Yesterday was my mother's Yahrzeit, the anniversary of her death in 2001. My sister and I had agreed we would say Kaddish together and I was trying to reach her in the little time slot we both had available, her on the East Coast, me out here in California. Five o clock in the evening my time, eight o'clock her time.
Meanwhile, the drains in my kitchen sink have been disgustingly slow. Every time we wash dishes the greasy dirty water stays for half an hour afterwards, finally receding to leave a ring of gross sludge. C., my new dating-guy, proved his generosity and stamina by coming over at four with a snake--a plumbing snake, not the other kind--and spending an hour and a half sticking it up various pipes. He got black goo on his hands and the snake, but nothing dramatic emerged; we decided the blockage was further down, down where the snake couldn't reach.
While he was doing all this I was making dinner: chicken, a salad, potatoes, green beans and garlic, and trying to reach Emily. I called her at her home phone, on her personal cellphone, on her work cell, and left messages. Finally I called over to her ex-husband's house to see if she were there.
He had all three kids that night, so I spoke a little with Noah, and then gibberish with Eli, and then three year old Lucy grabbed the phone to tell me she was wearing purple p.j.'s, that she had had chicken for dinner, and that she was going to watch a "flamily movie" with her bruzza and her uzza bruzza. I could so picture her, damp from her bath, in her purple pjs, all round eager brown eyes, and naughty smile, that I felt a physical longing to hold her.
C and my housemate David were trying to wrest off a huge bolt on the side of the house where the water drains out (I forget what it's called, the clearance, or the slippage, or something technical like that.)
I boiled water in the tea kettle and poured it over the frozen bolt to no avail.
We discussed going to the Tool Lending Library in Berkeley and getting a pipe wrench.
Emily finally called me; she had been at a vigil to commemorate the fourth anniversary of this filthy war we are in, and she had brought her Yahrzeit candle with her. She had brought it with her to work that day as well, and kept it lit through two meetings, explaining to her colleagues that it was in memory of our mother and also the war dead.
Undoubtedly Mom would have approved; my best memory of her was when she took me to Washington, D.C. to protest at Nixon's Inaugural in 1973. We wore black shrouds and painted our faces white to represent Vietnamese casualties, and marched through the icy streets of Washington with throngs of other protesters. Mom went to every anti-war vigil she could get to, and often stood out on the green for Amnesty International as well.
Of course I felt guilty because I hadn't remembered to go down to the Jewish store and buy a Yahrzeit candle--I never remember to do it. Year after year, on March 19, I am too busy. I remember Mom used to keep Yahrzeit candles burning for her grandmothers, neither of whom she had even met. My sister-in-law who is not Jewish got one for Mom, but I didn't. And I couldn't have a long conversation with Emily, who I think genuinely misses Mom sometimes--along with all the other complicated feelings that her memory brings up-- because C and I had just sat down to eat after hours of plumbing exertions.
The stance of the women in our family towards each other is yearning. When I was little I yearned for my mother and she was too busy, and too defended, and toofrightened of my intensity. She turned away. Years and years later she yearned for me, and I was angry and sad and terrified of her infinite pain and I turned away. My sister and I yearn for each other and there is too much life; her work, my work, her kids, my theatre, friends, lovers, classes, schedules.
She called me this morning and it was good--we managed to talk for fifteen minutes while she drove from one meeting to another. C and I had a nice evening just enjoying the garlicky meal and then wandering the streets of Berkeley, hands clasped, looking in windows and talking.
There is not enough time and yet each minute is infinite. That is the mystery we are all living.
I don't know if I am still grieving my mother. I feel like I grieved her her entire life, that I was always grieving the connection that was just out of reach. Now when I think of her sometimes I grieve that we didn't get to enjoy our lives as women together. Joy and pleasure are such vulnerable emotions--I felt too guilty and ashamed and freaked out to experience them in her presence.
I am not grieving and yet at one point, talking to C about intimate things I felt my eyes fill. It was a relief. I never cry for my mother anymore.
Today, I called the Tool Lending Library and found out they have a pipe wrench and we can borrow it for a week, and David, who has a Berkeley Library card, is going to pick it up.