Tuesday, March 2, 2010

In Another Time

My mother loved Sade. When I was a kid, and she’d put on one of her Sade records during our Saturday afternoon cleaning ritual, my brother and I would groan and protest until she put on something else.

I have no idea why we hated Sade so much—all I know is that those records were equivalent to being stuck in a boring, grownup conversation without being allowed to go outside and play. Or maybe it was just one of our ways of teasing Mom. When we got a little older, we’d constantly quote movies and laugh hysterically as she looked at us, baffled. She'd always ask: “Are you quoting something again?” Or she'd laugh a little with us (even though I could tell she felt a little left out) and say, "Okay, what movie is that from?"

Either way, we hated Sade. We wanted nothing to do with those records. I wonder if Mom blasted those records when we were out of the house. I know I would have if I were her.

Because I have such vivid memories of protesting Sade constantly when I was a kid, I never even thought to give her a chance until much later. I’m so glad I did. I mean, have you heard Sade?

The last few days I’ve been missing my mom intensely. I have questions, and I don’t want to ask anyone but her. I can’t ask anyone but my mom. You know?


I was thinking about my mom today as I reread this piece I wrote about her a couple of years ago, a piece I submitted to The Sun and a couple of other publications. (It was rejected.) In retrospect, I understand why it was rejected, and I think I could write it better now. Yet I still wouldn’t change the ending, and since it’s all mine, and I don’t have an editor to answer to, I get to keep that privilege. I wouldn’t change it, because every time I read it, it brings me right back to this moment I had with my mother.

Being able to go back to a moment with her is worth getting rejected from any magazine. This is what I wrote:

I get to the bathroom and close the door. I lift the toilet lid and slump to the floor. I want to puke, but I can’t. All I can do is cry.

There’s a soft knock on the door a minute later. Mom walks in holding a washcloth, her oxygen cord dragging behind her. She’s in her robe, it’s Christmas Eve, and she smells like Mom. She looks like her again, too, even with the stupid oxygen dangling from her nose.

She puts the toilet lid back down and sits down, adjusting the oxygen cord around her ears, under her hair.

“Here,” she says, putting the damp washcloth to my forehead. “Everything will be fine. Just calm yourself down.”

I look at her, in her purple robe, the oxygen in her nose, the catheter tube and bandages on her chest, and lean my head on her knee. She strokes my hair.

I bury my face in her robe and breathe in her scent. Because it’s Christmas Eve, she’s in her robe, and my mother is dying.

So I breathe her in. For as long as I can.

When I think back to this moment, it feels like a hundred lifetimes ago, being 17 and comforted by my sick mother. It feels as long ago as when I was a kid, protesting her Sade records. I wonder what she was thinking as I sat on my bathroom floor, crying into her lap because she had almost died a week before Christmas. If she was scared, she never showed it. If she felt ill (and of course, she did), she never complained. Instead, she sat there, pressed a cold cloth to my forehead, and stroked my hair until I calmed down.

She gave me comfort.

Now, more than eight years after that moment, I can’t ask my mother these questions I need to ask her. When I cry, she’s not going to press a cool cloth to my forehead and tell me it’s going to be okay.


Sade released a new album recently. I went to Border’s a few weeks ago to get it as a present for my boyfriend. When I got to the music section, I found it immediately. But I found myself standing there, turning the cd over and over in my hands. I put it down. I picked it up. I grabbed another one. I turned it over in my hands. The employees probably thought I was contemplating stealing it or something.

I felt like I should buy two copies. I felt an all too familiar lump in my throat. I told myself to stop being ridiculous. I took one, and went back down the escalator. I grabbed a book, The Best American Essays of 2009, on impulse as I headed to the register. I felt a little crazy.

I guess you have to take comfort where you can find it. Sunday afternoon I lied around reading that book of essays. They’re poetic and beautiful and sad and soothing and much, much better written than my rejected essay about my mom. That’s okay. When I read them, I feel inspired. In fact, one of the better ones in the collection was selected from The Sun, so I probably shouldn't feel too bad at getting rejected from there.

I’ve been listening to one song off the new Sade album constantly. It was one of the only things that comforted me when I was going through a hard time recently.

Darling, I just want you to know/your tears won’t leave a trace/in another time girl, in another time girl/ in another place.

Mom, I’d do anything to listen to some Sade and clean the house with you right now. In another time, okay?


  1. Our childhood experience with our mother and Sade was quite different from TNC's with his:


    I think by now we would have mom cleaning to the stylings of Leslie Feist and Chan Marshall. I also think I'd still groan to Hootie & The Blowfish's sophomore album. No amount of nostalgia makes me want to throw Fairweather Johnson on the stereo.

    Keep your head up!

  2. Dear Heart...I know that no one could ever take the place of your Mother, nor should anyone try, but I do hope you know that if you need anything at all you can always call me. Love Ya Deb

  3. You did it again. I am tearing up at my desk at Creative Services. As a mother and a daughter, I felt both sides of your vignette about your mom. You are a talented writer.

  4. I think I better start putting NSFW warnings on the tear jerker posts!

    Thanks, everyone. I promise I'm okay. :)