love of my life
Once when I was a little girl, we were on a train in Europe when I had a shocking realization. I had forgotten to wear underwear. I was wearing a dress. I whispered to my mother who told me to sit with my legs crossed. It wasn’t long before she had her own realization. She had forgotten to wear shoes and was still in her slippers. She's been my favorite person to travel with ever since.
I used to dream of big hotels with swimming pools and bellboys, of taxi rides and first class train tickets, but my mother knew better. If we wanted to travel as much as we did, we would ride second class, take dodgy airlines, and stay in the cheapest-while still decent-hotel we could find. We never booked in advance. We would arrive without a guide book, and make our way through the streets, dragging our suitcases for hours until we found the right place. My short legs often ached as I chased after her, but it was always an adventure.
I'll always remember the overnight ferry we took without paying for beds. My mother was game to sleep anywhere. She wanted to sleep in the play area, where we could comfortably sleep without being disturbed. I shook my little blonde head and said no. So we went to the seating area, where I found myself on a broken seat which went all the way down. Without realizing this would be better for sleeping, I became upset and wanted a proper seat. My mother happily switched with me and rejoiced in the broken seat. I soon became upset wanted to switch again. I don't remember what happened after that. All I remember is arriving in the morning at a beautiful location with small winding roads.
Nothing could stop us. Once our train stopped running in Italy half way to our destination. There were no buses. A taxi would cost a fortune. We searched the station for English speakers. Before we knew it we were driving through rural roads with an Australian family-a father and two blonde boys-who drove us hours out of their way to take us to our destination.
There were always friends made along the way. People talk to my mother. Strangers will come up to her in the grocery store and start speaking to her. Once on a train to Nice we sat across from an American family who took great pleasure in saying whatever they wanted, thinking no one on the train spoke English. We were silent. We listened. They were fascinating: the father was an old hippy and had a long grey hair tied in a braid, and his two daughters, plus one boyfriend, were pale and punk-like. Eventually we opened our mouths, to their astonishment, and got speaking to them in English. We ended up sharing rooms at a hostel, going for dinner, and I got ridiculously wasted for a 15-year-old with one of the sisters. Later that summer the father and my partner in crime came down to our small village in the South of France. He put in proper lighting for us, and she told me stories about all the drugs she did back home.
The other night I sat on some steps beside the Seine, with the Eiffel tower sparkling above me, and a group of saxophone players playing triumphantly underneath me. These memories floated through my mind as les Bateaux Mouches swam past me. My thoughts drifted to my mother. I don’t know how I would have made it this far without her. I wouldn’t have been able to breathe if I'd grown up in a sheltered home, under strict rules and rituals. Everything I love in life-the exotic, foreign, flavorful and fashionable-has been introduced to me by my mother.
I love that she swears every time she's behind the wheel. I love that she surprises me with poetry books and vodka. I love that she'll paint a house herself before asking anyone to help her. I love that she’s still sexy enough to wear lacy bras and silk nightgowns. I love her smell. I love how her hands are always warm, and mine are always cold. I love the fine wrinkles beside her eyes, which only seem to make her more beautiful. I love that she'll eat popcorn for dinner when no one's home.
She’s shown me the world. She’s shown me France. She’s shown me how to live a life worth living. She's shown me that it's often better not to follow the rules. She is a constant, flickering light in my life, no matter how dark it gets.
Today is her birthday.
When my dad asked her what she wanted, she said that she wanted to see her daughter. And because dreams do come true, two weeks from now I'll be home, in the arms of a woman I love more than anything.