She went to seminary and I went to hell… (Goddess Grove, Ch. 4)
The 2004 Rioja served me well that night after Zoraida’s gathering; being coerced into a coven meeting deserved a strong red. Despite the civilized nature of their company, the evening left a bad taste in my mouth, worse than the thick coating on my tongue from the Rioja. It was while corking the Rioja, watching the dark bottle as it laughed at me, that I knew I wanted nothing to do with Zoraida’s witchcraft.
The flower shop began to consumed me, not literally, though that might have been a comfort. Aviva and I managed the Valentine’s Day rush, and somehow the heartbreak I assumed I would feel on my first Valentine’s Day as a divorcée was non-existent. I didn’t notice the piles of valentines Shannon and Meghan brought home, I almost didn’t ache for that silly box of chocolates Wes always brought home each year, and I certainly didn’t observe the happy couples eating at the café. Enter: sarcasm.
The difficult part though, was that I missed Zoraida. She had called to check up on me the day after her, what do I even call it? Ritual? The phone buzzed on vibrate, and I could only stare back. I could open up easily to her, but it was just like me to so easily toss aside a potential friend, to find a fault– disobeying God no less– and discard them.
Devil’s worship… Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live… Granted, these were the nuns’ voices as much as my own, but the reservations were mine nonetheless. And then there were my girls, their reactions to Mommy attending a witches’ circle. Boy oh boy.
Distance was safe, predictable.
That distance also pushed me away from Grandma. I should have visited the nursing home, but didn’t. It was far easier to tell myself that I was still adjusting to sharing custody and being single. The distance that lessened was between me and the Rioja.
It was my Saturday morning rituals with the kids that kept me sane. We bundled up that late February weekend, fleeces under coats, extremities covered in our faux wool, and walked to the public library. Of course we had to stop at the coffee shop on the way. Vanilla soy latte and two chocolate chip scones.
“I’m too tired!” Meghan complained two blocks from the library. Man, with all that energy, you’d think they could walk to something they enjoy.
“You can make it, it’s right there. Plus I can’t carry you; I have this bag of heavy books to carry.” Even skipping would not encourage her. She dragged herself disappointedly the entire two blocks. Two suburban blocks, mind you, were significantly shorter than two city blocks.
“We’re at the library! I hope they have a craft!” Shannon announced. She would only be convinced to go to the library by mention of a new craft. Her imaginative spirit led her to enjoy the creative process more than the passivity of absorbing books. I had to pause to imagine how this would translate into adult Shannon one day.
After reading three Blue’s Clues books to Meghan, Shannon working intently on the Make Your Own Snowflake! craft, I meandered over to the information desk. The elderly librarian couldn’t even find her way around the desk, let alone the library. Yet I still stopped for help.
The little poem from Grandma’s picture again came out of my pocket and landed lifelessly on the counter. It could have had a life of its own, the way it disturbed my life. I had trouble telling which was more animate, the little poem or the decrepit librarian.
“I don’t know what this is. Is there a book I can help you find?” Her shrill voice couldn’t possibly be conducive to quiet reading for patrons. Seeing that she had no desire to help me figure out the strange lines– the blue of truth or the four greens– I wondered why someone would become a librarian if not to help others learn.
“No, no thanks,” I mumbled, returning to the kids. A comfy chair for parents called my name, where I noticed a section labeled “Life Cycles.” The book that caught my eye was “Mourning is Okay.” Mourning… The mourning shall cease… It took a good shaking to clear my thoughts, to help the kids gather their findings.
The kids schlepped their books up to the check-out desk, next to the local history display. The library had tried dolling itself up like the for-profit book store chains, hoping to appeal to the same audience no doubt. I saw mostly fluff, probably published for tourists to the Philadelphia area. But one, Dobron Through the Ages, appealed to me immediately. I grabbed it and stuck it in our pile to learn more about my Grandma’s– my– town.
So we meandered home. Home, where the walls kept me isolated, protected.
In those days, I allowed work and the kids’ schedules to too often busy me. So it wasn’t until St. Patrick’s Day neared that I again thought about going to visit my grandma. White roses in a four-leaf-clover vase judged me from my cash register, accusingly glaring at me each time I rang up an order. Grandma’s familiar voice softly floated through the air. You’ll love Ireland, Muira. I’ll take you to the Burren and we’ll listen for voices on the Cliffs of Moher. We never made that trip. Her dementia had a way of erasing any plans made with her granddaughter.
Sooner or later I’d have to talk with Tara. Might as well get it over with, I told myself, like ripping off a bandaid.
“Hi Mom, it’s me.”
“What? Who is this?” Her hearing had always been poor, but the Southern California café noise wasn’t helping either. Glamourous. That had been the final line of her last birthday card to me, not love Mom or xoxo, just glamourous.
“Mom, IT’S ME!” I shouted into my phone. Bar glasses rattled and conversations bubbled into laughter. Everyone was having more fun than I was.
“OH, HI!” She continued shouting, unaware that it was she who was surrounded by noise, not me. She had only one volume in public, no matter how many times I told her she was shouting. “HOLD ON A MINUTE, WILL YA?”
