Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Day 4 - Living the Dream

*Okay, this is a bit heavy and kind of personal. I'm not even sure if I should really post it, but it's probably one of the most honest things I've let myself write in a long time.*

Day 4 - Burnt Hills, New York. Smiling into the sun.

This -sitting on a couch in the sun, writing in my journal as my mommy makes pizza and the dad-man figures out his pneumatic nailer- this is the American Dream. The real one. The one everyone seems to be forgetting about because they are too busy grasping at little green pieces of paper that bring no actual happiness and cannot ever buy an afternoon like this.

C. and L. aren't my real parents, just like their sons J. and L. aren't my real brothers. They are, however, my real family. They haven't always been, but they are now. I'm not even sure I deserve a family like this but, for whatever reason, they love me and have adopted me all-but-legally into their family. And because they love me so unconditionally, I want so badly to make them proud. The same way I always wanted to make Diana -my real mother- proud.

C. never met Diana. It may be why it's so easy for her to mother me when other women, who knew my mother, have never quite been capable of it. C. has never tried to be Diana - she can't try to be because she never met her. I've also never wanted her to be because no one will ever be quite like my mother. That doesn't mean I haven't grown to love C. almost as much as I loved Diana. In some ways, I love C. more - mostly because she's here and it never hurts to love her the way it sometimes aches to love the memory of my mother.

C. is so different from Diana and yet she treats me so similarly: she bosses me around (when I need bossing around), she expects me to help out around the house, she scolds me for not writing thank you notes, she takes me on little shopping sprees and she lets me talk and she gives wonderful hugs and she makes me feel protected. The most significant sign that she's become my mother? She can guilt trip me.

When I was fifteen or sixteen -when I was still planning to go to Harvard and the Olympics, when my future was still a big, blank scrapbook waiting to be filled with stories and accomplishments and newspaper clippings and photographs- Diana and I had this little joke.

We joked that one day, when I was grown up and far from home, I would call her up to tell her that a plane ticket was on it's way and that we had a lunch date in New York City. All she had to do was get on the plane, I would say.

I went to New York City the spring I was sixteen; it will be nine years ago next month. My mother was sick again. Being radiated. Again. The only reason I know this (because I don't actually remember it) is because in the photos from the trip, I had a blunt black bob of hair and blue dots in Sharpie marker, around the corners of my eyes, same as my mother. Hers had a purpose; to help place the shield of plastic over her head (to protect her her brain) from being fried during treatment. Mine had no purpose other than as a symbol of daughterly solidarity.

Diana had never been to New York. I asked her flippantly if she wanted me to bring her a souvenir. "I want something from the gift shop at the Met," she told me. I nodded and promptly forgot. I only remembered when I was in the gift shop in the Met sneering at the cheap facsimiles of priceless art.

Then I saw the picture frame, a reproduction of an item from the Victorian era. The Tree of Life, a small placard told me, fifty dollars. In the year 2000, 50$ US was worth about 90$ Canadian. I'd brought about 250$ US with me. I didn't even hesitate. The little picture frame -it can't be more than about 2" by 4" in size and it only holds a photo about 1.5" square- it had to be Diana's.

Diana had this tree-of-life fixation; the same part of her that believed in areligious angels and could make it snow just by writing something really good (she did it in May once). She held back tears when she opened it. In retrospect, it was probably the single most significant gift I have ever given anyone. "You did good, kid," as Peter would say. I did good. I brought her a little piece of New York too. In it, she put a photo of my little sister and I when we were maybe two and three, sitting on a curb in red raincoats and rain-boots, the sun making my very blond hair look like I have a halo. The irony, Diana once told me, was what made her love the picture. I was her little devil-child. In nine years, I've never once even considered changing the photograph. I bring the frame everywhere with me.

My mother died a year later. She never did make it to New York.

Five years later, I went back to New York City. By then, I had moved across Canada to Vancouver. It was my fourth or fifth trip to Manhattan. I was going to another United Nations conference (this time a model UN through my university rather than a conference through my church like my first visit to New York and the U.N. had been).

I wanted to see C. who, by then, had taken in earnest to insisting that I be her adopted daughter. (At the time, J. and I still wondered if she didn't truly want me as a daughter-in-law; we've since realized that she'd always meant daughter. Just daughter. She'd never hoped I would marry the boy I wish had been my fraternal twin.)

I didn't have a ton of time, not enough time to boot it up to upstate to see her, so she came to me. She had a friend she wanted to see anyways. So she came down and met me in the East Village for lunch and we took a tour of Columbia University (SIPA for my masters?) and we had dinner with her friend, who ended up being the associate director of Human Rights Watch. [One of the only NGOs I would give almost anything to work for, even now.]

Lunch ended up being the thing I remember most clearly from the entire two-week gong show that trip became. I don't remember the food. I remember sitting across from her sipping my drink and remembering the joke Diana and I had had. I'd completely forgotten it until that day, when it just floated to the top of my pool of memories. I didn't think twice before telling her the story, and I remember how I got it all out in one breath and then looked at her and realized what I'd just said. We simultaneously burst into tears when we came to the unspoken realization that in some strange way, I was living out that little plan.

Diana believed in guardian angels. There has never been any doubt in my mind that somehow, in some way, Diana orchestrated the entire thing. That was Diana's kind of humour- the dark, heart-breaking kind that leaves you laughing and crying and dying inside as you try to keep hold of yourself. That lunch was like a blessing. It was Diana's way of saying 'It's okay for you to let her love you.'

From that day onwards, I've let C. mother me, convinced that Diana wanted us to find each other, that C. was a kind of parting gift - that the last thing Diana could do, as my mother, was to find me someone who would love me the way she did, someone who could show me how to live the dream.

*Re: the Jubilant Sykes songs. I'm not really religious and neither was my mother, but Diana and I loved the second song on this track ... and pretty much anything else this man sings because he's one of the most incredible baritones of his generation.*


Val said...

That was beautiful, real, and life...hey Mer, that was you!

Thanks for sharing that with us.

KD said...

Thank you for that.

Susan said...

Ditto what Val said. I'm tearing up as I write this. It also makes me miss my mother-in-law even more. She was the polar opposite of all those terrible mother-in-law jokes, I could get total, unconditional love from her. Not that my mother didn't love me, she did. But, she also did not hesitate to let me know if she did not approve of something.
You seemed to be blessed with two special mothers in your life.

Clare said...

That was just beautiful, thanks for sharing. I had read it before I left this morning and it certainly started the day off right.

Lauren said...

Thank you for this post. It is deeply personal, but it was great hearing about it.