“The last weeks are the hardest,” my mother says, “you don’t think about these things when the romance starts. We are nine years apart. Didn’t seem that far apart 32 years ago.”
I am driving my mother to the western part of the county; the road winds around and the dormant volcano, Mt. Lassen, stands before us. There’s a storm coming in. Mountain people pay attention to such things. Tomorrow the volcano will be covered in snow and all will be quiet and the sky will be, after the storm, a brisk and brilliant blue—the kind of blue that puts one in awe at its majesty. The kind of blue that mountain people might want to go out on, their last breath blue.
My mother is on the edge of time. She has made this trek of twenty-some-odd miles every day for the last couple of weeks and every other day for four years to see her partner Lynn, or Mom 2, as I call her, in the long-term care unit. But this week, when the doctor switched Lynn’s plan from ‘she could get better’ to ‘let’s make her comfortable,’ time stopped and sputtered and stretched back to the beginning and the middle and all I know is we are on the highway, and I’m dropping my mother with clothes for two days at the hospital to be with her beloved, so she can hold her hand, and sing quiet songs to her. So she can anoint her with sweet oils and La Virgen prayers.
It’s love and death in the time of COVID, and none of us have it, but only my mother can go in to see Lynn at the end. My mother promises that if she is coherent at all, she’ll mention how much the kids love her. Grandma Lynn has been holding fast to the stuffed toy monkey my daughter gave her last month when things started to look like there might not be many days left. My mother takes photos of Lynn and shows them to my kids and they burst into tears at various intervals through out the last days.
My mother has been witness to too much death for one person in a lifetime and I have always chided that she is the person to call in death because she always knows what needs to be done and what not to do. But my virgo mother steps into my messy car willingly for this drive, and then I know she is not entirely herself anymore and that this grief will never be undone. Everything is uncharacteristic and new and it makes both of us feel so goddammed old. And the sorrow is hard and the sky is graying and the landscape is getting colder by the mile and I know when I drop her off that when the sky is blue again her true love will be gone.
They met in grief. My mother who lost a best friend to AIDS three years prior, heard about a training where she could befriend and help other gay men mostly abandoned by their families as they prepared to die. She decided to volunteer to love strangers. Lynn was a nun who hadn’t quite taken her final vows. She had lost a good friend—a priest—to AIDS and couldn’t find a place to put all that was in her heart. My mother says she knew the moment she saw her and that she couldn’t be in the same room with her–knowing that if she talked even a moment longer to her, her whole life would change. Lynn spoke to her.
Her whole life changed.
I don’t think I ever believed in true love or that there was someone for everyone until they got together and overnight my mother began to change. My mother’s partners before Lynn never seemed to fit, and never added anything this lovely to our lives—and never quelled my mother’s anger or her sorrow. There was a will to live in my mother that I’d never witnessed before, that I did not think possible.
When Lynn came into our lives the Christmases got better—she knew that young college students needed more than a book of poems and a tin of cookies. We might need flannel sheets and warm socks. She became the balance of power—the non-creative who never the less appreciated the arts and becoming part of this misfit Mexican-American family who ate tamales for Christmas instead of Cornish game hens. We the unforgiving people of grudges and honor—she the social worker always willing to hear the devil out and look for his best side and the bright side.
My mother spent half her life thinking herself ugly, like the sky before the storm. And Lynn, with her hearty laugh and her joy in so many simple things, would look upon my mother and call her ‘darling.’
“Grandma Lynn must live—who will see the good in us if she’s gone?” asked my daughter tonight. Who indeed.
Tonight the temperature outside will drop to freezing and below. I am in my mother’s house, tending the fire with another big log. It is too warm in here—the way Lynn liked it. I am watching the cats, one ambivalent, one confused by my mother’s absence.
I wait for the storm. I wait for the phone call. I wait to be useful. To be there for the fall apart when the romance of a lifetime is broken apart—one to the other side of the ether—one to the cold winter morning in a bright blue sky, alone.