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She’s a month shy of 79, a lifelong seamstress, and she once told me of spontaneity,
“When you tell me these things at the last minute, it feels like having a bucket of cold water thrown in my face.”
We couldn’t be more different. When I make plans, some part of me immediately feels trapped.
We’re in bed. Not our bed. We’re in a swanky but homey suite in Napa Valley for the weekend: soft white linen sheets, darkish wood floors, muted earth tones, gauzy drapes, a fireplace, wine glasses, and natural light. It’s quiet. There’s a big claw foot tub next to the bed. It’s Sunday morning and we’ve slept in. Well, I’ve been up for hours, writing. And I’m getting hungry, so I wake him up.
“If you weren’t ‘fixed’ I’d be pregnant after that one,” I say afterward.
He smiles in the way men smile at women when we say things that make no sense to them. But he’s lived with one long enough to know that we are mystical creatures with intuition reaching into places unseen. So, even though he doesn’t understand, some part of him believes.
“Are you coming?” Fern keeps asking me on Twitter.
I feel it, and then I write back, “I don’t know yet.”
Diana put me into words.
She was tweeting about the mechanics of her writing and said, “It’s like a game of Tetris.”
When I read that, I heard a resonant click.
That’s it, that’s me.
There’s nothing linear about me. Outlines give me instant writer’s block. I’ve often likened the way my brain works to that guy Russell Crowe plays in that movie. Something lights up and I know it to be significant. I follow it, mentally, sometimes literally. Another something lights up over here, one there, another, and another. I’ve learned to trust the process, and follow. In no discernible order, they’re all part of the body of work that is me. There’s no linear timeline either- some pieces and people come together from years ago. And one day, there’s a picture, and I see it, and it all makes sense. It’s what I see as the magic in my world, the divinity of me. To a linear brain, it often looks like a lot of inexplicable chaos, unless you’ve had years to watch it.
We’ve hidden all the eggs and it’s 10:30PM. Knuckles. We’re going to bed on time on the night before Easter for the first time. Ever. Sweet. I use the toilet and remember that it’s in the trash. I decide to look, because I really didn’t wait the full two minutes before I tossed it earlier, deciding this is ridiculous. I’m 49 and he’s had a vasectomy. No way.
I dig it out. And stare.
What? I must be reading this thing wrong. I look some more. That’s a plus. Shock starts to roll over me.
“Can you come in here?” I say.
“No! I’m already in bed.” He sounds annoyed.
“Um… I think you should come in here.”
He comes begrudgingly. I show him the stick, and at first it doesn’t register. And then it still doesn’t. He looks at me with total confusion. And I nod my head at the stick. The stick that might be telling us that our whole life is about to change.
I figured out a way to make it work for her, for both of us: to honor our two styles at once. A week and a half out, I call her.
“Ed is racing on the weekends right?”
“Yeah, racing season starts this weekend.”
“So you could potentially take a break from packing and go on a trip with me?”
“Huh? What are you talking about?”
“Ed is starting racing season, which means he’ll be leaving for whole weekends, right? And that means you can have permission to take a break from packing for a weekend?”
“I don’t need his permission to take a break.”
“I know, I meant you can give yourself permission.”
“Oh, well, yes, I guess so… why?” She asks in that voice. The voice that knows I’m up to something. That voice used to sound like pure trepidation, but now there’s some interest along with it.
“Well, Terry’s costumes will be on display in NYC next Thursday, and we might go, but I won’t know until I know. Is a week and a half enough notice? Can you just know we might be going and then I’ll tell you for sure when I know?”
“Uhhm, well, what about plane tickets?”
“We would use miles.”
“Hmmm,” she says, trailing off. There’s a longish pause while she mutters to herself.
“Yes,” she says. It’s almost a question.
I smile to myself.
“I guess I could pay for the hotel…. Yes. I think that might work.” A hint of excitement creeps into her voice.
“OK, I say. “Stay tuned. I’ll let you know when I know.”
“Mommy, you just came home, you can’t leave again?! That’s it… I’m mad
I feel that familiar old tug downward; my cellularly transferred shame, my birthright.
You’re not gonna get to do it. You have to put someone else first, again.
A heavy shroud of disappointment starts to cover me. And then I remember I’m an adult, and that I need help when it comes to anything that smacks of abandonment. I feel very sad, and I sleep on it.
It’s early Wednesday morning and we’re up before the others. We’re sitting on the carpet in the basement, touching. I am looking into her eyes.
“I love you and your brother and Daddy more than anyone in the world,” I say. “And my ‘Mom’ job is my favorite and most important job. But now that you guys are in school, and the house is built, I want to do something else too. Something that’s just mine, that I’m excited about.” My voice quavers a little as I search for my truth. As I search for words that honor both of us. “My goal is to only work while you’re at school, but right now is a busier time because of the new season launch.” Thank God she’s not a teenager, she would be ripping me to shreds. And this is new, I’m sticking my neck out, and I feel tender too.
“Mmmm” she says, wanting to get back to her TV show.
Later, in the kitchen…
“Peanut butter and jelly?” I say.
“No” she answers sullenly. “Are you going Mom?” she asks.
