Last week, I talked about the beauty of the spring superbloom in Southern California this year. During my recent trip back to visit my old homeland, I realized that I forgot how uniquely beautiful the desert can be when the wildflowers carpet the terrain. It was heart-stoppingly gorgeous. However, I also realized it was heart-stoppingly dangerous, as the flowers will soon fade and die and become fuel for the wildfires we so dread in Southern California.
The flowers were not the only thing that bloomed on my trip. Nor were they the only things that can be dangerous. As I prepared for the trip, I subconsciously steeled myself for the impact of a superbloom of memories. The southwest is where I grew up. It is where I lived most of my life. It is where most of my conscious memories were born. My family lived together in New York until I was almost six, but I was so young that most of those memories are lost. The only home where my immediate family formed memories together was California. My schooling was there. My career was there. The crucible of maturity that was my marriage and divorce was there. I raised my fur child there. I met Max there and we built a together life there.
Most of these memories are happy ones. Still, I have learned, over several trips back to California after moving to Florida, that exposure to the site of my memory banks is not necessarily a completely pleasant sensation. I’ve found that sticking my toe in the California memory banks can be a complicated, confusing experience. I’ve enjoyed my time visiting California in the past. It has been wonderful to spend time with my friends and do activities that were part of my entertainment life when I lived there. Still, there has always been this sort of nagging gray haze hanging over me when I was there. I put it down to the idea that everything is so familiar to me that it doesn’t really feel like an adventure or an exotic vacation, but nothing is still familiar enough to me to make it feel like home. It is very disorienting. I don’t let it impede my enjoyment of the trip. I just kind of go with it, but it is a weird feeling.
I was more hesitant about this trip than about other ones, oddly enough. It was not that I didn’t want to go, but I did feel a certain apprehension. This time would be my first trip back after my mother passed away, except for last January when I went back to scatter her ashes. That trip was kind of all about her, even though she wasn’t with us in this life any more. This time, the trip was about Max and me. In my anticipation, though, I was more afraid of the memories than I have ever been.
It might have been because we were going to Laughlin during this trip. Although Max and I used to go to Laughlin now and then when we lived in California, it was more a place that was part of my history with my mother. We made several girls’ trips there. We would pack up the car, head east, and spend a few days just hanging out. We would eat, sit by the pool, go to an occasional show, shop, ride the water taxi on the river, and just bask in some “us” time. My mother enjoyed Laughlin and she enjoyed being with me. I think a lot of the reason she enjoyed our trips to Laughlin so much, though, was a real “mom” reason.
You see, my mom always thought I worked too hard, became too tightly wound, and lived at a pace that was much too rapid. She was probably right, but I’m not sure there was any alternative to any of that while I was still employed. She was wise enough to know that nothing she could say was going to change any of it. She had a sneaky little plan to lure me away from that fast-paced world once a year or so. She would simply suggest a trip to Laughlin. She knew I would agree to take her because I loved her and wanted to make her happy. In her mind, if I took her to Laughlin, I’d be forced to slow down and ease up. Manipulating me into spending two or three days with her by the river, living at the much slower pace required by her age and infirmities, was her strategy for nurturing me. Truth? It worked.
Laughlin reminds me how much I was loved. I was afraid that going back to Laughlin would remind me that the love is gone.
The trip turned out to be great. For the first time, I did not get that sense of disorientation that I’ve had every other time. The gray haze was gone. Nothing felt sinister or wounded. I remembered the happy times with real pleasure. For the first time, I felt like I could be part of the California world and the Florida world without experiencing a psychotic break. Max had a lot to do with that. He is always good to me, but he seemed to be making it his particular mission to take care of me during this trip… to find ways of delighting me and making the time special.
And Laughlin was wonderful. I thought often of my mother. I re-experienced the warmth and joy of our memories together at the river. As I looked out of our hotel window at the river, I could feel her smiling at me. I cried once or twice, but I was so happy. I felt such overwhelming gratitude to have had those times with my mother and to be able to relive them in my mind and heart. I learned there is nothing to fear from my memories of being loved so much. That love is not gone, after all.
Is there a particular place that spurs memories for you of a deceased loved one? Please share your perspective by leaving a comment. In the alternative, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Have a memorable day!