Driving south on US1 one evening, “Stories of the Painted Desert” by the Rippingtons came up on my Pandora account. Instantaneously I was transported back to my early grade school self. I was lying in bed, about to fall asleep. I was staring, smiling, and losing myself in the curtains my mother had just made for the window in my room.
To call this a room is quite a stretch. It was actually a breakfast nook converted to my bedroom. The room consisted of my bed and a bar that served as a depository for clothes hangers at the foot of my bed. My window was at the head of my bed, so I was lying with my head near the makeshift closet.
If I stepped off my bed, I had one foot of room before I reached a curtain that shrouded my room from the kitchen. There as a small end table at the head of the bed which held my alarm clock and any number of young boy paraphernalia.
The window curtain popped up in the midst of this beautiful melody because the curtain design was a western scene. Cactus’. Cowboy hats. Boots, Desert. I adored these curtains. My imagination could run wild. I had been to the Painted desert when I was five years old. I’d seen cactus’ and deserts like Death Valley. These curtains became a portal for a mind ready to go places and do things.
Tears streamed my cheeks as I drove home that night. My mother’s Alzheimer’s has all but robbed me of her wonderful self. Memories like this are truly all I have of her now. While she is a sweet woman with no ability to remember much of anything now, the vibrant, intelligent woman has faded into the darkening gray areas of one of the cruelest of diseases.
I work hard to avoid these moments of loss, these moments of painful memory. I would think if Mom were dead these memories would be more cherished. Don’t get me wrong, the reason I’m crying is that I deeply cherish the memory. She made those curtains special. Just for me. The fact that over a half century later I can feel the joy and excitement and wonder of those curtains is a testament to my wonderful mother.
Like many of us, I’ve had much too much pain in my life. My sense is that this will never end. Pain is interwoven into everything we do. See. Taste. Smell Hear.
I’m not being morbid. This is truth. Pie-in-the-sky is not true. I love my mother. I love the little things she did for me throughout my life. I love the fact that I had her as a mother. A son could not ask for better.
But I drive four hours to visit her. I spend hours with her. I take her to lunch. Five minutes after I leave, I was never there. No recollection. She will even tell you she has not seen or heard from me in months.
The tears well up from this reality. I love those curtains. I wish to God I still had them today. They remind me of goodness and joy in life. They remind me that I am special. They remind me that all is not dark. Yet, the tether remains between that mom of long ago and the mom of today. I don’t know how to separate the two emotionally.
I can do this intellectually. I can deny the pain of my mother’s current condition, but then I cannot revel in the wonder of those moments when I felt so awesome my skin tingled. I seldom allow myself to feel these deep emotions regarding Mom because the disease interferes a delivers tears without fail. The loss is too much to bear.
This one was worth it, however. I hadn’t thought of those curtains for decades. Literally for a half century. The feelings which flooded my soul were worth the tears and the pain. I was able to talk to my sister about the curtains. She remembered them well. Mom even remembered them because her long term memory is not shot all to hell yet.
Everyone deserves to feel special. Everyone deserves the opportunity to dream and to imagine and to enjoy a gift. I listen to this song often. The music does the Painted Desert justice. I’ve revisited that wonder place a number of times since I was six.
Isn’t this how life truly goes? Everything is intertwined in a tapestry of experiences. Good. Bad. Joyful. Painful. The song is lovely. The memory of my curtains a joy. The room I treasured in the little breakfast nook makes me smile. The pain of virtually, but not totally, losing my mother cuts to my core like a jagged, rusty blade.
In the end, we either decide the experience (of actual events as well as the memory) are worth the emotions they draw forth. These days I work hard at finding them worthwhile. Otherwise, the pain of life overwhelms me. All becomes dark. Hope scurries into the shadows. Love weeps for all the losses. Dreams wither and die on their fragile vines.
Or, the bittersweet aspects of life get cherished. The fact that I can feel this deeply signals my inner emotional health is good. I enjoy the flavor of a song even more. I revel in the memory of kindness and a gift from my beloved mother with more zeal. I cry deeper tears from the pain of losing her while she still yet lives. And I call it all good as this represents the fullness, the Yin and Yang of life.
I love you, Mom. Thank you for giving that ability to love to me through your life and how you lived it… And as with all my visits with you these days, they are no longer for you any more than this writing is for you. If you could read this and retain it, that would be another story. This is for me. I get to cry these tears again and they feel right and true and good. I get to feel your love again, especially in the loss of you, and this is good for I am able to cherish you more deeply.
As with anyone who’s lost an incredible, loving parent, I will miss you all the days of my life. I will keep your memory alive in me as long as I possibly can. If I should ever fail at this, my words will have to suffice to carry this all forward.
Speaking of Curtains, every time I think of that word (curtains) I immediately think of this song from Elton John’s “Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy” album. Always my favorite song on the album, I remember spinning the tune on my various turntables and CD players over the years.
Such a beautifully written song. I love live music and having Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart cover it is amazing to me. They do a wonderful job of carrying the tune forward and staying true to its essence and power.
If you listen closely to the lyrics they reflect what I wrote above about my Curtains. Especially the part where the song says “Just like us, you must have had, a once upon a time.” My mother’s curtains gave me one of those once upon a time era’s in my life. There is so much beauty in life. So much connectivity. So much to be grateful for.
Life is truly the tapestry many have spoken of throughout the existence of man. We should step back more often and take a look at the beauty woven into our lives. When we do, we see the pain and suffering are as much a part of the beauty as the joys and exhilaration. We miss our truest connection to life when all we focus upon is the positive, or in my case, deny the negative or the painful.
Love your life. Love the tapestry you’ve woven throughout your years. Accept all the flaws and revel in them for they define who you are, whether you like it or not. I recommend liking your foibles and flaws, whether you get them corrected or cleaned up because you throw away an integral slice of yourself every time you deny who you are.
Own your life. Live it. Feel it. Connect to it. Find the threads of your tapestry and admire the entire story it tells.