It was 1982, about three months before my mother died of brain and lung cancer. I had moved to Albuquerque to be with her. It was right around the time I picked up my one-year chip. Right around the time I had to gently tell her to stop looking for subsidized housing, because there wasn’t time.
While she was still able to communicate, she and I would talk about how lucky we were to have such an unusually good mother-daughter relationship. It came from never having enough time together; we were separated when I was 14 due to divorce, alcoholism and, paradoxically, her love for me and my brother. God, how I missed her mothering. Even now, sometimes I ache for it.
During one of these conversations, I asked for a favor: “Mom, if there’s any way you can do it without scaring the shit out of me, please let me know if there's something on the other side.” And she said she would. Then she added, “If we have been able to remain together even across a separation of 2,000 miles for all these years, surely we’ll be together after I die, too.” I didn't really believe that, but it was comforting all the same.
The night she died, I woke up smelling a sweet burning odor. It was strong enough to wake me up, and I took a quick walk around the apartment to make sure we hadn’t left the coffeepot on or a cigarette burning. It was early, early morning, and just starting to get light. I checked the clock, climbed back into bed, and fell into an incredibly deep sleep.
The phone call from the hospital came about five minutes later.
Was that her? I'd like to think so. There have been many little signs like that through the years. Most commonly, a car with a New Mexico license plate will go by, often at an eerily critical time. The day my husband and I reaffirmed our vows in Boston, we turned out of the synagogue parking lot and found ourselves right behind a New Mexico license plate. (I’m going to have to have a talk with her about that one when I see her). As I was leaving town to attend a recovery retreat in the mountains, I saw one too. So a couple hours later, when I ended up in the middle of a blizzard on nearly impassable roads, I knew that one way or another, I was going to be all right.
Lately, I have been looking for a less expensive place to live, and I’ve been praying for clear guidance. After all, I have an impressive capacity to fuck things up, left to my own devices.
Yesterday, I put in an offer on a house. The seller has accepted, and we're doing owner financing. If all goes as planned, we close three weeks from today.
After I signed the purchase contract, I headed toward a meeting. I was a little early, so I stopped by the bank. I got out of the car and headed for the entrance. And there she was, directly in front of me.
Does that mean I picked the right house? Who knows. It doesn't really matter. The license plate reminds me that either way, it's all figured out for me already. And it's going to be just fine.