A Birthday Surprise

July 26, 2014

My Aunt Betty – who is not a blood relative, but was my Mother’s best friend – emailed me tonight for my birthday (which is tomorrow, but she lives in Brussels, where I’m already older):

My dearest niece,

I sincerely hope you have a Happy Birthday, full of surprises and joys. May all your wishes come true.

I enclose an excerpt from one of the letters your Mother wrote me; I hope you like it and that you’re happy to read it.

Hugs and kisses,

Betty

 

Then, there it was. As familiar as looking at myself in the mirror: her handwriting.

 

Mom Letter 27 July 1976

“On the 27th of July at 7:27 in the evening, your niece was born. Her name is Diana; she weighed 8 pounds, 5 ounces, and was 20 inches long. It’s not because she is my daughter but she is just precious. She is light-skinned, has greenish-gray eyes, she looks like a little doll. When I have photos I’ll send you some. 

I had a really great labor. I woke up at 4:45AM, with contractions every 25 minutes, really mild ones. I checked into the hospital at 2PM when they were 5 minutes apart but still gentle; at 4PM they were 2 minutes apart and stronger until the time of the birth. I am so happy, you have no idea. I was even brave enough to watch the entire labor in some mirrors set up in the delivery room. It’s something I’ll never be able to erase from my mind, a marvelous experience. I am the happiest woman in the world.”

I’m stunned at how long Betty hung on to this piece of paper. What an incredibly sweet gesture.

Hi, Ma.

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Two Years

June 12, 2014

You died on a Tuesday.

I spent eight years getting ready for it,
and it still caught me by surprise.

I was told that it was coming
weeks earlier,
then days earlier,
and I still wasn’t ready.

They told me it was happening hours earlier, that afternoon.
“She’s actively dying,” they said.
A fucked up adverb in front of a shitty verb.
The kind of thing that makes you jut your lower jaw forward because you should
have words coming out, but there are no words. You come up empty.

The phone rang around 10:45PM.
I answered it, knowing who it was,
and what they’d say.

They told me you had “expired” around ten minutes before.
Expired, like milk or something.
I don’t even like milk.

You’ve been gone two years.
I’m still not ready.

We visited a farm in the valley of Tinghir.

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We got an explanation of the rug-making in the village, and a demonstration of the weaving and different types of rugs made. And we were offered mint tea, of course.

 

 

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We went to Toudra Gorges, where locals go to cool off on hot days. It was really chilly. Got my first marriage proposal of the day, with the guide telling me I should stay and he would make breakfast in bed and sing to me, if I did.

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Marriage Proposal #1 of the day

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I’ve told the Machu Picchu story here before; Mom spending all that very hard-earned money on a tour for us to go on, and not ten minutes into actually being inside the gate of the ruins, the guide presented us with an impossibly steep, crumbly set of “stairs” to climb. Between the acrophobia and the vertigo that comes with it, there was just no way I could. I was lucky that she was able to take us around on an alternate route, just she and I, since she had been there so many times.

So I didn’t take that tour, and I felt bad about the money part, but I ended up getting HER tour of Machu Picchu, and that’s what I remember the most, and so fondly.

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Make no mistake, she is posing.

All of this came back to me when I got on a camel to take a ride through the dunes at Erg Chebbi in the Sahara, and really only got as far as letting the camel stand. I completely panicked, my heart pounding, and the other 13 people in my tour group staring at me, confused.

So much shame.

But.

As it turned out, I made a significant connection with the man who facilitated the camel ride for the group. Hassan showed me kindness when the panic took me over, and answered me honestly when I asked about the comfort of the ride, since I was already overwhelmed just getting the camel to a standing position. “20 minutes would be fine,” he told me, “but almost two hours there and two hours back tomorrow is really too long”.

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That’s me in the orange, forcing a smile, tasting my own bile.

So instead, Hassan took me out to the dunes in his 4×4, just us. The driving is erratic at best, S-curving around some dunes, and taking the heights and falls of others straight on.

On our arrival, we headed to to the highest points on the dunes near the tent set up for our group. We sat and laughed and told each other about our lives, our families, little bits. Mostly we just sat in silence. The dunes are so quiet, you can hear a conversation people are having a quarter-mile away, at nearly a normal tone.

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at the edge of the dunes at Erg Chebbi

 

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Hassan

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top of the dunes

 

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visiting camels at bedtime

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When night fell, the clouds parted and we headed up to the dunes aain with blankets. Everything I can describe seems cliche; it was incredible. I could see networks of stars connecting the few I’m usually able to see. Suddenly, it felt like not only could you better understand the web that is the universe and all its interconnectedness, you could SEE it.

Hassan and I slept near each other on our respective cots. In the early morning, I awoke to him saying, “Quieres pasar la vida conmigo?” (We had been conversing in Spanish). I took his hand and told him he will find a good woman who will love him, and take care of him.

