“Whatever you do don’t fall asleep. I know your body wants to but trust me, stay up. Get out and walk around, take a shower, call home or whatever but just stay awake if you have any hope to fall asleep tonight” I was standing in the lobby of a hotel on the other side of the world. A room that was saturated with more history than I could even imagine and Michael Sullivan of Beaune Imports was instructing us on what to do with our time before we were to meet back in that same history soaked lobby before heading out to dinner. I looked down at my large bags then to the very narrow and slightly winding staircase and thought, “Well shit it’s going to take me an hour to lug those things up to my room”. My body felt heavier than it ever had, the excess booze the night before leaving, the more booze on the flight over and flying for eleven or so hours with about two hours sleep total…heavy. “Hey, while it’s still light why don’t we go see a bit of the city? It’s your first time here…let’s go take a little walk and maybe share a bottle of Champagne. Meet me back here in an hour” I heard the words and was thankful for the direction in my fuzzy headed, fuzzy hearted condition.
I met Sonya my sales rep for Beaune Imports in the lobby as instructed one hour later, my eyes even puffier from crying once I dropped my bags in my ultra tiny room. Jeans, sneakers and a black hooded sweatshirt to protect my skin from the cold March air, I headed out behind my tiny little leader. The sweatshirt was so not needed…I couldn’t feel anything. We weaved our way through the crowded streets, streets teaming with pink cheeked, scarf clad people walking so quickly I feared getting swallowed up or lost amongst them. We found a corner bistro and weaved our bodies around tables full of folks talking, drinking, smoking and intently spearing little bits of food on their forks and then using their knives to distribute sauce on the selected bite. We settled into our little corner table asked for wine list and as I leaned back in my too-small-for-me chair…I felt. Felt the cold iron back of my chair pressed against my sweatshirt covered back. Felt the noise and energy of the room. Felt that my little companion was talking although my head was swimming, trying to doggy paddle through the wave that was coming over me. Her words muffled in a way that reminded me of my summers spent with my legs locked on the side of the pool, my whole body underwater listening to the voices of the other kids at camp…the kids I didn’t quite fit in with. As I floated there in that Paris bistro, muffled voices, once again feeling just a bit out of place I wondered if she had been here before. If forty years ago she had stopped into this restaurant for a bite, a cup of coffee…a rum and coke, sitting there is that space in the city that always seemed to hold an almost mystical “What if” for my mother I felt an old familiar feeling. Would she be angry, hurt or disappointed that I was here? Was I once again taking something that was hers? I’m not sure when the glass of Champagne appeared but as I felt my heart sinking, my spirit plummeting, my chest feeling like it was about to burst open I saw it. I grabbed the glass at first in an attempt to wash or stuff down the swell of emotions that threatened to take over me but….it ended up being yet another life line in the shape of a glass.
As I felt the tiny bubbles tickle my lips and the broad yeasty flavor spread across my palate it occurred to me, my mother wasn’t there making me feel guilty, saying hurtful things or demanding that I be more concerned with her feeling than mine…I was. As that first glass of Champagne slipped into my body I felt myself coming up for air. Everything became so clear to me; the bustle of a busy Pairs bistro, the cold iron chair against my back, the conversation happing at my table…I was a million miles away from that life, that hurt and if I wanted to move on I needed to stop plunging myself under water. “Oh Sam are you cold?” Sonya asked as she grabbed my hand….shaking, I was shaking.
My mother was never going to be a woman that would throw one of her children out of the house. We were the only real happiness she had and all the love she had ever felt came from us but my brother’s addiction was becoming a cancer that was slowly eating away at us all. For so much of my life my mother was the only person I had, we were unbelievably close and for some reason I was always so afraid that I was going to lose her. Not for some reason, she created that fear through her dramatic outbursts and fits of rage. I was convinced that if I left her side that she would either run away….or worse. I began sleeping with her when I was little not because I was afraid of the dark but because I was afraid of her dark.
As things hit the boiling point at the “thousand square feet” I was gone as much as I could be, doing anything I could to just be away from the sickness that felt like it was choking the life out of each and every one of us. My newfound sensuality had me taking the easiest way out, the cheapest way out and a way out that almost destroyed my just beginning family, another man. I sought comfort, peace and sanctuary in the arms of another man. I hated myself for it, hated my then boyfriend for ignoring it but no one hated it more than my mother. In this house of sadness, loneliness, rage and addiction I became the villain…the most loathsome character in a cast of pretty dark figures. One night while explaining to Jeremy that the hole knocked in his piggybank, the reason all his collected coins and given dollars were gone was because his uncle was very very sick I saw something in my mother’s face…a light and strength that I could not remember seeing in years.
