Her name was Gahlit.
We were on a Yahoo group together, and we exchanged a few emails. Her daughter did Mommy and Me at our preschool last year, so we met several times. She was wiry, tall, and definitely a helicopter parent. Like so many L.A. parents, she was hovering just behind her toddler as she climbed monkey bars or rocketed towards the edges of coffee tables (a precaution that… ahem… maybe a few more of us ought to consider). This was one mama who took researching preschools almost as seriously as I do, although I suspect that I hold the record for researching preschools in the most locations.
I am pretty sure Gahlit was a total pain in the ass to those who got in the way of her doing right by her kid. She took parenting mighty seriously. I knew – we all knew – that she was fighting cancer. Fighting it hard. Because cancer was one of those things trying to get in the way of her doing right by her kid.
And, yes, I am writing about her in the past tense.
We all hang out in the courtyard before the noon pickup. All us mommies who may not see another adult for the rest of the day hungrily grab seven minutes of adult conversation before our little succubae are released from their classrooms and we become preoccupied with art projects and car seat buckles. We gossip, we comment about the weather, and we actually get to finish our sentences.
Yesterday, we talked about Gahlit dying that morning. As the mothers began to gather, I sternly told myself this was not about me. “It’s not about you,” I said to Me. “Don’t go trying to make this your drama.”
There is, of course, nothing more delicious than borrowed drama. When we try on someone else’s sadness for an hour or two, we can luxuriate in the deep, silky feel of it before tossing it into the laundry bin. However, when a young woman dies of cancer, leaving behind a three-year-old daughter, there is no excuse for making it all about oneself.
Except when it is.
Walking back toward the classroom, I suddenly had the thought. You know the one – what if I weren’t here for him anymore? What if the three-year-old I was gathering was suddenly motherless? And then I was crying.
Because, it will always be about me when I hear of a child losing her parent. Not solely because I am incredibly self-involved, but because motherlessness is an unchangeable state of being. The rest of that kid’s life will be shaped by this loss. I oughta know.
My mother died when I was almost two. I don’t remember her and apparently keeping track of the home movies she made for her daughters was far too taxing a chore for my father. So those movies have gone the way of Chia Pets and Gourmet Magazine. All I have to imagine my mother by are a couple of photos.
I don’t remember her, and for a long time, I never really missed her. She was a phantom, someone who, had she lived, could have protected me from the abuse that followed, but who otherwise was pretty insignificant in the face of the very real assholes who went about raising me. Then I had children and my mother became incredibly real to me. Now I know how painful dying must have been for her.
She fought that cancer hard, my mother. She was pissed at it. Because it was getting in the way of doing right by her kids. And in the end, it won.
It won and she couldn’t protect us. It won and she died, leaving us in the hands of a man unfit to raise a spider plant, let alone children. It won and my stepmother took over.
It won. She could not stop it. For all we try to control what happens to our kids, we cannot stop the cancers that come raging through our bodies, forcing us to abandon our children. I am angry on behalf of the little girl I was and my mother and Gahlit and her daughter.
When I got to Benjamin’s classroom, I was busily making plans to marshal the forces of the internet to set up a trust or somesuch shit for that little girl. Because maybe I could protect this one. I have the knowledge – I know what comes next. Because it is all about me.
And then there was a note in Benjamin’s cubby that he hit his head on the play castle outside. “Is the castle OK?” I asked the teacher, because that kid of mine has a mighty hard head.
“He had a rough day,” the teacher told me. “He hit another child.” I got caught up in my own little drama, although the grand plans for Gahlit’s daughter were still reproducing like little amoebae. We could post it on blogs! And get press coverage! People could donate! So that she is protected against the vagaries of life with cold, hard cash.
When we got outside, it was raining. It has been so long since it has rained here that Benjamin does not remember ever having seen the stuff, so we pretended to be trees and stood there, catching the water in our mouths.
I was back at the preschool a few hours later, picking up Zachary. Due to the drizzle, Los Angeles was in a state of gridlock, with drivers slowing to a crawl as they talked into their Bluetooths (Blueteeth?). This gave us a good, long time to chat in the car. My kids love to talk to me in the car, because, hell, they are strapped in, but so am I, which means there is no escape for either of us.
The topic of conversation was the World Trade Center. Just what I was in the mood for. We got to that topic because he had discussed Columbus in school and I wanted to rectify some of the whitewash the preschool had given the conquest of America and he wanted to know how anyone can steal land which is how we got to guns but the Native Americans had bows and arrows but guns are more effective when one wishes to steal land and you can also use a bow and arrow to shoot a tightrope across the air between the twin towers like some dude in a book we read six months ago and did you know that’s a true story but the twin towers aren’t there anymore except in memory. All before we were half a mile from the school.
“Most things don’t last forever,” Zachary informed me.
“That’s true, baby,” I replied. “But you know what does last forever?”
“If you love someone, that lasts forever.” It’s true, somehow, I think. If you hate someone, well, that evaporates eventually. At least I’d like to believe it does. Love, however, sticks around. Even when a mama dies, the love she felt is still there, hanging out in a sort of cloud over the heads of her babies. I am an atheist, a pragmatist, and a bit of a cynic, but I’m going with the Love Lasts Forever theory, despite the fact that of course love does no such thing because people die and love is lodged right inside the very perishable human body.
Love lasts forever. When my mother died, she left her love behind and it’s still out there somewhere. I have to believe that the love I give my children is more indestructible than the fallible, breakable body in which it is housed.
Thirty years from now, Gahlit’s daughter will still be feeling her mama’s love. I have to believe that, and so does she.