Saturday, September 17, 2005

Back in Paris

16 Sept. 2005

The past few weeks, since my mother's death, seem mostly a blur, though a few moments stand out vividly:

Carine and I lifting the dead bouquets and wreaths from the mound of my mother's grave, and piling them into the back of my truck. The two of us getting Chloe off for her first day of first grade at Roby. I sat Chloe on top of the vanity in the bathroom, brushed her hair until she was awake. Meanwhile, Carine was making breakfast. We smelled something burning and found her in the kitchen, holding a smoking PopTart aloft. "You made it. You burned it. You eat it," Chloe said. Between the two of us, we managed to get her dressed and fed, then I walked her up the street to school.

Leaving Shepherdsville for Atlanta, stopping at Mary's beauty shop in the late afternoon, when everyone always stops in. Rachel with Kylie Pearl; the local cop who's Mary's good friend; assorted mothers and their daughters still in their school uniforms. Chloe didn't want me to go, and then she said she wanted to go with me. She locked herself in the cab of my truck and Mary's friend Heather had to lure her out with an offer to take her to the store. But Chloe had hidden my gearshift knob, and by the time I found it, stashed in the console with my cd's, they were back from Bullitt County Supermarket. Chloe stood on tiptoe and kissed me goodbye through the window of my truck, and I finally drove away. Her fingerprints still on the window.

Stopping in Nashville to spend the night with Sandy in a fancy hotel. We went out to a songwriter's showcase (at the bar of a Best Western Motel) and then came back and ordered room service at midnight, talked until 2 a.m. The next day we had lunch with her manager, Miles, and by the time I got on the road, it had started to rain. Katrina was on the way ... It got so bad that I had to pull off the highway and spend an hour at a Waffle House; drenched by the time I got to the door, the waitress waiting inside with a towel. A couple of motorcyclists were waiting out the weather, too, and we all sat around with the waiters and waitresses in a couple of corner booths, drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes.

A few days later, sitting in the belvedere at the top of Eve's house on the Chattahoochee, watching the storm with Chante. She'd driven down from North Carolina to spend a weekend in Atlanta, visiting friends, and it wasn't hard to talk her into spending the night with us at Eve's. We made a bed up for her in the belvedere -- her "tree house" -- so that she could listen to the frogs and crickets and wind all night. She said she was too excited to sleep. Told me she wakes up every day and tells herself, "This is the day the Lord has made." Her doctors still can't find the source of the cancer, haven't changed their prognosis, don't expect her to live to see Christmas. But I refuse to accept it and she says that's fine with her. She looks luminous, with or without her wig. Every time I reach for my mother and start to keel over, I think of Chante, her arms around me, and try to stand up straight.

Someone said, "No more heartache, please." The devastation of Hurricane Katrina, the death of New Orleans. The obscenity of the Bush administration's ineptitude and corruption. The sense that my whole country, the whole world, seems to be falling apart. The sense that, with my mother gone, there's no solid ground under me anymore.

Leaving Atlanta again for a quick trip back to Shepherdsville, the bed of my pick-up loaded with boxes from my storage space. A couple of southern gentlemen had insisting on loading it up for me, and then I hadn't bothered to tie anything down. So I was driving north on I-75 and looked in my rearview mirror to see the downtown skyline growing distant and a box full of lingerie from my last marriage tumbling out of the bed behind me -- silk nightgowns and lacy bras sailing out over four lanes of traffic. I laughed and said a little prayer that no one would be so flummoxed by lingerie flying across his windshield as to cause an accident. But it was quite a metaphor ...

On the flight from Atlanta to Paris, the young Frenchman sitting beside me smiling when his dinner tray was set down in front of him. He picked up the wedge of cheese and cradled it in both palms and brought it up to his lips and kissed it. Then he turned to me and said, "I've been three months in Guatemala." "No cheese in Guatamala?" I asked. "Not like this," he said. Ah, the French.

So I've settled into my little studio on rue des Filles du Calvaire and Paris is gray and windy and it's good to be anywhere.