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Tell You Later
By Nancy Neufeld Callaway

My 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.

I'd 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."

It 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.

So 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.

When 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 --

Only 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.

So 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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