My eyes are forced to meet my mother's. She gives me a blank stare, turns around, and refocuses on preparing tonight's dinner. Her eyes have yet again glazed over the anger that wells up in my chest, and I am forced to swallow down my frustration. The doorbell rings and my father enters the house, carrying with him a breath of fresh air, a new beginning, and in his palm a handful of unsettling possibilities. The hand which possesses the possibilities sculpts a visage of cheerfulness upon my face and deeply carves into my soul the identity of an eccedentesiast. I hear my mother's call, an indication that dinner has been served. I go to alert my sister, but her door is closed. I make my way to the kitchen on my own.
It's our second to last night here. The table is set as normal, and my mother's eyes, which look more lugubrious than usual, also beam a sense of hopefulness into the room and reveal the great effort she puts into preparing the meal. "How was your day," my mother asks me, already aware the answer is going to be the typical "good" response. Recently, it seems as though it's easier for her to ask questions that she already knows the answers to. Mother serves us a rather piquant dish, allowing the silence caused by discomfort to disguise itself as a quietness created instead by focusing on the flavorful and mysterious tastes within the dish. All I hear are muffled voices and the faint sound of snowflakes hitting the windowpane for the rest of dinner. Later that night, my mother enters my room and hands me a steaming cup of tea. She started calling her tea a type of "herbal restorative,” sometime after the news of California. Maybe she believes one of these visits will finally open the door to the restoration of our relationship. I take the mug, thank her for the drink, and close the door behind me.
I know my mother isn't as unperturbed by the news of California as she seems. Over the past few months, I have come to believe her resistance to arguments and discussion is for my benefit. My younger sister's strong voice and powerful deliverance of her opinions make it difficult for my mother to maintain composure and calm temperance. Although occasionally I am grateful for the barrier my mother forms to disconnect me from the stressful and quite unsettling conversations between the family and my sister, my sister's voice is my only escape to a pathway of communication.
After my mother closes the door behind her, I check my phone and realize it's already 11:00 pm. I pull down my blinds and observe as the light from the outside world disappears behind the shades. Confined in the darkness of my room, I am forced to encounter my emotions on my own. I get into bed and open up to where I left off the night before in Catcher in the Rye, a book that has enlightened me that one does not have control over reality or anyone else but only contains the power to control themselves. The words sink into my mind, and I wonder if the barrier between my mother and me is not because of an event or her, but rather because of how I have changed within myself. By shutting her out and losing the unique and imperative protection of a mother, I have unleashed the weaknesses within that prey on my soul and allow polluted thoughts to destroy my perspective on the world around me.
The silence encompasses me. Maybe if I had set aside my stress, my mind would have been able to restore itself to its prior state. I could have found another way to regain intimacy and the love and appreciation I had for her and the connection I thought was unbreakable. Resentment inundated the space in which she had resided in my heart. The soul connecting us had struggled and now drowns under the waves of my emotions. Perhaps if I had realized sooner the damage done, I could have rekindled the fire keeping the happiness between my mother and me burning and alive. The remnants of the fire are gone now, and I no longer have the will to exchange with her the emotions held deep within me. A place with no light leaves no chance for one to be seen.
I wake up to the sound of moving furniture and the smell of coffee, which reminds me of the disgustful coffee scent that lingers in the airport as one returns from a peaceful and reviving trip. This is my last day in the city. I walk into the hallway, and for the first time, I recognize that the family photos have been removed from the walls, and my dog's bed and the basket of toys have been replaced with bags of clothing and boxes of books. The beds have been stripped bare, and the Moroccan rug is rolled up and tucked away along with the homely atmosphere that used to surround us as we got ready for school, cooked dinner, watched movies, and played with the dog. The family room looks the same to me, but who am I to talk? I haven't entered that room for a long time now. The sun shines through the window and radiates quivering beams of light into the room. I look out onto the streets below where the pedestrians have become nothing more than strangers and the lights from apartments across the way distant and faded.
The city has been my home for 16 years. No matter the neighborhood, the city continues to hold my secrets, hopes, and dreams. The house looks out over the gray pavemented streets below, and a block away stands the large, majestic structure of the Metropolitan Museum. Beyond the MET is Central Park, which I have navigated through, in many different states of mind. I know the reservoir as one eventually comes to understand and appreciate a friend, know it when it's frozen, preserving life beneath the ice and it's occasionally cracking of its surface to disenthrall the feelings of those who are trapped and cannot express themselves; when small ripples appear on the surface and reveal its ability to emerge from solitude and destroy everything in its path; when it is still, a dark mysterious green and blue, provoking a desire for reposeful and deep contemplation. California intrudes into my mind, but it is unknown to me, and so I am left alone in a state of desolation. Suddenly I'm falling into the extraordinary summer afternoon when I finally saw my mother in the beautiful light I had only been able to encounter in my imagination. We were swimming in the vast and salty Sound, right off the coast of Martha's Vineyard, when we mounted a large rock hidden under the white-capped waves of the sea surrounding us. The music of the sea creatures drowned out all other tones of the ocean, and yet I could still hear my mother's muffled laugh as she dove into the waves ahead. As the sun uncloaked itself from behind the clouds and shone down upon the rough and tenebrous ocean, everything seemed to become a clear crystalline complexion. I bound off the rocks and joined my mother in the limpid waters of the Vineyard. The transparency of the rolling waves was apparent in the reflection of my mother's eyes. But as the Vineyard disappeared behind the clouds and the city's tall skyscrapers dominated the gray sky, my mind naturally absorbed the pollution and no longer remained clear.
It's already 1:00 pm when I get out the door and meet my friend for a walk down Madison Avenue. We pick up drinks and start heading down towards Columbus Circle. "I thought," my friend Stella says, looking audaciously up towards the great buildings that rise high above our heads, "for your last day we should take on the city as if we were tourists. Hopefully, it will prepare you for California, as for the first few months there you will be perceived as nothing other than a traveler from another far-off city." I agree to this because she too is leaving, and I believe it will benefit her just as much as it will me… so we begin our journey. "Welcome to the top floor of the Empire State Building!" Stella says in the tone of a tour guide and points out towards the concrete jungle below us. The buildings are the only tall enough things to see past the fog and pollution stored in the city's sky and in my head. "You know, your mother is worried about you," Stella tells me. "You haven't talked to her in months, how could she possibly know what you're dealing with."
I look out into the gray but colorful and lively abyss beneath us, and I wonder if maybe California wasn't what had ruined the relationship between my mother and me. Instead, it had been my silence and fear that the person I believed most understood me wouldn't be able to see the stress and pain I was feeling now. Perhaps I had deeply convinced myself that being disappointed by my mother for not knowing at all would be better than being disappointed by the fact that she knew and didn't care or couldn't understand.
Stella reads my mind and pulls me into the staircase. "Why don't we just take the elevator?" I ask. But she is already on her way down the 102 flights of stairs to the bottom. A moment of clarity does not just transform into a reality; it takes a lot more time and effort. I slowly make my way down the stairs, and as I do, the lucidity I finally obtained on top of the building starts to cease.