I held the green bottle in my hand and thought that maybe now, maybe this time I could throw it away. I stood in my bathroom holding a tube of moisturizer I've owned since 2002 and while I was contemplating keeping it versus throwing it away, tears started down my cheeks. Apparently I am still not ready to let it go.
I packed it. Again.
It was my choice to move 3,000 miles away from my family, from my mom, when she got sick. I am mostly sure it was the right decision, but I will harbor pangs of guilt about it for the rest of my life.
Seven months after I moved to San Francisco, my mom was transferred to the hospice. So I packed up myself, I left San Francisco, and went to New Hampshire to be with her and my dad and my sisters. I figured I would be gone a couple weeks, maybe a month. Hospice isn't long-term care.
How do you pack for a trip like that? I don't know. I don't know what I packed, other than the bottle. I don't know what I wore. I made a mix CD that included Julie London and Sammy Davis Jr. and we listened to that sometimes. I had a laptop and sometimes I did editing work. Healy and I would stay up late in the room, drinking wine like water and doing jigsaw puzzles. My mom was awake a lot of the time, but rarely coherent.
Every second we spent there was the worst second of my life.
And so a month did pass, and her condition didn't change at all. She hadn't improved, certainly, but she hadn't gotten worse.
I have never spoken of it with my family, but I think having me there changed her resolve. Don't misunderstand -- my mother fought all along, showing a tremendous, inhuman strength. But having me "back" changed something. Maybe it was that we were all together, and she didn't want to leave the party early.
No, she was absolutely refusing to go. And eventually I had to give her permission. I had to give myself a break, and I had to let her know it was okay. At least, that's what I told myself.
Tell myself. When I'm trying to give myself permission for doing the most awful thing I have ever done and ever will do.
Because I left.
I said goodbye to her and left the room and I didn't know if I would ever see her again. I thought maybe I would fly back to San Francisco, and my sisters would call me when she'd taken a turn for the worse and I would fly back and say my real goodbye then.
But I waved as I walked out of her room, and she waved back, and that is the last time I saw her.
I left. And three days later, late at night after my father had gone home and my sisters had fallen asleep, she died.
It is the most ridiculous thing ever, my moisturizer. I bought that "soothing" lotion for the trip to New Hampshire to visit my mother for the last time. I remember putting it on in the mornings, because even though it was muggy, that kind of constant air conditioning is very hard on skin. It was also nice to re-apply it mid-day, following a morning of gut-wrenching heartbreak and the physical strain of not crying. Hours of trying to appear brave and in good spirits is really quite exhausting.
The thing is, unlike clothes or trinkets, the moisturizer was utilitarian, and its very purpose was life-affirming. I was -- am -- living and breathing and flesh and blood and taking care of my skin. Five years later, I am still my mother's daughter and somehow, having that soulless green tube connects my living-now life with my then-life, when she was still alive. I can't otherwise explain this connection or attachment because it makes no sense.
But I will move to a new apartment, and place the moisturizer on my shelf again, and it will sit there unassumingly among all the other tubes and bottles filled with products I use to take care of the body she gave to me.