“I’m moving to Boulder. Tessa and I are going to go live with my sister until I can find a job and get my own place” she was moving. She could never throw us out but her disappointment in me and feeling powerless as to what to do with my brother gave her reason enough to do what she had to in order to salvage a life for she and my sister. As terrified as I was to be without her it was the day when I was the most proud that she was my mother. My family moved out first, into the apartment we still live in…my home, this is my real home. I raised my son here, restored and rebuilt my relationship with my boyfriend now husband here. I figured out who I am as woman here. No longer giving in to the pull of my mother’s fears or sadness I was able to build a life that I am very proud of. She saved my life by cutting herself free.
My mother and my sister moved back two years later but rather than move back to Long Beach they moved to the high desert, the hope being that someday mom would be able to attain her one and only dream, to buy a house. When she returned things were different, our relationship strained a bit by the sting of me enjoying my life without her and my healing scars from what I saw as abandonment.
“Happy Mother’s Day & Happy Birthday!” we all said with glasses high. My mother sitting in her favorite restaurant in Long Beach, the place where she had her first legal drink and had taken us for every special occasion. We had all gathered there, my family, my brother’s wife and her two sons, my sister and my mother, to celebrate her. The waitress, the same damn waitress I had seen my whole life remembered our orders and rattled them off before we had a chance to say a thing. My mother was so happy that night, so proud and her power as a woman, as a mother was there sitting around the table, her years of loneliness and sacrifice now before her, happy healthy and raising our glasses to her. Her light was back, the light I used to see when I was four years old and she was holding my tiny hands while teaching me to dance…Stevie Wonder blaring in the background, that light was back.
Three days later as I was getting ready to climb into bed my phone rang, “Sam you need to get up here, now. “
I am sorry that I didn’t make it. I’m sorry that I was not there to say goodbye. I am sorry that I didn’t go into that cold room to see your body one last time. We drove as fast as we could. I still refuse to say goodbye and I was unwilling to let go of my last memory of you…lit up and being adored by your children and grandchildren….as you still very much are.
I’m not sorry we fought. I’m not sorry that I took it upon myself to feel your pain, be your safe place and at times your victim, without all of that I would not be the me that I am now. The woman that ten years later finds herself still so powerfully connected to your life that I find myself here on Mother’s Day, glass of Rose as my side…writing you. You were a stronger woman than you ever believed you were and to this day, in front of all the people that read this stoopid blog of mine I proudly say, “Nancy Dugan was my mother. She spent her life struggling with a sadness that could at times make her difficult, but she did the best that she could. Loved with an intensity that gave her children and grandson the strength to overcome some amazing obstacles. She was a mother before she was anything else and it was the one thing she was most proud of. Her fight was one brought on by many unwise choices on her part but she never gave up, never quit and even waited until my baby sister had turned 18, (19 days before she died) to let go. Her struggling heart stopped by a blood clot. She called 911 complaining that she was having trouble breathing, she was gone by the time the paramedics arrived."
Mom, I think of you often. Not every day as I am sure you would prefer but often. When the towers came down on September 11th I ached for you. When I was in that Paris bistro I wished I could call you. When Jeremy graduated high school you should have been there. When Tessa graduated from college we felt as if you were there. Just wanted you to know that we are doing fine. Tessa and I are both married to wonderfully sweet men, (you met Carl…you loved him and he you…he is now my husband) she is now in Grad school and continues to astonish me with how smart and funny she has become. Jeremy, your beloved Jeremy is doing great and just completed his junior year at the University of Louisville…his distance while painful at times makes me so proud of the mother that I have been to him. He is handsome, smart; funny as hell…a smart ass I am sure you are surprised, and just as sweet and gentle as he was when we first brought him home from the hospital. Oh and Mom…Mike is clean, has been for a few years now. He still struggles with holding a job but has found a home where he is adored and feels needed. Seems to be working for now and I will keep my fingers crossed for you.
As for me, well I’m the same I guess. I’m still at The Wine Country, still loving it and between the store, my family and this amazing group of people I find myself surrounded by I feel as safe and as loved as I ever have before. I’ve discovered that I have a love for writing that does at times consume me but in a very good way and as it turns out….this wine thing and this writing thing, pretty good combination for me. I still love music, still dance just like you taught me and still think of you every time I pass a bottle of Vouvray at the store. Vouvray night…the first night I felt that we were two women, not mother and daughter…just two women drinking too much and getting lost in a fit of giggles.
Just know it was not all for nothing Mom. We are all very proud to be your children. You done good lady.
I miss you
We all miss you and….
I guess more than anything I just wanted to say