The 59th Candle

“If you could go back in time and have coffee or dinner or a drink or simply a conversation with someone who has passed away, who would it be?” I used to love when this question was asked in casual conversation or over dinner or at a party. I would roll my eyes and take in a sharp breath. I would look arrogant and completely unaffected.

“Sylvia Plath.”

People that knew me knew that this was really the only answer it made sense for me to give. People who did not know me were generally awash in confusion. I would smile as they stumbled and muttered. I could tell they wished they had paid more attention in their English Lit classes. This was usually not the sort of response that led to deeper discussion. Simply put, it was a killer.

Those are the sort of luxuries you have when you’re young and full of angst. The sort of things you’re allowed to say, frivolously, for no apparent reason. And though I am still full of angst, the truth is that I’m not as young as I was then. And I am not allowed to be so frivolous. That is what happens when you lose the important things.

“If you could go back in time and have coffee or dinner or a drink or simply a conversation with someone who has passed away, who would it be?”

My mother.

I imagine we’d be on the impractical balcony at Becco in the Theater District. We would have glasses of wine and plates of antipasto and we would look down at the people below us while we talked.

“It’s so good to see you,” I’d say. “I’ve missed you. There’s so much to tell you!”

“You better take a deep breath,” she would tell me. “I know how you never come up for air.”

I would launch into a monologue about what she has missed in the last year. My travels to Santa Monica, Seattle, St. Thomas, Los Angeles, San Diego, Montreal. The challenges I’ve faced trying to balance a growing career and raising a child alone. The struggles she knew first hand. The ones that taught me everything I needed to know about how to be a provider and a caregiver without becoming a doormat.

“You’re still doing the vegetarian thing, I see,” she would say as I pierce a piece of lettuce with my fork.

I’d glare at her. Then I’d smile. “Yeah, I am.”

“You’ve lost more weight too.” I would smile and nod because it would be the smallest she had ever seen me.

We would talk about the roller coaster the year has been.  The horrid but necessary endings.  The bright new beginnings.  The creative projects – all of the writing, music and photography.  “You look happy,” she would say.  Because she is my mother, she would know that beneath the smile and candid photos of me partying with my friends lies a deep and unshakable sadness, the kind that neither time nor distance can repair.

“I am,” I would tell her.  And because she is my mother she would know that it’s only mostly true.

But most of all, I would thank her.  I would spend whatever time I had left over lunch to thank her.  “There are no words,” I would tell her.

“Words were always your currency,” she would say.  She used to say that all the time. “Lisa, words are your currency.  Use them wisely.”  I never listened.

I would thank her for staying up so many nights to sit next to me while I was sick.  For all of the trips to the hospital for broken arms, fingers and stitches.  For blasting heavy metal outside Dade Christian even though it always meant I would get detention.  For being the soccer/football/baseball/softball/gymnastics mom.

I would thank her teaching me what it means to work smarter, not harder.  For raising me to be independent. For not trying to contain the fire that is my spirit.  For putting up with all of the bullshit – the fights, the drama, the angst, the mood swings.  For never giving up trying to find me when I would disappear for weeks on end. For letting me experience real-world consequences but for always being there to help me get through them.

I would thank her for not just teaching me how to cook, but how to excel at it.  For the road trips and the Girls Weekends.  For worrying about me even when I wasn’t worried about myself.  For the way she sat across from me in a booth at Denny’s in the early morning hours and said, “I think you need this more than I do right now,” as she handed me a cigarette; I was 15.  And I did.

For accepting all of the collect calls.  For explaining thread counts.  For teaching me how to work with stained glass.  For being my Editor-in-Chief.  For all of the articles she would rip out of magazines and the notes she would write on them for me.  For showing me that every time you think you have lost everything you could possibly lose, it’s an opportunity for you to gain more than you ever had.

But most of all, I would thank her for preparing me for the world without her.  For the endless hours of conversation so I could have closure.  For staying positive and strong even on her sickest days.  For never complaining about the aches and pains and broken bones and chemo treatments.  For her sense of humor through all of it.  For the clarity and absolute grace she exhibited as she left us.  For all of the memories.

The memories.

When I look at my reflection in the mirror, I see her.  Sometimes when I open my mouth, it is her words that come out.  When I put on that 1950s throwback apron and stand over the stove, it’s every ounce of love she ever poured into her recipes.  Sometimes when I laugh, it’s her that I hear.

My mother.

She was the most imperfectly perfect human being.  I see that and her in me every single day.

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