my insides out, to share the world of ghosts that walks through my mind. We drove the streets of Long Island last night and I saw my Aunt Muriel and Uncle Bernie, I saw my mother, I saw those who have gone, the streets of my life that no longer belong to me. I want to be a child, or, rather, I want you to sit with me and see my childhood through my eyes. I have always lived in stories, I have always lived in my past. We will go to Tulum, we will go to Italy, but I will always be an armchair traveler, exploring in my nightgown. There goes Elliot Street and Lake End Road, and the house on Westover Place. There goes an old house in Paris that was covered with vines, and a forest that grew and grew. There goes the stories our mothers read us, the stories they told us so we could be better in this world, knowing there was love and forgiveness and a hot supper waiting for us.
I love the small velvet pumpkins I have begun collecting because they are real and they were once alive, but now they are magic, and a thing of imagination, and life, for me, is nothing if not imagining what once was. I live in my past, and, for now, I cannot see my future. But it lies there, in the books, the animals, the velvet pumpkins, the small things I nurture. It is in my brothers, the video tapes in the garage, the platters, the heavy crystal bowl, the iris paintings, the tiny gold Chinese chest of drawers, my grandmother's credenza, the silver iced tea spoons from Tiffany. The future lies next to me at night, I warm it like an electric toaster.