Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Walking Distance

In 1981, my first husband and I, and our two daughters, were living in a townhouse on N. LaSalle St. in Chicago. Our zip code was 60610. My mother Min liked our location; so with my encouragement, she submitted an application to move her and her second husband into a senior citizen building that was walking distance from my home.

In December of that same year, as relatives and friends sat somberly in our living room with its vaulted ceiling that rose two floors up, I told of Mom's plans to those who had gathered for her Shiva. "She was so excited that she'd be living close to the kids and me," I said, "but it wasn't to be." The mourners nodded their heads and wiped away tears.

Through all of my essays about possibly moving to Los Angeles to be walking distance to my daughter Jill and her family, I hadn't thought about this long-ago scene. But now, when I recall my mother's untimely death from a heart attack at 67, the line that reverberates is this: I never got a chance to tell her how I felt; to mend things with her.

If you've read my first memoir, "The Division Street Princess," you're aware I spent most of my childhood, and a good deal of adulthood, hoping to persuade Mom to love me for the person I truly was. And more importantly, to overcome my feeling that she was disappointed I wasn't taller, slimmer, and prettier.

When my aunts -- her sisters -- read my book, they were shocked to learn my dim assessment of the relationship. "Your mother loved you. She was so proud of you. How could you believe otherwise?"

But, our own truth often veers from what others perceive. And while her sisters likely heard Mom kvelling about me, I instead stored these childhood directives: Stand up straight. Comb your hair. You don't need that cake, and other orders that seem innocuous now. How could those words wound me so? Why have I carried them, like backpacks filled with rocks instead of school supplies, all these years?

Although Mother never made it to the apartment down the block from me, I may get to move across the country to a rental walking distance to Jill. And, if my other daughter, Faith, is fortunate enough to win another months-long writing assignment in L.A., my firstborn and me could possibly be roommates or neighbors.

To ease a potential departure from a city I have lived in nearly my entire life, and from dear friends and relatives, I'm considering the move a gift and opportunity -- which I never got with Min -- to assure there are no scenes or stings left over from my daughters' childhoods that they lug, or drop on a therapist's couch. And although I believe, and you likely do, too, that my daughters and I have an enviable and uncommon bond, do we really know their truths? Consider how divergent my aunts' opinions were from mine.

And perhaps my mother had her own wounds, inflicted by angelic me, that she kept hidden. What a pity it was that we -- who believed we had all the time in the world -- missed out on having conversations that surely would've resulted in hugs and vows.

Along with this late-in-life desire, to be a blame-free mother to my daughters, the other tasks to be addressed in a relocation would be: To be a better grandmother and mother-in-law, and friend to Jill's machetunim (my son-in-law's parents), and to first cousins living in Beverly Hills. Then there's the crowd of former Chicagoans and current Los Angelinos whom I hope to reconnect with.

This goal -- likely prompted by my recently attaining the age of 76 -- is partially based on a belief that I may have come up short with this far-away group. I could blame it on distance, but it also could be that I lack a certain keep-in-touch gene.

But, it's not too late to improve my mother/grandmother/in-law/cousin/friend relationships. Proximity will help. Desire on my part will certainly up my chances. And, willingness by those on the other side will guarantee it.

So, dearest mother Min, I deeply regret we never had that chance to live in homes walking distance from one another, and to smooth over wrinkles that foolishly left me wanting. Now, I've been offered an opening with my own kin. I hope to take it.





2 comments: