Today I’m re-organizing my home, cleaning and putting items on the ‘free to good home’ listings for my town. It feels good. Any clearance of clutter is healing. These once treasured items (or, perhaps, not so treasured) will go on and serve a higher purpose than taking up space in a storage closet. My older, smaller aluminum dog door will be giving a neighborhood pup a bit of freedom; my ceramic pots will be proudly displayed in someone’s garden; my random, strange Christmas basket-type thingy will be given as a gift, as it was given me, and will undoubtedly be placed on the free to good home list after December (that is if anyone ever picks it up from my front porch).
And then it happened. I came across an unmarked white envelope. Once I had it in my hands, I knew what it was, so I carried it with me to a comfortable seat on the sofa and opened it, knowing I’d not only be opening up the envelope itself, but also quite possibly the floodgate of tears behind my eyes.
Mum’s California driver license.
In the photo, her head is slightly tilted to the left, with a slight smile and those tired, tired eyes. No matter what the past has held, all I could think of was, “What I wouldn’t do to see that face again.”
Shortly after wondering why her number started with an N and mine with an A and whether or not the DMV has some sort of secret code for ID numbers (“Give it an A. Better keep our eye on this one.”), I saw in red capital letters above her photo: EXPIRES 07-12-14.
Her driver license hasn’t yet expired. It’s still active, but she’s not.
And when it does expire—that’s it. No further licenses will be issued. Ever.
On June 30th, 2009, the date this license was issued, she was still drinking more than seven beers per night. She was still working at an incredibly stressful job, consuming large amounts of processed foods, smoking cigarettes, and quite possibly enjoying the occasional bit of speed (she’d never admit it to me, though I’ve heard stories from others). She would have had no idea that her oldest daughter would be in possession of her driver license, sitting on her sofa in Ojai on June 9th, 2013, crying tears of disbelief that her mother had expired before the DMV’s officially provided expiration date. She had no idea that the lifestyle she had chosen was giving her a rare form of stomach cancer and there would be no tests, no renewals.
What am I doing today? Will I be here tomorrow? How many more driver licenses will I carry before I expire? Will I expire first or will it? I have no message to share here, other than to just say with tears in my eyes that we really have no idea how short life really is. And whether we have disabilities, aren’t able to relate to people, are in a strained relationship, working at a dead-end job, have no job prospects at all, are not able to have children, are worried about finances, stressed about retirement—it’s all going to end. When, we don’t know. And what’s important? What’s really important? I can’t tell you. We have to be able to admit to ourselves what is important and take it off of that false societal scale made for us when we were just wee children.
Maybe a long life wasn’t important for Mum. Perhaps alcohol and the feeling it gave her was. Who am I to judge? But I’ve hated it. I’ve hated that it took her away from me. I’ve hated, more than anything, that we were never able to form the mother-daughter relationship I had always dreamed of. But that was my dream, not hers. And what I’ve learned in recent times is not to attach dreams to people. People are utterly unpredictable emotionally, spiritually, and just like in the case of Mum leaving the planet at the young age of fifty-seven, physically. William Shakespeare said, “Expectation is the root of all heartache.” I totally get that one now, Bill.
So I will return to re-organizing and making my life what I want it—free and clear. Free to be me, and today, clear of clutter. I can dream and hope and pursue without having those dreams, hopes, and pursuits attached to a heart and lungs and brain—other than my own. I can miss Mum, and I will when I hear her laugh in my mind, and my heart will ache a little when I come across bits and pieces of her life in random boxes and envelopes—and I can know it’s because I want what isn’t. And I can be OK with that.
And a note for my fellow pathetic fallacy friends: the sad, Christmas basket-type thingy has, indeed, found a good home.