“And it’s really very simple, baby.” My mother’s voice rings through the earphones I use when I call her, smooth and wine syrup as usual. “What have I always said? You can’t take everyone with you.”
Six weeks of shouldering all the stress of New York caught up to me, and on Monday I finally fell to the floor in tears and called my mother. After promising her that I didn’t need money or an attorney, I choked out everything wrong – the worry of performing well at work, strained friendships that were only worsening, being constantly surrounded by people too beautiful or talented to be so neurotic.
“I should be really excited because I’m going to Nas’ album release party, but I’m so stressed out by this other mess that I can’t even be happy.” At this point I was really embarrassing myself with all the tears, because even around my mother I don’t care to show much emotion. But if she thought that I’d fallen too far off the deep end, my mama didn’t let on.
“That’s so nice, though”, she said absent-mindedly, Law & Order playing in the background. “And who is Nas? A friend of yours?”
This afternoon I am still recovering from a beyond-all-expectations Monday night, returning a slew of e-mails, and playing “channel orange” for the fiftieth time this week. Manhattan is a mottled mess of litter and urine refreshed by last night’s rain and I, mentally unable to deal with the subway, board a bus instead. Across from me, two middle-aged tourists review the overpriced souvenirs they bought earlier that day. I’m only half-listening until they begin to discuss their daughter Caroline.
“I don’t know how on earth she thinks she could ever live here!” Caroline’s mother wrings her hands, a hard desperation in her voice, and speaks again. She sounds just like Sarah Palin. “It’s way too busy here, there’s no family, and she’s only thirty. She couldn’t live here, right? I’m right?” Caroline’s father lazily nods in agreement, preoccupied with taping “I <3 NY” keychains to the back of postcards.
I think of my own parents, who didn’t let me leave Oklahoma so much as they dealt with the aftermath once I freed myself. I imagine Caroline trapped at her parent’s home in Wisconsin, eating microwaved leftovers and staring out of the window, a poster of the New York skyline hanging in her bedroom. I have always been adventurous, the one to wander away without knowing how to return, firstborn and headstrong. My mother, who didn’t want me to move here, knew I could do it anyway.
“I just didn’t want to worry you…” I’m still kneeling, face gritty and tracked with tears, lost in not knowing what to do. I can’t finish the sentence before mama rushes to correct me. “Silly. I’m always here for you.”
The words come so gently they are almost a whisper, and I close my eyes to remember her exact sound.