We all met at El Charro’s Restaurant tonight for my mom’s annual would be ‘birthday’ dinner, were she still alive and eating. We had reservations for twenty at six-thirty. But first, let me back track, everyone met at Saturday’s Palm Sunday / Vatican appointed Saint Patrick’s Day mass where my mom’s name was to be mentioned in the memorial part of the service. Everyone but me, that is; I went straight to the bar at El Charro’s, at 5:30, and waited for everyone else to arrive after the mass. My mom was not a church-goer. She was the most spiritual, non-judgmental, loving, witty being I have ever known. But, she was not a cemetery visitor, a wreath layer, a church-goer, a mourner type. She was alive. She had experienced too much pain, sorrow and sadness in her life to waste anymore living hours revisiting those ghosts. She would have been sitting at that bar – and she was - with me having a green beer. So I, her dependable teenage rebel child who heard her devilishly inviting whispers in my ear and I sheepishly complied, skipped the church part (even though I am probably the most religious, dogmatic, ritualistic person I know) and went straight to the bar, her framed photo in my purse, and asked for whatever Saint Patrick’s Day drink the bartender had to offer. My mom was there with me. I had no doubt.
There was a guy next to me. I say ‘guy’ because he was probably in his late twenties. He was a man. And, he was a guy . . . the guy next to me at the bar. I told him I skipped out on church. He told me he skipped out on work. Cheers. I was waiting for my ‘party.’ He was waiting for his carry-out. We both watched the high school basketball game on the bar television. It really didn’t surprise me that one of the teams playing was Detroit Pershing High: my mom and dad’s alma mater. And, it really didn’t surprise me that the guy worked for a company that took over the old building that once housed the company my dad worked for, right down the street. I passed it on the way in, looked for the water tower I remembered as a child and had flash backs of driving my dad to work in the station wagon so I could use the car for the day. This is my home town. It’s not like I never come here, but it felt so far away and foreign to me today. There were a few more ‘coincidences’ that matter only to me. I knew my mom was with me. I knew I did right by listening to my heart and not giving in into the familial pressures - as invisible as they are; as real as they seem - nor the figments of fragmented guilt over my own civil disobedience.
I had two drinks before my family arrived.
I was trying hard, with all the strength I could gather, to have a good day; but I wasn’t. I was trying to keep my smile steady while my eyes welled up and I curled my toes into the floor hoping the pain of doing so would stop my overwhelming need to burst into tears.
“Is something bothering you?”
“You seem upset?”
Questions were coming in. I had no answers; only lies.
“Nothing. I’m fine”
I figured I could play the game too. I could pretend. I could ‘put my happy face on’ and get through the night. I gave it a shot, for the sake of the kids and my dad. But for the rest of them, well . . .
“What’s wrong?” With me? Me, the one who wanted to bow out if they were to start singing “Happy Birthday” to the lighted candle shaped like a little birthday cake that my aunt, my mom’s only living relative, brought. My discomfort annoyed them. My reaction insulted them. We didn’t sing. Thank God. My mom is dead! Dead. If I celebrate anything it will be the day she got to leave this craziness. Even the church celebrates the saints on the day they left this world for the better world.
What’s wrong with me? Hmmmmmmm? I don't have to think long on that one: I am without a job. I have been unemployed for longer than I choose to acknowledge. Despite putting resumes out every day, I have not found work. I am broke. I have liquidated all of my assets. I have canceled all of my policies. I’ve been without medical care and dental care for a year. I have no house. I have no food. Well, not much food. I have no money. I have no job. I have no peanut butter. I have no mother. I have no husband. I have no jelly. I have nobody. I am, for the most part, alone. I am alone (but not lonely) and moneyless (but not penniless) and foodless (but not starving) and houseless (but not homeless) . . . and for today, on this day, I am sad . . . but not suicidal. I am standing at the edge of the cliff looking down at up's reflection. I am not good enough to be a willing and able participant in this world; and I am not bad enough to be seen in my robes spun of desperation, fear and humility. Speaking of humility: it is a great thing, an honorable state - but when the robes come off and all that is visible is a scary looking ribcage holding the heart captive; that's when humility feels more like shame. And that is what I felt when being asked what is wrong with me and I clutched my robe tighter than ever before.
I am also in the midst of a powerful process; I am transitioning into the next phase of my womanhood – of my life – and I am doing it alone. Solo. Solo no one can hear me . . . an inside joke of my mom’s. I have no female elders left to hold my hand and guide my through this process – this long, dark tunnel of mystery. This winding, rolling, uphill path. This upheaval of pocketed and locketed emotions. This unraveling of memories – reel by reel. This exhuming of skeletal pain until only the marrow is holding me up.
“What is wrong with me?” ME?
I had another drink, a Jack and Coke; my mother’s drink. I didn’t eat. My stomach was knotted. I felt my mother. She was with me. And unfortunately, her pain was with me. But I’m not as good at covering it up as she was in her Jackie Kennedy fashion. I felt her pain. I felt my pain – and then I felt the pain of not wanting to charge a five dollar cheese enchilada.
“Lindy, you’re not eating?”
“Do you want some of mine; I can’t eat all of this?”
“Here’s part of a chicken burrito if you want it.”
Could I sink any smaller in my chair? Could I Alice my way into Wonderland oblivion?
I don’t know how I did it. I didn’t plan my escape at all. But, somehow, I found myself in my car and I was turning the key and I was backing out of the parking spot and I was approaching the exit of the lot and I was on the main road. I was gone. And I knew I’d have hell to pay for leaving without the formal goodbyes. And I knew no hell could be worse then my staying in the condition I was in. I knew some things, after all. I wasn’t that crazy.
I exited I-94 at Cadieux. There was some garbage strewn along the road. I turned right onto Harper and a couple of people ran across the street in front of me. I quickly slowed down so as not to hit them. That was real to me. This street is real to me. That litter is real to me. Those people running across the street in traffic was real to me.
I’m almost home. This is Detroit. I’m safe now.