Valentina Valentini | Longreads | August 2019 | 16 minutes (4,092 words)
I hadn’t wanted to go up there in the first place. Topanga Canyon only seems fun when you’re with hip Angelenos who say, “Let’s do something different this weekend,” like they invented being different. But my mom was in town — as she often is, despite living across the country in Massachusetts — and, in her words, needed to get out. She was staying at my sister’s in Marina Del Rey and was on a rigid schedule of driving the kids around to their multiple extracurricular activities, after which she might sit and draw dragons for an hour with my niece, or build rocket ships with my nephew, seemingly blissfully, and then text me complaining about how she never gets to do anything for herself when she visits, and begging me to accompany her on an outing. Or sometimes she’d hit a threshold and borrow my brother-in-law’s car to go out on her own, dancing until the wee hours of marine layer cloud-covered mornings in downtown Santa Monica.
She was 72 and I was 30, but I often felt as if I were her parent.
In Topanga, acoustic guitar and whining voices were surely in store. It would be the kind of friends my mother had when I was growing up, the ones who made their own hummus at spring equinox gatherings or encouraged her to bring her young kids to a sweat lodge to purge demons. The friends she should have had when she was in her early 20s, but instead was too busy (too young) raising her first three daughters with her alcoholic former high school beau in a suburb of Boston.
Every year on my birthday, my mom likes to recount my traumatic underwater birth: I came out of the womb into a Plexi glass bathtub, with the umbilical cord wrapped twice around my neck and knotted once; I had to be resuscitated, all while being filmed for an NBC evening special. Even moving cross-country didn’t stop her — she became prolific at texting and emoji-emoting on my special day. On my Facebook wall she’d splash phrases like, I remember moments before you crowned, when we were still one. (Heart emoji. Baby emoji. Kissy face with heart emoji.) Except that we were two. We were always two — me separate from her. But so often our roles would be reversed, and I wasn’t sure who was supposed to take care of whom.