Gayle Brandeis | Longreads | February 2018 | 12 minutes (3,027 words)
The Best of Times — March, 2007
The night before I was slated to fly to Atlanta to attend the biggest writing conference of the year, I was sideswiped by one of my vomiting episodes. These hit every few months — hours of intense abdominal pain that came and went like labor, followed by hours of vomiting that often led to a trip to the emergency room; this had been going on for the past 12 years, with no diagnosis. I didn’t want to miss the trip, but I was writhing around on the floor, and heaving into a large mixing bowl, and attempting to keep the anti-nausea suppositories up my ass long enough for them to kick in. I was chanting, “Help me, help me, help me” — words that always burbled from my mouth during these episodes. I wasn’t sure who this chant was aimed at — not my husband, who tended to shy away whenever the vomiting began — but my mom seemed to hear me in Oceanside, 100 miles from my home in Riverside, California. She called and was alarmed when I told her I still hoped to get on the plane the next morning.
“I’m coming with you,” she announced. Before I had the sense to stop her, she purchased a last-minute ticket for my flight. She picked me up in her red Intrepid shortly after sunrise, and I wondered what in the world I had gotten myself into. I pretended to sleep most of the flight.
My mom and I ended up having a surprisingly good time in Atlanta — we danced together, attended illuminating panels, had a blast with her cousin who lived in the area, ate copious amounts of boiled peanuts; she even made meaningful eye contact with Walter Mosley, who she was certain would one day become my stepfather. When our flight was delayed, she was miraculously relaxed and chatty, and I didn’t feel the need to pretend to sleep on the plane to avoid her. I was plenty sleepy by the time we arrived at the Las Vegas airport, though — it was 1 a.m., and we had missed our connecting flight. The airline gave us the option of staying in the airport and flying home in a few hours, or taking a hotel room and flying home late the next day.
I was so tired, I needed to rest my head on the ticket counter, but I looked up at her and said “Why don’t we stay? Maybe we could see a show or something.” It was the first time I could remember voluntarily extending a visit with her. Our relationship had always been complicated, but when she started to show signs of a delusional disorder 14 years earlier, our connection became all the more fraught.
“Let’s do it,” she said, and soon we were giggling in a free cab on our way to a free hotel room just off the strip. Our luggage was still on the plane, so we slipped into the plush white robes hanging in the closet and crashed for a few hours. We put our rumpled travel clothes back on after our showers, then ordered egg white and asparagus omelets with our free breakfast vouchers and set out to see how much Vegas we could pack into a day.