I waited for what seemed like ten minutes, ready to hang up and call back later. No one over the age of fifty understands the concept of paying for minutes, or perhaps it was just Tara.
“I’m back!” She announced this as if a room full of people needed to hear it, rather than the one person on the other end of the phone. “Sorry about that! Larry loves to have me come to his café for dinner. You should know not to call during dinner!”
“Mom, it’s two o’clock, well, eleven o’clock there. Who eats dinner in the morning?”
She laughed as if it was the best joke she’d heard in a long time, but I actually wanted to know. She wasn’t making any sense, even less than usual. No one ever knew what to expect with her. The crazy could be some new antidepressant or just some alcohol. Drug cocktail or bar cocktail, take your pick. Larry encouraged it all.
“What do you need Honey? You need more money?” My eyes rolled as the words spilled into my ear, though I would have done the same if we had been talking in person. You borrow a twenty from your mother once in college and you’re forever a freeloader.
“No, Mom. I don’t need money. I work, remember?”
“Have you talked to Nora?”
“Mom, you know she won’t speak to me.” Nora had long ago decided that divorce had made her sister far too sinful for her acquaintance. She went to seminary and I went to hell.
“I was just wondering if you’ve talked to Grandma lately. I wanted to ask her something and I wondered if this would be a good time.” Aviva agreed to close up tonight, giving me a chance to drive up to the nursing home before dinner. They put her to bed so early– crushing for a night owl like Grandma– and I wanted a chance to talk to her before they kicked out visitors.
“Your grandma? Didn’t I tell you? She’s in some sort of coma or something. I don’t remember what they called it.”
“What? No, you didn’t tell me. I specifically asked you to call me if there were any updates. You know the nursing home won’t call me directly!” What was that calming mantra I learned in yoga a few years back? Didn’t matter, I never stuck with it.
“Well I’m telling you now. Besides, what are you going to do? What good would visiting do?”
She hadn’t even asked about her granddaughters. They asked about her constantly, always wondering what exciting things their grandma was doing in warm, sunny California. How could any mom have the heart to tell her kids how thoughtless and selfish their grandma is, and that she probably didn’t even remember their names?
Things in the front of the store seemed to be running smoothly as I threw the phone into my purse. “Aviva, I need to go. There’s an emergency with my grandma. Can you handle everything here until closing?”
“Of course. Muira, Is everything okay?”
Double shite. Tears came to my eyes and I wondered just how bad the situation was at the nursing home. “Could you add that new sale flier to the front window, if there isn’t much business?”
“Of course. I’ll make sure it’s done or I’ll come in early tomorrow.” I knew she would have it done within the hour.
“Would you mind opening tomorrow? I might stay overnight, but I’ll be back by lunch tomorrow.”
“Sure, no problem.” She caught my hand uncharacteristically, her touch as calming as her voice. “Muira, I know how much you love your grandmother. I will keep you both in my thoughts.” The affection was unexpected. And when did she paint her nails in rich cinnamon? These are the details I noticed when my world was spinning out of control.
“Thank you, Aviva,” I murmured as I walked out the door, wondering when the last time was that I had time for– or reason to– paint my nails.
The secretary at the kids’ school was reluctant to sign them out early, as if missing one hour of geography or finger painting would ruin them for life.
“There’s been a death in the family.”
“Oh, well by all means.” She slid the sign-out sheet toward me. Sure, I knew it was a lie, that stretching the truth was still not the truth. Slippery slope, straight to hell.
Within minutes, I had collected both girls from their classrooms, Meghan wrapping herself around me tightly, never tired of hugging.
Shannon decided she’d outgrown hugs.
“How do lightbulbs work?”
“Hello to you too,” I answered.
She halted in place, giving her sarcastic “hellll-oooooo,” drawn out to emphasize the obligation of it.
“We can talk about lightbulbs in the car. Maybe we can Google it.” I hugged her and noticed that she welcomed it, despite her recent interest in independence. Five going on seventeen.
“Where are we going?” Meghan chirped with her usual musical lilt, as if she couldn’t help but share her joy with every word.
“We’re going to visit Grandma!”
“Yeah! We get to ride in an airplane!” Shannon was jumping up and down on the sidewalk.
“No, we’re going to see my grandma. We’ll drive and be there in about two hours.” Two moans of disapproval came from two unhappy children. What a great way to start the trip.
“Get in and get buckled. If I hear any complaining, then no iPad!”
Someone was waving out of the corner of my eye, someone a lot like Zoraida.
I closed Meghan’s door and briefly considered just ignoring the waving. But part of me actually wanted to talk to Zoraida. The Escape started smoothly as I got the heat running. Damn. She had arrived at our car before I could pretend not to notice her.
“I’ve been trying to reach you, Muira.” She was panting a bit, probably from walking in the cold air. The winter had stretched on into March as if the cold would never end. There in my frosted window, she was making this effort and I couldn’t even return her phone call.
“I’m sorry Zoraida. Now isn’t a good time. There’s an emergency with my grandmother.”
“That’s what I came to talk to you about,” she said between deep breaths. “I’m going with you.”