For Jen Michalski
As it has been six and a half years since we last spoke, we really have a lot to talk about. Marriages, births, deaths, graduations, all sorts of good news and bad. Your little namesake started high school in September, and just a couple of weeks ago, your pal Leon Katz died. I so wanted to call you to discuss it, to reminisce about the old days, the old crowd, Jane and Hy, Diane and Leon, Nancy and Caesar, Lois and Emmett. Maybe you would have told me things I couldn’t have known as a child. I would love some fifty-year-old gossip.
The past is getting more and more fragile, as is your sister Joan. She’s the one who called to tell me about Leon. She was a little stunned by how quickly we could find his obituary from Asbury Park Press on the Internet. It was sweet to read it, reminding me of his carpet store, his pedal boat ride at the boardwalk, his voice and his menschy face, the curly hair, the nose, the rectangular glasses, he and Daddy raising money to build the JCC in Deal.
Meanwhile the future shows up hot and solid every minute, like the fancy apartment your grandson just bought in Boston.
I tried to call Diane, but I got her machine. Another voice of my childhood. All your friends are locked up in my head somewhere, as if at a cocktail party in a hotel room on a floor where the elevator doesn’t stop anymore. Shirley Vegosen, Dutch Unterberg, Rainee Weinstein, Morty Silver.
Down in the lobby everyone is Taylor or Tyler or Emma.
Here’s a little tidbit we could really gnash our teeth over. One of the kids ran into an old frenemy of yours in the city a while back. She assayed a rather shaky conversational gambit, trying to bond with him over the proposition that the reason my sister and I turned out so badly was that you were too busy playing golf to raise us. Oh my God! I screamed. At least I could call Nancy to laugh about this.
Her reaction was, How did she know?
Every time a friend of mine loses her mother (one just has), I think, welcome to the club, you poor thing. Welcome to the sad, bad club you can never get out of. No one is exaggerating when they say they miss their mother every day of their life. Even if, like me, they moved away from home at seventeen. Your mother is there when she is not there, and this continues after her death, but without the phone calls, the pride, the worry, the attentive audience for details that interest no one else. I think of my own kids having to join this terrible club one day and I hate it.
So many of your things have merged into my things – a bottle of Perry Ellis perfume, the thin-lipped coffee cup you preferred, a rhinestone dragonfly lapel pin, which for some reason is in the cup holder in my car. Your navy and camel geometric rug is on my floor under a glass table. I thought I would never have a glass table, or a biweekly cleaning lady. I have a photos of you all over the house and a laminated clipping from the New York Times propped up in the kitchen. JANE FISCH ENGAGED TO MARINE SERGEANT. I often actually kiss them when I when I walk by.
Meanwhile, I see your pale, poochy tummy several times a day, because I have that, too. All I need is a couple dozen pairs of those white nylon waist-high undies you had a drawerful of and the picture would be complete. What was it with those awful things? Yet I too wear the underwear of my youth, sturdy cotton bikinis, no newfangled boy shorts or lacy thongs for me.
Lately I have been trying to write a novel, and my main character has a mom who is a lot like you. Her name is Mona Greengrass and I greatly enjoy writing her dialogue and imagining her golf games and trips to Florida. But Mona Greengrass can’t tell me one more time the story of how you met my father, and when someone asks how the heck did two kids from New Jersey end up at Indiana University in 1947, I have no idea.
In my story, Mona Greengrass lives right next door to her daughter. She is in her sixties and has a snazzy boyfriend, as you should have had … oh, dear, remember Ceddie Nussbaum? I think about what it was like for you, being single for 25 years after Daddy died, and this is another thing I would like to discuss, since I looks like I might be getting that, too, along with the tummy and the ridged fingernails.
Even current events seem to lack something without knowing your take on them. Would you be concerned that the Ebola virus was on its way to the Jersey shore, or would you be sure we would all be fine, or, most likely, would you be most concerned with the effect on the Dow? I won’t even tell you about gas prices, or the Middle East, or the very questionable way Joan Rivers died.
Oh, Mom. That is the silent password of the bad club, the simple phrase we never get to say.