by Carmen Caldwell
Inspired by ‘Emergent,’ a work by Isabella Kirkland.
Life is resilient in the face of loss and challenge.
“Are you writing?” Eva asked, taking a forkful of spinach salad.
Mary could tell by her friend’s casual tone and avoidance of eye contact that she knew the subject was potentially painful. Mary’s stomach and throat started to clench, and her mouth tasted like the morning after too many margaritas.
“I can’t,” was all she could manage. She put down her portabella sandwich and blinked away tears.
Their fellow diners in the natural food restaurant might have mistaken the friends for sisters. Neither wore much makeup beyond lipstick. Both had chin-length hair that tended to curl if not tamed by a straightening iron, in a shade of medium brown that only talented hairdressers could create in women over fifty. Both had olive skin inherited from their Catholic, European-born mothers, Eva’s, Hungarian, Mary’s, Italian.
Those similar origins truly bonded them. Having immigrant parents gave them a shared history and a common language—sacrifice, hard work, importance of family.
“I’m sorry, Mary,” Eva reached for Mary’s hand. “You don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want to.”
Mary smiled at her DBFF—single BFF just didn’t describe Eva’s gold-star support and comfort—and adopted a sarcastic tone to lighten the moment. “Good, because talking about my sadness and sobbing in the middle of a crowded restaurant is not on my Bucket List.”
Eva snorted a chuckle. Then, in keeping with the rules of their friendship, prodded gently, “Well, is your Mom okay?”
“Yes.” Quick, easy, black and white. Mary knew that all the grayness in her Mom’s life would take a thousand slow, hard words. “If it’s okay to lose your home of over fifty years and most of your belongings. If it’s okay to be confined to a wheelchair.”
Mary lowered her face toward her plate, took several deep breaths and felt Eva press a couple of Kleenex into her right hand. “No, it’s not okay. Oh, Mary, I care about your Mom, but I care more about you. How are you?”
Mary felt as if a vice tightened around her heart and throat. Why was facing her true feelings so constricting? “I feel so helpless, Evie. I just want to protect her. When I hear her voice on the phone, I can almost forget what she’s lost. She still sounds like my Mom.
“I can almost forget what I’ve lost—my childhood home, heck, a place to go home to. Mom can’t take care of me anymore. I have to take care of her now. It’s almost like I’ve already lost her. Like I can’t be her child anymore.”
Mary quietly blew her nose as the waitress refilled their water glasses. She pictured her Mom sitting on the Lazy-Boy love seat in the studio apartment at the assisted living facility that was now her home, with her right and only leg propped up on pillows to reduce the swelling in her remaining foot. Her soft, white hair framing a face with remarkably few wrinkles, considering her 86 years, and her aquamarine blue eyes still alert and engaged despite all the upheaval they had witnessed.
“It’s so much change for both of you. And it’s very sad,” Eva said softly.
“She’s been my rock, my foundation. What I don’t know, Evie, what I need to know is, what will root me when she’s gone? Is there life after the source of your life ends?”
“Heh, Mary, don’t bury her yet.”
“I know. But it’s not always easy to be hopeful. I’m older than you and believe me, you start thinking about it. I’m closer to the end than the beginning.”
“Oh lord, you obviously haven’t been eating enough chocolate.” Eva added more gently, “Mary, I’ve known you a long time, and you have deep, strong roots. They are yours, separate from your Mom. And they will last.”
“Thanks. I know I can’t live for Mom any more than she can for me. It’s just hard sometimes to see myself in a different way, to see my life differently. I want to look forward as much as I look back. I want to believe there is still life in me, potential.”
“Of course, there is.” Eva pushed her plate away. “This salad could really use a hot dog.”
Mary laughed, grateful for the change in subject, and suddenly remembered the conversation she’d had with her Mom the night before.
“Guess what, Mary! Your mother ate the first hot dog of her life.”
“Really, Mom? The first one ever?”
Typical of their daily chats, her Mom used a circular path to report her activities. “Do you have time? It’s a long story. The story is, Mike came at 11:00 and we had a good visit. He took me outside at noon because lunch was a BBQ. Thelma, the lady who used to work at the bank, asked me, ‘Is he your boyfriend?’ We had a choice of hamburgers or hot dogs and I didn’t feel like a hamburger.”
“But what about the hot dog, Mom? How did it taste?”
“It didn’t taste too bad.”
Mary smiled, thinking about her Mom’s refusal to unabashedly endorse American cuisine after 50 years of U.S. citizenship.
“Where’d you go?” Eva asked, as the waitress brought their check.
“Just thinking about Mom and realizing that the amputation handicapped her body but not her spirit. She’s the strongest, bravest person I know.”
“Well, Mary, you’re the strongest, bravest person I know.”
“Thanks, but I don’t always feel very brave or strong.”
“Of course not, you’re human. Are you going to finish that sandwich?”