Fugue

Chatting with an old boyfriend,

I get lost driving through my past.

Twice I loop through the same

two intersecting freeways―the 405 and the 710,

get off and back on the same two ramps―Alameda, del Amo.

as if I am drunk, dreaming or lapsing into early dementia.

It was August of ‘87 when he picked me up at LAX.

I’d come far to leave my family behind in New England.

We’d taken the freeway to Long Beach—

passing signs for Wilmington, everything engulfed in concrete.

billboards, electrical wires, oil refinery towers congesting my view,

circles of smoke rising against a  horizon of yellow haze.

Too many cars and people, had I made a mistake.

He tried to help with google maps,

but couldn’t locate me.

Lost in the Port of L.A.

a headache coming on–

should have eaten before I left Carlsbad.

Driving in circles for half an hour,

tracing a figure 8 of my forty eight years.

Headed for Long Beach, my old stomping grounds,

hoping to find my way.

Vaguely familiar, yet altered –

a time warp into a future that no longer belongs to me.

Insanity―doing the same thing

and expecting a different result.

My second time through,

a right at the light at Magnolia makes the difference

and soon I am climbing the heights of the Vincent St. Thomas Bridge,

a sense of vertigo, even from the car.

The glistening turquoise water on either side so far below―

mesmerizing.

Force my gaze back to the expanse of bridge stretching before me,

San Pedro next two exits.

It strikes me as funny, imagining the exits dropping straight off the bridge―

cars plunging with spectacular splashes, one after another.

When I arrive at the assisted living facility

where my mother moved the day before,

she’s not there. No one knows who she is or

where she is. Neither my brother or mother answer

their cell phones.

It’s as if I am watching myself from outside myself,

waiting to see what will happen next.

Finally, someone tells me her room number.

And I realize it’s Saturday – she’s at dialysis.

Her door is ajar—moving boxes stacked, overflowing, untouched.

Toppled oxygen tanks, hoses, bandages litter the floor.

Soon I have the two closets overstuffed with glittering gowns and suits

that she no longer wears, but insists on keeping.

Arranging the furniture, far too much for one small room―

two zebra chairs, 2 end tables, a bench,

a bar cart where I display her souvenir shot glasses,

her queen bed, matching nightstand and hutch

with the hidden compartment

where she had kept her father’s rare coins

that my brother and I tried to steal

to cash in for candy in ’68.

I push against the secret compartment twice

and return the jewelry I’d been safekeeping

while she was in the hospital.

She can’t wear the rings anymore,

they fall off her fingers.

Finally, I hook up her stereo

and play her favorite Tchaikovsky CD.

I’m hanging pictures when she returns.

From the bed, she weighs in on which picture should go where

though it’s clear she’s too tired to care

When her dinner tray arrives, I help her sit up,

her collarbone a wishbone between my fingers.

You have to eat, I say, handing her the sandwich,

taking it back, then handing her the spoon

watching as she forces some soup down.

She invites me to stay over,

with her in her bed.

I can’t, imagining lying awake

listening to the oxygen machine’s pumping,

her constant throat clearing,

trying to stay still, fighting the impulse to flee.

I don’t get lost on the way home.

Once I hit San Clemente,

the night sky opens,

stars reveal themselves

and I exhale as if I have been held

underwater for days.

And for the first time since Dad died,

I find myself

writing again.

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