On Bernal Avenue, a street belonging to a tidy suburb of San Francisco, the room is all-white. The only color is shouting loudly on a hanging canvas: green and yellow spatters. A piece of Mom’s. I think, I want to be her, with her wispy dark blonde bun and bony hands. On the chapped tips of her fingers, paint. Her bare feet I love in their ugly familiarity.
She emerges from her makeshift half-studio in the garage, only to make coffee and pour cereal. Scooping each bite with a large silver serving spoon. She chews with intention while she looks off into a distant somewhere I can’t see. Removed. I’m seven. This Sunday, she cries. I bow my head low enough to meet her eyes, playing detective.
I’ve always thought Mom’s tears looked thicker than everyone else’s. They look kind of syrupy, which makes me want to catch them in my cupped hands. I still don’t know why she’s crying, but she taps her coffee mug on the counter three times, then three again, and looks even sadder when she notices me watching. But then she’s in her head again, no waves or calls pull her back inside the kitchen where we sit.
We decide to adventure to a thrift store to make Mom feel better. Together we forage the thrift aisles packed with ‘30s mohair coats stretched over mid-century TV trays; fur stoles beside a row of old typewriters; baskets of scratched cat-eye prescription glasses resting on an abandoned love seat.
We pass a vendor selling oils. Mom samples musk. I look down at my Velcro shoes, my corduroy skirt with an elastic waist. There’s a string hanging from the hem, and I try hard to pull it off. Now I have a cut between my fingers, which leaves a light blue mark.
I wander toward a row of chairs, sitting among the mass of people and smells and things. It’s not long until Mom walks over and is ready to leave. I ask her why she’s crying. She says Joni Mitchell made her cry. I think, I hate Joni!
On Sycamore Avenue, in an Eastside pocket of Los Angeles, the room is white. The only color is in a photograph resting against the wall: a photo of me in a yellow jumper, something my mom took while on vacation. I think, I want to hug her, with her baby-soft grey hair and bony hands. She’s dressed in grey linen and wears big rings.
It’s the last day of her visiting me. Mom and I decide to rummage the flea market. I wear a short white dress with big buttons, and platform sandals. There’s a blister on my back left heel, something I ignore to keep up with Mom’s quick pace. We sift through old records, the corners of their covers rubbed white with time and play. Mom picks Hejira, a Joni album. A favorite of hers and mine.
Today, I’m 24. This Tuesday, as we listen, she cries. “Just please don’t have regrets like I do,” she says over the music. I think, I still want to be her. I don’t play detective. I don’t ask questions. I don’t need to.
Grace Piro Delia works in late-night television. She’s into live music, slam poetry, and good people.