Magnolia Drive

Written By: Christine  Foley

Back home, we’d spend warm breezy nights at the beach. We’d make our way down narrow roads lined by small summer homes and trees lush and green. Their branches made strange arms on the pavement in the shadow of the summer moon. Dimly lit paths through overgrown brush leading to cliffs overlooking the shore might have been impossible to navigate. Impossible to navigate had they not come to be so familiar to us through years of childhood games and late night exploration. From high atop those sandy dunes the black sky speckled with bright white stars stretched endlessly through the night and reflected off the deep blue velvet blanket of water below us. The whisper of waves rolling forward and then retreating along the shoreline echoed in the background of our laughter and storytelling. Life was no less than charmed and home stretched further than the four walls of our house on Magnolia Drive. I’m older now and I know the value of this treasure of memories that’s followed me far from those winding beach roads. That place called home, is in essence, long gone now. It continues only in my memories, however distorted they may or may not be. I catch a hint of a scent reminding me of my mother’s cooking or of cupping fresh snow in my bare hands on the side deck and lobbing it at my younger brother with no regard for certain retribution, and I want to go home. Seems so strange to me now, how our memories play back like scenes from movies. We remember such a small part of the whole story. Seems so strange how quickly those living moments become pieces of our past and how quickly the loves of our lives slip away from us. I remember rainbows on curtains. This corridor had been where sick kids got better. I don’t know why the words were so unexpected. “Funny cells” she called them. And with those two words my mom became childlike and fragile, and days and moments which otherwise would have passed unremarkably, became like sand slipping through our fingers. Conversation broken down into words rehearsed, remembered almost in desperation, grasping to have something of her to keep for later. Later, when what could be remembered of her, those words shared in late night confidence, the curve of the nose her father had passed on to her, the smell of her neck as she held you in a long hug , the way her whole face smiled when she laughed, or that sweet sound of her voice when she spoke your name. These intangible nuggets of gold would inevitably become precious links to the mom whose time with us would end too soon. My mother’s father had been an artist in New York City. He’d died too young. Through the years I felt that my oldest brother understood my mother’s darker sad side more than my other brothers and I ever could. He was old enough to remember the time after my grandfather passed, and the hours our mother had spent crying. He’d been old enough to understand the loss of his grandfather, and to be changed by it. Peter sometimes told us stories of grandpa taking him and mom’s younger sister to the beach and playground at Hither Hills, and to the lighthouse in Montauk. When he’d tell my brothers and me stories of grandpa he always seemed so proud of him and of the things he’d learned from him. Proud of his relationship with his grandfather, and still so sad years later, still missing him. He’d tell us what a great man our grandfather was and how much mom was like him. Whenever my big brother talked about grandpa, his eyes would get red and wet and his voice would soften. He’d be transformed in my imagination back to that small child. I remember my eyes getting warm and ready to tear and my throat tight, trying not to cry. His stories always made me sad for his loss. But they also made me miss the grandfather I’d never known. Peter said that after her dad died, he remembers our mother locking herself in her room and crying for weeks and weeks. He’d hear her down the hall just weeping. I had known nothing of that type of loss and sadness, that absolute despair. And then one day, in one moment, I knew sadness. In that moment, when my mother’s laboring gasps grew silent and a peacefulness overtook her gaze, as she lay still and the room filled with cries of sorrow, I at last knew sadness. I saw in the eyes of each of my brothers, a mix of pleading…not yet, and of disbelief. Such agony, such a tear in my soul. To at once experience the great loss of my mother, and to in the same moment experience that loss again in the eyes of each of my brothers. And now I know sadness. The kind of sadness that lingers, the kind that grabs hold of you and does not let go. That wakes you in the night, eyes red and swollen from tears that you don’t remember crying. I lost myself when I lost my mother and a part of me died with her. I see now that I had always defined myself through her. I was beautiful, because I looked like her. Smart because I thought like her. Fearless because I fought like her. And strong and independent because I knew she‘d always be there to pick up my pieces if things ever fell apart. In the end, I realized that she’d been all those things to each of her four children. In the month leading up to her death, I had heard each of my brothers, at different times, describe mom as being their best friend. And express disbelief in the inevitability of losing that relationship. When I was a child she used to tell me I was selfish. I guess she was right. I remember lying in a twin bed in my parents’ bedroom next to her bed while she was dying. I would lay there and cry, watch my mom in such a deep sleep in the hospital bed from Hospice. A temporary replacement for the big bed that had always taken that space, the bed that mom would not sleep in again. I knew she was slipping away from her pain, the constant pain that her body had been fighting for four years. But I wanted what I wanted, for my mother to live forever. I would lay and cry and think of the things that we would miss. My children would miss out on the best grandma. This wonderful, loving, incredibly wise grandma would only be theirs in the stories I could remember and pass on to them. And I would miss out on all of her advice and the answers to questions. She always knew the answers to questions. In the first months after she passed, my heart would sink each time I saw a mom and daughter together. No matter the age, a teenage girl with her mom shopping, or my friends getting the hugs and attention I used to take for granted. Years later I still forget. I think to ask her about something, or for her help in making a decision, and for less than a second, I forget that she’s dead. I forget that I can not call her. My mom shared so many secrets with me. I don’t think there’s anything that she wouldn’t have told me at some point. I wonder what secrets were be left untold. We ran out of time, after all. I wonder about the small things, the stories she would have told me. The snapshots of my mom’s life before us kids. She once told me about how she used to take a detour on her way home from her school when she was a child in Jackson Heights. The reason for this detour was a bakery and the great lour of this bakery: the famous black and white. She described how there stood between her school and this bakery a big empty lot with tall grass. A young girl’s imagination made that field a treacherous pass. She’d reported that she’d stand at one end of the lot and take off running, run as fast as she could to the other end. My mom also had a scar on the inside of her lower calf from when, as a child, she slipped while standing on a heater. She’d been waiting and watching out the window for her dad to come home from work when it happened. I close my eyes and try to picture it. But as hard as I try I can’t remember on which leg she’d had that scar. And now I will never know this small detail of my mother. So many things I’ll never know.