Nancy Neufeld Callaway
mother. The one woman I love more than any in the world, calls me
in the middle of a crazy day at work and tells me with great urgency
that I need to drive over to her house -- a solid thirty minutes
of bumper-to-bumper L.A. freeway traffic -- because she has something
extremely important to tell me. Normally I would have ignored this
kind of call but seeing as how she was in the middle of dying, I
felt like I needed to pay attention.
recently become engaged and, of course, she was the first person
I called, both giddy, and sobbing, after my fiancé whisked
me away to Queens, New York, and proposed to me on my 30th birthday.
He serenaded me with an original tune under the Unisphere, a giant
architecturally-pleasing metal globe primarily known because it
commemorates the site of the 1964 World's Fair -- or because you
saw aliens crash into it in Men in Black -- depending on
your demo. Regardless, only moments after I shared my excitement
with her, she told me that she too had some very important
words she needed to share with me. Marriage words. Life words. Words
about my future, she said to me, as I called her from the taxi that
night on my cell phone. "Just some things you need to know.
But not now, not on the phone."
sounded a little like that time I'd arrived home from school on
my 12th birthday, and my mom told me she had "some important
things to discuss with me." I cringed because I knew from the
tone exactly where she was going with it. But before we could have
our "discussion," I went upstairs to change out of my
school clothes, and there, sitting on my bed, was a giant ominous
box. Not a wrapped birthday box. I gently lifted up the teensiest
corner of the lid as if some deadly creature lay inside, only to
find what I already knew was there. It was stuffed to the gills
with girlie things. You know, for that time of the month. Pink pads
of all shapes and sizes, straps with hangie down snaps and loops,
complete with instruction packets. I slammed it shut. I was 12.
What did she think I was? Eleven? I quickly shouted downstairs,
"I already know this stuff. Duuuuuhhhh." And she shouted
back, "Good, I thought so," and suddenly, we were done.
sitting in that New York taxi on my 30th birthday, I was suddenly
12 again. True, there was certainly a lot to talk about. I was,
oh my god, 30. I was getting married. My future husband wasn't hugely
successful, or independently wealthy, or more importantly, Jewish.
All that definitely left a lot of room for discussion. So I tucked
the moment away and waited for the appropriate time to hear those
words my mom had been so carefully saving for me all these years.
I returned home to Los Angeles, I reminded her of our unfinished
phone conversation from the cab in Queens, and asked her if she
wanted to talk now, or maybe find a time to talk later. She opted
for the "later" and so --
a month after her urgent "come over right away" phone
call, I find myself racing like a maniac across the city to my mother's
house. I can't help but wonder
maybe she is finally going to
tell me something important. That THING. And knowing that my window
of wisdom is very small right now -- with only months for her to
live after having been diagnosed with inoperable stage 4 lung cancer
-- and with her only daughter's wedding to plan, and me having my
own job to do, and an inconsolable father to take care of, and brothers
to resolve long overdue mother issues with, I drive 90 miles an
hour across town because now, more than ever, I need a guru. And
tampons, but we'd already covered that.
there I get. And there she lies. In bed. Skeletal. Transparent skin.
Exhausted from the chemo and radiation. From the pain. From vomiting.
From lack of decent sleep. And even though I tried, up until now,
nothing I did seemed to help. I moved in with her. Fed her, washed
her, took her to all her doctor appointments. Made her laugh, or
tried to. Made her cry, by mistake. Grew Kombucha mushrooms. Found
her a bona fide healer. An acupuncturist. Nutritionist. Herbalist.
Found her every single season of M*A*S*H* because she loved
the show -- only to have her start confusing me with Gary Berghoff
and begin calling me Radar. (Hey, at least I wasn't Klinger.)
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