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My mother, the foreigner

He was leaving in March, so for the next few months, I broke all my own rules. Soph would see me twice in a week, then three times, then four. Soph could meet my friends. Soph could come to the trivia on Tuesday. We could be exclusive, but only until she’s gone.

By meeting Soph, I also got to know her mother. Here was her mother’s favorite cocktail bar, her favorite French bistro, her childhood neighborhood. Soph not only knew New York at least as well as I did, but he knew it through the eyes of her mother. I envied the way he casually included her mother in everyday conversation, including and honoring her, as if it cost nothing.

“It’s different,” I said. “Your mom was sick.”

“Your mom is too. although sick,” she told me.

I wondered what it would be like to honor my mother in the same way: to honor her with the kind of absolution we usually reserve for the dead. Mourn not for who she had become, but for who she had once been, and not worry if it was a grace she deserved.

And so I did exactly that: I tried to relearn how to talk about my mother. How to say that she was a professional chef by trade who had served powerful people in cities across the country, including New York. That she simultaneously she had been the kind of mom who paid her taxes, she blanched her broccoli with good kosher salt, she sent text messages with Bitmojis that said: “I’m so proud of you!”.

I started pointing out things that reminded me of her. Work clogs worn with dresses. Joan Osborne and Joni Mitchell. Any storefront used to be Dean & Deluca. I wish I knew even more, like where, all those years ago, our mothers might have crossed paths on the street.

It was only then, the way things are going, in Arizona that my mother was admitted to the hospital with advanced stage liver disease. First the doctors assumed that she was two or three years old. This turned into a month. I booked a flight for a week. And finally, when I took the subway to Queens to meet Soph’s grandmother, it turned into days.

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