It’s not me. I am off to Sevilla.

So many sights today! We went to Aït Benhaddou, a UNESCO World Heritage Site known for its kasbahs. We crossed over the Atlas Mountains, stopping several times along the way for photos and constantly leaning out the window in awe. We marveled at how the views and the climate changed, sometimes very quickly over the drive. 

I saw camels.

Tomorrow, it’s ON.

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You might not see it, but there’s a pair of little stores on that road there.

 

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CAMELS.

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Last day in Marrakech. The luggage has been found and retrieved, the adventure will go on! More photos than narration today, since I have an early pickup in less than five hours, and I should probably get a bit of sleep before then. I will say that a very strange, persistent man followed me for over an hour today, making me more annoyed than afraid. A very strange mix of stalker and unwanted tour guide. Odd. .

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My riad is not far from this building, the Ben Salah Mosque. Built in 1321. Image

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I’m loving the doors in the Medina. If there isn’t a coffee table book in print with some of these, I may need to come back and work on it.

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Today there were snakes!

Well, there are snakes here every day. Today there were snakes for me.Image

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I snap these in every city I visit.

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After my dinner, I got turned around and ducked into this restaurant, El Bahia, to have a cup of mint tea and use the wi-fi. Gorgeous inside, glad I got lost.

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One last visit to the Djemaa el-Fna, this time at night. WORTH IT.

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A thrilling and overwhelming day, as I finally arrived in Marrakech. In Morocco. In AFRICA.

My luggage had other plans. Or rather, some dunce at MIA (I mentioned it’s my least favorite airport, yes?) didn’t do his job. Color me surprised.

This little transgression threatens to derail the entire trip, or at least the next week or so of it. I can’t very well go into the desert with only the clothes on my back, and I was supposed to leave Marrakech at 7AM on Saturday, leaving little over 24 hours to get the bag back. Which I need to carve out time to return to the airport to get, as they don’t deliver bags here. A little panic took me over about all this tonight and I’m trying very hard to get past it, and wrap my mind around what happens if I don’t get my things back tomorrow.

But back to the day.

 

The Marrakech airport is rather small, and has no arrival gates: you get out on the tarmac and walk up to the terminal to passport control. When the plane taxied down the runway and took a right toward the terminal, it felt like we were pulling into a Wal-Mart. Actually, it occurred to me that I think I’ve seen strip malls with Wal-Mart Super Centers in South Florida that are bigger than this airport.

After the discovery of the luggage debacle and a solid hour at baggage claim, I met my ride from Riad Shaden who drove me into the Medina. On the way in, at one point he turned to me and casually said, “This is the King’s palace.”. We were driving through it to get to the Medina. The Riads always suggest you hire their car service to bring you in from the airport and I fully understand why; to say that there is a “street system” would be overstating it.

I was met at the Riad by Youssef, the manager. He took my bags and walked me the last bit to the building itself, and we worked up a sweat doing so (it was 96 degrees today – a cool day when compared to the weather they got yesterday). “Come in and sit down, it’s cooler in here.”

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And then he appeared with some mint tea, and some tiny biscuits (cookies) I thought were cashews because of their shape and size. Yum.

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He showed me to my room, the Amir Suite. Even more charming than it had been on their web site.

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Marrakech, so far, at least the Medina and the souk, remind me a bit of Lima. They make the Limeños look organized, though. The souk twists and turns, one shop after another, and even out of the souk into the Medina the “streets” are pathways shared by pedestrians, motorbikes, horses, donkeys, and the rare automobile.

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…and of course vendors. Everywhere.

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Best orange juice I’ve ever had. Squeezed to order. 49 cents US. I think I drank 4 today, all said.

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It was a good day.

I made some new friends:

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I always pick favorites, though.

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I love the excitement and the reminders and even some of the hassles that travel day brings. It’s the problem solver in me, I think, that looks forward to tackling the puzzle of getting somewhere I want to be.

The morning began in New Orleans, where B. dropped me off. It was a different terminal than I’ve ever been to; guess I’ve always flown Southwest in and out, and this time I was going American. It’s a pretty, old school terminal. I may be wrong about this, but I think it reminds me of JFK airport? I haven’t been to that one in a really long time.

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Storms in the south made it a really bumpy liftoff and ride, generally, but I found comfort in watching this guy for signals. He was on his way to work.

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“I’m going to be watching you for signals.”
“heheh. To make sure I don’t look worried?”
“Right. I don’t want to see any sweat forming.”

I’m more of a nervous flyer than I’d like to be, especially during turbulence. But I like going places, so I have to get over myself. Again, a good exercise, a challenge.

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Into Miami, then out again, over the ocean.
I hate MIA, nothing’s changed about that. Glad I was only there briefly on the outbound.

A nice payoff, the gorgeous colors bouncing off these clouds at sunset (this was the east side of the plane).

