In 2009, as I cleared out Florence's apartment in preparation for new tenants, a seven part series on Diaspora was created. Below is a post on that clearing's last day.
The Exhaustion of Diaspora:
Part Six - Home Where My Love Lies Waiting*
"The Exhaustion of Diaspora" is a week long series of what it means to leave home and seek home and sometimes even find home, but not necessarily in any particular order.
It is time.
There is nothing much left to do.
Outside it pours cold rain. Inside all the boxes filled with stuff offering the illusion of home to paying inhabitants have been tucked into our childhood bedroom - the bedroom Mom moved into after shaking off an unhappy marriage and suffocating life.
Once she settled into our old bedroom, Florence never slept anywhere else with the exception of two occasions - a brief period in 1976 when she camped out on the living room couch after one of us daughters accidentally returned home. And one late night, a year ago.
For some reason I was still in the house, fixing something or other. Penny came in. “Florence is in my bed and won’t leave.”
Sure enough, there was Florence, back in her old marital bedroom, curled up in one of our childhood single beds that Penny and Gabriella now took turns sleeping on.
“This is my home," Florence stated, refusing to budge.
Penny looked exhausted. And we both knew forcing anything wouldn’t work.
I started gently cooing,“This is where you slept when you were very unhappy. This was a very unhappy place for you. But let's go back to the bed where you are happy. Your happy bed."
And holding hands, she and I walked back to her own bed where, after that unhappy marriage, her joys and her sorrows were her own.
Now what is left of my mother’s joys and sorrows - her ashes and her dust - lie in a canister in my big satchel, nestled between left-over sandwich bags and her old mirror that she used to scrutinize her hand technique at her piano.
There are numbers on the lid of the can and like any good Jew I think of the concentration camps. The distillation of a person into a number.
Buried under armfuls of full bags and a huge knapsack packed to the gills, I rush into hard rain and get to the corner of Columbia and Grand. Only to watch a rare Avenue A bus fly by. Looking down under the Bridge, there’s no Avenue D bus waiting to go. At 11 pm, there won’t be any more buses for a long, long while.
Until gentrification, there were no cabs on Grand Street, ever. Never, ever, ever. Yet there is a silver lining to the influx of the new residents buying at market value, because suddenly - right in front of me - there is a shiny empty taxicab.
As we barrel up Essex Street, I look at the name of the driver. Mr. A. is from Togo. He hasn't been home in five years. It is very difficult being so far away from his family, he tells me. But things aren't good there. And here he is studying mathematics at Columbia University. But yes it is hard. He misses home.
The way he says home and miss and family shreds what's left of my heart.
As Mom packed up her ability to walk and her will to live, I lost the man I loved, the one I believed I would build a home with, share his family with, the man I thought I would live with until death do us part.
After his sudden good-bye, I’d crawl through those bad weekday nights and brutal weekend afternoons and I'd make myself think of my grandmother who, at 17, got on a ship and fled to America, never to see her mother or her favorite brother ever again. And I’d remind myself, "Who the hell am I to think I am excused from Diaspora? Who the hell am I?"
We leave our homes in boats and planes and taxis and cardboard cans with a bunch of numbers on the top. We leave with hope or in terror. We leave with our hearts broken or our hearts bursting.
But we leave.
The rain pours down. Light skitters across wet streets. Traffic signals change.
*Homeward Bound (Simon & Garfunkel)
I wish I was
Home, where my thoughts escaping
Home, where my musics playing
Home, where my love lies waiting
Silently for me
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