The Pedicure

I live alone now.  2006 I lost her to lung cancer.  I am now officially an orphan.  She was my family; she was my best friend.  When I think “family intimacy,” scenes with my mother flash in my memory.

My mother lived in Berkeley.  I took the job in Santa Barbara because I loved the sun and because, most of all, I could spend time with my best friend.  My mother and I had a lot in common, but we had very different personalities.  I can recall one time that I laughed so loud, my colleague came out of her office and I told her the story.  I wrote poems; my mother did not.  I bought blank cards; my mother searched for the card with the best saying.

One day, I sent my mother one of my poems; I sent it in an email.  Very quickly, I heard the ping of a returned email.  I clicked on it and read “Denise, I actually like this one.  Girl, how did you make it into my womb.”  I howled; first I was absolutely surprised that she liked it.  And, “how did you get into my womb” coming from my very straight laced mummy, the woman who doesn’t even say “damn.”  That jerked a laugh out of me.

If I close my eyes I can see that warm smile start and then a kind of soft grin appear, her eyes have a tiny shine, her arms are down as she holds one palm in the other as she stands back from the open door waiting for me to enter. I knew what she was waiting for.

My phone call from the halfway stop had started my anticipation.  I kept laughing on the drive because I loved my mother’s way of getting me to visit.

She’d call; we chatted every night.  She’d say “Denise, I think it’s time; I’m looking at my toes right now.  I think they need you.”  I’d laugh out loud.  “Mummy I think you’ve become addicted to pedicures.”

My mother had to learn to hug.  Long story short, the British cultural straight jacket combined with other trauma made mummy a little stiff.  I knew she loved me because of all the ways she spoiled me.  A couple times I threatened her.  “Mummy if you don’t hug me I am going to shrivel and die.”  I’d put my arms around and say.  “You better squeeze me woman.”  The first time, she hesitated then over time it became our way.  Through the laughter she knew I was serious.  I loved touching my mother.  I needed to hug her.  It took time for me to realize that it mattered to her too.

After the five-hour drive, I’d walked through the door and into her arms.  “Hug me woman.”  We laughed.  By nighttime, we’d made a stop in China town to buy our favorite fish.  By 7 p.m., she was in her favorite green armchair; I was on a stool between her legs; water was on to warm for her toes and I was working on her fingernails.  We sat in the warm kitchen; “Law and Order” was on the TV; it was our favorite television show.  We discussed and argued like lawyers.  Holding mummy’s soft hands, shaping and shinning her nails, soaking and scrubbing her feet; these things anchored me in love.  Massaging her legs, feeling the tension leave, hearing her sigh, and seeing my mother smile, these strokes entered directly into our hearts.

Now that she is gone, these things keep me alive.


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