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I was able to get some good sleep, and adjust strangely well to the time. I don’t usually do well with the adjustment flying in this direction, but maybe I’m getting better. We were flying east over Portugal and into Spain when the sun came up.

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…which brings us to Madrid where I write this. I’d forgotten the modern lines and colors of Madrid Barajas. Fantastic.

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There was a Spoon show in New Orleans tonight. On Mother’s Day. 

I went.

When I heard the first chords and recognized this song, I couldn’t believe I’d forgotten it for the last couple of years. 

“If you were here / would you calm me down?”

You can’t predict when grief happens which is one of the most difficult parts, because you feel fine and then all of a sudden the feeling will surge and swell like a wave and suddenly you’re under it left thinking – what happened?

Maybe this morning it was seeing that the calendar flipped over to April, which always reminds me of her, her birthday being on the 30th, that final April being so difficult for her, for us.
It was after all on April 13th two years ago that she had that fall, the one that though she was the one who physically fell took the wind out of me from so many miles away. The realization that this woman who had been so bold and independent and fierce to a fault was gone, never to return, and that even this frail version wouldn’t be around for very much longer.
I didn’t go to her then, immediately following the fall. I had already booked a trip to visit for her 70th birthday, and anything over and above that would be considered “too much”, “an exaggeration”, “unacceptable”.
At the time, I didn’t think she’d live out the two weeks that remained until it was time for me to see her. This is it, I thought, “the rapid decline”. You hear this about people’s grandmothers often, how it all started with when she fell and broke her hip. Grandmothers are just mothers twice over, but it never occurs to you that one day it will be yours. Your Ma.
Even as skeletal as she was becoming, that fall didn’t break her hip. Her mind was leaving her so she gave it less importance than it deserved. It had a greater mental impact on me than on her.
So this morning I wake up and it’s April, her month. I was in bed with B. as he blissfully slept and I did the dance with being awake at 6:45 yet again; check the phone, read the news, ponder the day. I craved intimacy even more so than usual and I couldn’t put my finger on why, and even if I could have it’s hard to say to your still-shiny-new partner, “Hey wake up, will you hold me please because I feel like I need to be held and it’s April and in about 45 minutes it’s going to turn into a very bad Mom Mo(u)rning so maybe you could help me work up some endorphins to try to get ahead of that, please?” Nah, even if I had been fully aware of what was on its way I’m not sure I could have crafted the words without sounding insane. Or needy, which I so fear. So I didn’t and it spiraled into something I barely kept bottled up as he dropped me off at home, my grief spewing and spilling over the sides as I couldn’t quickly enough get out of the car and into my apartment and close the door and the world away fast enough, cursing the fact the giant sunglasses didn’t make it into my bag to hide my face from whomever might see.
Oof.
If I try to step away from myself and analyze it the way Marilyn the Therapist might, linking past feelings with present happenings, it might look like:
missing Mom = she “left” me = fear of abandonment
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very momentary lapse of intimacy = fear of “being left”/being perceived “not good enough/overemotional/crazy” = fear of abandonment
which is funny, in a way, for me to experience any sort of abandonment fear, since I pride myself on being such an independent spirit.
It’s a day for a lot of quiet and self-reflection, folks. Long bike rides are on the horizon.

There are potentially big moves on the horizon, but I’m not feeling the weight of them yet. Taking baby steps, again. A ride on my bike past a certain block here, some inquiries there, a quick casual meeting. Slowly, deliberately, and I can stop anytime I feel uncomfortable. No Tablecloth Trick moves for me, not right now.

Janelle came to visit last week and it was lovely; we started off the five-day stint in the hotbox at Le Bon Temps to see one of my favorites, The Soul Rebels. It’s a hot, smoky, sweaty hell of a dance party, a really great time all around. We did a whole range of New Orleans things, from the Carousel Bar to a Second Line to chatting up cute boys who take their dogs to bars. And some guy dubbed us “Yum-Yummy and Delicious”. We’re still trying to figure out who’s who.

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Then last night and this morning, I got to spend a few hours with The Fabulous Kate McKinnon. In describing our friendship to The Boyfriend, I told him how Kate and I see each other for a few hours every year or two, almost never in the same city. It’s true. We missed each other in Barcelona and Paris the last couple of years, but I’m sure next time it will be someplace equally stellar.

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Kate and Bayley, glowing in the morning light

 

I’m suffering from a bit of free-floating anxiety today, and I’m blaming it on the barometric pressure. The rain is doing her worst; it has poured down, diagonally, and sideways in bucketfuls. I’ve been soaked through twice today, despite only having an eight-block bicycle commute. But I wouldn’t expect less from weather that maintains its own social media presence (Twitter: @NOLArain).

Mostly though, I’m at peace, and I’m hearing it shows. Four months in New Orleans today. That was the whole point.

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