Despite my assurances that I’m perfectly happy to take a cab from Dulles Airport, my mother insists on hiring a car to pick me up. The driver is a slim, good-looking man in a dark suit, so sleek and well groomed I’m immediately conscious of my wrinkled Gap capris and unbrushed hair.
“Any bags?” he asks, voice as smooth and carefully modulated as his appearance. He glances around the baggage claim, now teeming with fellow passengers from California, most of them as casually dressed and disheveled as I am. Funny how they’d seemed perfectly presentable at the boarding gate in San Francisco, but here at Dulles, under that self-important wave of ceiling, we’ve all turned to bumpkins.
I indicate my scuffed leather tote overflowing with spare clothes, books, and a large box of See’s assorted nut chocolates --- a gift for my mother --- and to my embarrassment, he takes it from me. Together we make our way out of the terminal.
Sliding into the back of his gleaming black town car, I collapse against the thickly cushioned leather seats and close my eyes. maybe this car service thing was a good idea after all.
“So, how’s Mrs. Draper?” the driver asks, turning to look at me. “We haven’t heard from her for quite a while.”
“My mother?” I sit up, blinking my eyes, which are blurred and sticky from my contact lenses. “Uh, about the same, I’d say. Just staying a little closer to home these days.”
“Hmm.” He seems to consider my response and I wonder if he thinks I’m holding something back, which of course I am. But I can’t exactly say, “Oh well, you know, my mother’s pretty focused on dying right now. She just can’t quite figure out how to do it. In the meantime, she’s taken to her bed.”
The fact is none of us had taken her very seriously last summer when she first started talking about ending her life. Diagnosed with Parkinson’s in her mid-fifties --- almost twenty years ago --- she was tired of the endless drug cycles, the constant revving up and slowing down, the inability to stay in one state long enough to just forget the damn disease. But kill herself? It seemed unlikely. My two sisters and I chalked it up to a mild depression and near-pathological need to be in control.
But then she joined the Hemlock Society and started proposing actual “death dates,” the most recent being May first. And this weekend she’s arranged to have a volunteer from the Hemlock Society’s “Caring Friends” program fly in from Oklahoma to discuss how they might help her do the deed. He’s due in tomorrow morning.
“Well, I’m real glad to hear she’s all right,” the driver continues, thoughtfully. “We were talking about her just before she rang yesterday, wondering if she was okay. She’s a special lady, your mom.”
I’m touched that the driver --- his name is Derrick --- has asked about my mother and called her “special,” although I realize Capitol Car and Limo may have been merely wondering whether to close the file on her. On the other hand, I’ve seen her inspire this kind of interest and affection from strangers my whole life.
My mother has a doe-eyed, romantic quality that people find irresistible: men want to protect her, women want to be her friend, and everyone agrees she’s stylish and beautiful. With her dark eyes and hair, her prominent cheekbones and chin, she looks like Jackie Kennedy, only a taller, rangier version, not so coiffed and demurely feminine. Even now, with her spine buckled from osteoporosis, her face gaunt and shuttered from illness, she projects an appealing Victorian fragility.
What’s funny is that this image of her couldn’t be further from the truth. My mother’s shy and vulnerable demeanor belies a stubborn, unsentimental nature. Although quick to admire people whose intellectual or artistic accomplishments she deems worthy, she can be casually brutal in her assessments of friends and strangers alike. My whole life I’ve heard her describe people as “terribly angry” or “not very bright,” and she once remarked about her own goddaughter that she hadn’t amounted to a hill of beans. Yet somehow this quality is never apparent to people outside our family. even her closest friends seem to view her as a frail and exotic flower permanently in need of their care.
Imperfect Endings: A Daughter
- paperback: 288 pages
- Publisher: Simon & Schuster
- ISBN-10: 1439148317
- ISBN-13: 9781439148310