Memories Of My Mother


There’s something about the way cold vintage fur smells. Not cold like insufferable east coast winters, but California cold, that and how my mother’s car smells; the two scents together, mingling. It is the essence of her very being. It’s the place where I feel her most. Sometimes when I climb into the car, I feel as if I’m being enveloped back into her womb. She wears a vintage fur coat that we bought together shopping in Haight-Ashbury a few years back. She only bought it because I swore I would share it with her. I wore it last Christmas when I was home, but I was sweating the whole time. I’ve never understood California winters after I had a Boston one.

She is always cold. She has these special sock slippers that her grandmother made out of old flower-patterned wash cloths. When worn on feet they look elfin, a skirted shoe. She sometimes just walks up to me and feels my feet. She gasps, because my feet are always cold, and then she comes back with these slippers and wraps my feet in them. She is always wearing them around the house and she always pulls the blanket up right beneath her chin. When I think about it, extreme temperatures are characteristic of my mother. I remember when I was younger she would touch me after hand-washing laundry in the bathroom sink. I would shriek, her hands unbearably cold. Her kisses so warm and human.

Because I love her so much, I often imagine that she’s dead. I do it at night when my lights are off and I can’t sleep. I imagine it and then I cry. Huge tears, not just sleepy pillow tears.

When I’m home, she falls asleep on the couch next to me, if I let her. Sometimes I can’t stand it and I send her to bed, because otherwise I can’t stop staring at her face. I see the skeleton beneath it and I imagine her dead and I imagine wanting to keep her skull, because if I can undress her face to see the skull now, perhaps then I can redress it to see her face again once it’s gone. I can’t imagine not keeping some part of her with me. I imagine myself as some wired anthropologist in the amazon who appreciates the ancient rituals of societies that are far more emotionally evolved than ours; ones that can feel. It must be some primal instinct; my survival necessities kick-start and I must preserve myself through her. It seems the only way I could continue on.

My favorite place in New York is the sprawling cemetery that lies somewhere between the lower part of Manhattan and LaGuardia airport. It’s not at all somber, it’s truly miraculous. I’ve never been there, but I’ve passed it often enough, the first time years ago on the Chinatown bus from Boston, and I’m passing it today as I make my way home to California. It is the most astounding place; with rolling green hills it seems to slope up and down forever, a mass of the dead in the most alive place in the world. The headstones stand tall, behind them the skyline of Manhattan in clear view, the markers like tiny echoes of the buildings. Small tributes to the life force behind them. If I could ever be that to my mother it would all be worthwhile.

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image – Mary Cassatt