My mother’s first breath after crossing the Williamsburg Bridge into Brooklyn today was a sigh. She wishes I lived in Manhattan, I know. She tells me every chance she gets.
As Mom drove north on Havemeyer toward my apartment, I saw Williamsburg through her eyes: graffiti, old unpretty buildings, men with weird facial hair weaving in and out of traffic on bikes, more graffiti. I get it. She doesn’t see what I see and I have stopped trying to persuade her of my neighborhood’s charms.
Mom’s favorite past apartment of mine was probably the one at 72nd and 3rd on the Upper East Side where I lived starting when I was 23 years old. Now she would gladly accept even the Cornelia Street walk-up in Greenwich Village that I called home on September 11. In spite of my current place being modern and comfortable, in Mom’s eyes, everything is better in Manhattan.
When we arrived at my building, there weren’t any parking spaces – another Brooklyn disappointment. Mom double-parked the Cadillac and popped the trunk so I could extricate the new Oreck vacuum and the refrigerated bag stuffed full of homemade spaghetti sauce in Tupperware she had brought me from Pennsylvania.
While she waited outside for me to return with the old vacuum which she had kindly offered to take in for servicing, I hustled through my building’s small lobby, into the lone elevator and up to my floor. As I walked past the neighbors’ assorted belongings stored in the hall – strollers, a bike with training wheels, child-sized rain boots – I was glad Mom had waited with the car.
“How do you stand the clutter?” she asked right after I moved in.
“I don’t love it, but isn’t it good that I have neighbors who don’t steal from each other?”
We repeated the conversation during each of her visits.
When I walked back outside, I spotted Mom in a parking space across the street. I tried not to see her smallness, her vulnerability. The day in Manhattan, shopping followed by lunch at our old favorite, had been emotional enough.
The visit to Pellegrino’s had been different today. We have dined there just the two of us plenty of times, but today felt less like a mother-daughter day than a glimpse of our shared future loss. We felt the ache and no amount of food and small talk made it go away. At some point, we’ll have to tell our friends at the restaurant sad news. Today seemed like a rehearsal.
“Please don’t cry, Mom. Polyester napkins are terrible for tears.”
“Is my eye make-up smearing?”
“No. Is mine?”
“Are you wearing any?”
I sighed. If Mom had her way, I’d be done up like a Vegas showgirl daily to make up for my paleness.
My father’s recent illnesses and hospitalizations were on both our minds. Pneumonia in January. Pulmonary edema and congestive heart failure in February. He did well enough in between to go to Florida for two weeks, but then, very ill once again. Dad is doing better right now, but not up for a trip to New York.
Mom wants to plan a party for his 77th birthday in April. I’m worried, mostly that it might be too much.
I went back downstairs, both eager and unwilling to say goodbye to my mother. But denial is a convenience I can’t allow myself, not now.
“I’ve never been alone,” Mom said.
“I know,” I replied, “I love you. I rely on you so much. I hope you can rely on me.”
We hugged and cried once more before Mom departed for Pennsylvania and Dad.