When my relationship with my twins’ other parent ended, the negotiations began. We both agreed on the importance of parenting our twins with consistency and love. Out of that sprang the decision to designate Friday nights as Special Nights, each taking a twin on alternating Fridays so they could do whatever they wanted.
I was excited as I settled in for my special night with Gina. She was 14, old enough to introduce her to Harold and Maude, my absolutely favorite movie. We sat close together on the couch, legs up on the reclining footrest, lights dim and tummies full of macaroni and cheese, her favorite. The familiar scenes unfolded until the climax arrived, when Harold tells Maude he hasn’t lived, although he had faked his death a number of times. I had been hungry to watch this film with her, to let the wisdom within the script infiltrate her blood as it had infiltrated mine so many years before.
I ignored Gina, caught in the emotion of the scene. Watching Harold cry, I was one with Maude as she exhorted him to “L-I-V-E, LIVE!”
“Mami.” Louder now.
Annoyed Gina was not as engrossed as I was and wanted her to be, I turned toward her. I never got to her. Instead, my eyes locked on a hand grabbing my purse handle off of the dining room chair. Frozen with panic, I watched the purse disappear from view and then I jumped up to chase the thief out my back door.
“Antonio!” I yelled from my second floor deck, calling across the narrow stretch between our homes. He opened his door and I said: “Someone stole my purse.”
I looked around and didn’t see anyone. Antonio came out of his apartment with a baseball bat and ran down the stairs. I watched him, holding my breath. He came back around my building after a few minutes.
“I didn’t see anyone.”
Stepping back into my house, I picked up my phone and called the police. I don’t remember hugging Gina. I was too afraid of what cold have happened to do anything but keep my feelings numb. I remember the police coming, asking her and me to describe the incident. I remember her telling them he looked like an actor in a TV show. When the cops had gone, there was no going back to the movie.
“I am so sorry, querida, for not listening to you – and for leaving the backdoor unlocked.” My aloneness exaggerated a sense of helplessness and I continued to store my feelings away to be there for her. She didn’t show or share anything either – we both may have been roiling inside but weren’t able to get past the cortisol streaming through us. I tucked her in and turned on Beneath the Raven Moon, a CD of soothing Native American flute music she liked to listen to as she fell asleep.
After she was in bed with her own nightmares, I walked down to the kitchen and couldn’t find my favorite Santoku knife to cut myself a slice of comfort Monterey Jack queso. Did he take it? What would I have done if I had listened to my daughter and seen him sooner? I would have yelled and stepped in front of her. After that I can’t say.
The next day, right after I cancelled my credit card and debit card, a woman called.
“I found your purse on the sidewalk of Alcatraz.”
“I am just a few blocks away on Tyler. I can come get it.” I said.
“No worries. I can drop it off. I will be heading that way.”
The only thing missing was a small amount of change I had had in my wallet and my lipstick, which was likely lost when the purse was thrown out of a car window. Why be bold enough to enter a house with lights and sound for a dollar worth of change, ditching the credit cards? A few friends postulated it was a gang initiation.
This was not the first time I had been casual about our safety by forgetting to lock the door. It happened just the other day. I woke up, stepped carefully down my loft ladder, and saw the front door was cracked open two inches. I had forgotten to close and lock it the night before. Part of me rebels against living as if the world is always dangerous and people can’t be trusted. My leaving the door unlocked was common enough that my daughter left me a note one day:
The kids were not with me the rest of the weekend after the burglary and I spent Saturday feeling the multilayered losses as I shopped at the Farmer’s Market for salad ingredients, bought some sunflowers to bring Maude’s indomitable spirit into my home, and picked up a few books from the library. Our special night – the one we had looked forward to all week, throwing ideas back and forth as I drove them to Berkeley High – had been a different kind of special. My daughter’s sense of safety in this home had been sullied by what so many experience daily. I wondered if my movie of respite and hope would be marked forever by the memory of that night.
More than anything, I mourned that moment when I didn’t listen to her. As a mother, not listening well happened everyday. I was often doing chores, driving, or making mental calculations as we talked. Special night was the one time she could count on my full attention. After I waded through the shame and guilt of not listening at a moment that mattered more than usual, I arrived at the shore of gratitude that we were not physically harmed. I was alive and ready to learn my newest mothering lesson.
I sat down Sunday night and finished watching the movie because over the years it had consoled me when I was mired in grief and despair as I was now with the loss of our Special Night joy. While I doubted Gina would want to watch Harold and Maude for a while, the burglary and theft illuminated Maude’s final words to Harold in a way it never had before. As Harold’s heart was breaking, knowing the woman he counted on to bring him joy had chosen to end her life, she met his pain-laced proclamation of love with: “That’s wonderful. Go out and love some more.”
I remember those words when I have the purity of love and safety ripped from my heart because of circumstances or people. I then ride out the losses, because as Mercedes Sosa sings: “Cambia, todo cambia”. By accepting that everything changes, sometimes by choice and sometimes by unlawful entry, I can re-commit to giving my children a legacy that love follows loss, always. Special nights continued, the memory of that one night becoming smaller in the wake of so many more wonderful memories of love and safety, mother and daughter.
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