“I don’t know yet sweetie. I’ll bring you a lunch, OK? And I’ll let you know then.”
I’m standing naked in the laundry room, sorting. Sorting the clothes into different colored piles, and it’s calming me down.
Colors here, darks there, placemats, napkins and dish towels…
“I have to be on a call at 9:30” he says, impatiently. He notices I’m naked, and I see his primitive brain engage. His eyes scan my body. I keep sorting.
We’re at his computer and he’s searching…
“2k for those tickets, noooo… that won’t work… hmmm.”
I bite back a comment. This is his process.
20 minutes later Ed picks up the phone.
“She’s not here right now, she’s in New York City,” he says giggling.
“Is she there?” I say, with some urgency.
“Yes, hold own” he says in his Mississippi accent.
“Well, I assume we’re not going…” she says when she picks up.
“Do you still want to go?”
“Yeeehs” she says, cautiously, interrogatively.
“Well, we’re going then…” I say
She laughs. “I told Ed you still might call. He just doesn’t know you.” She giggles again. We talk logistics, and she starts processing, “Let’s see…I’ll leave for Rodger now and I can pack after that and then I’ll come to your house to go to the airport.”
I consider for a moment. “Mmmm no, why don’t you meet me at the airport, Mom. That’ll work better. We don’t do ‘airport’ the same way, OK?”
It’s 12:15 and I’m standing outside the classroom with a brown paper bag, beef chili and her favorite buttery roll from Whole Foods inside. The kids start lining up just inside the door for lunch. She sees me and comes out.
“You’re going aren’t you?”
She holds it together because we’re at school, but I see her eyes tear up. I feel the corresponding tug in my chest.
“Can you stay for lunch?”
“Yes” I say, knowing I have at least 5,000 things to do before leaving at 3:40PM for the airport. We sit together with her friends. We smile into each other’s eyes. At 12:40 I kiss her goodbye.
“I’ll see you after school.” I say.
Thank God she has a riding lesson today, that’ll help.
At one point it feels like I might fly apart.
Breathe. Damn it.
I’ve been working on lowering my cortisol levels. This is not helping. I lie on my bed after I get out of the shower. I have to. My Tetris life doesn’t work unless there’s flow.
I roll up to the gate and they’re boarding group 4. I see her bespectacled face turn toward me. Her eyebrows furrow, and her mouth makes a thin line. She shakes her head in that familiar you’re too much way.
“Come on,” I wave. She makes her way over and we slide in through the boarding group 1 line. We go about the business of wedging ourselves and our paraphernalia into the seats, including stowing backpacks, purses, scarves, magazines, etc. I sit back, close my eyes, and sigh.
We look at each other.
I say it. “I can’t believe we’re on this flight.”
“I’ve done the safe thing my whole life,” she says, “and I thought this time, I’m going for it. Ed didn’t even know who I was. He thinks I’ve lost my mind.” She’s shaking her head and laughing.
It hits me that this is one of those moments. This is a Tetris piece. We are meant to be here, and we’ll both remember this for the rest of our lives, however long that is for each of us.
As we descend to land, she lies there, sprawling out before us: the night sky of the Big Apple. I see the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building. I feel excited. Mom tells me the last time she was here was 30 years ago. Then she mentions that I was 4, and I do the math. 45 years ago then. She was married to my dad, and she was 33.
Sometime close to 1:00AM we pull up to our hotel, which is located across from the Waldorf Astoria.
“Ohhh, the Waldorf,” Mom says. “Granny would just die.”
She loves the sights and sounds outside our window. I love seeing her come alive in this experience. I do some logistics online for my mom job while she gets ready for bed. We go to bed too late (damn it, my cortisol!), but we’re here.
After breakfast we shower and get ready. I’m DM’ing with Fern, and with Gary. We set up an interview for next week. I’m ecstatic. It’s been pouring rain all morning. I take a bath. I’m lying in the warm water with my ears half under. Mom comes in. Her mouth is moving but I can’t hear her- something about her hair. I tell her I’m relaxing. She goes out. I lie there, semi floating, and amniotic fluid passes through my awareness. I’m assaulted by a noxious odor. Mom has put on hair spray.
“Mooooooom” I whine. “Why did you spray thaaaaat? I’m trapped in here with that smell now, yuk. It’s in my mouth.”
I work with my feelings of not being considered. I stand, dripping, trying to pry the window open. No luck. I prop the door open a few inches to create some airflow. Mom puts on the fan. I get back in the tub and resume my relaxation.
Fern DM’s that it’s pouring out and that the line is getting longer.
Mom’s ready first, so I ask her to wait for me in the lobby. I need quiet alone time. We have different rhythms, she and I. I’m finally figuring out how it can work for both of us. I have my marriage to thank for that. I switch to my backpack. I brought my good digital camera and I have too much to carry. I’m ready.
We emerge as a subway rumbles underfoot, its warm gust lifting the tasteful green skirt of a passerby. The valet looks on, smiling in genuine appreciation. Crossing Lexington, a Hop On Hop Off City Bus noisily pulls away, the top deck filled with slicker clad tourists. We navigate the scaffolding around the Waldorf Astoria to Park Avenue. The Met Life building looms left, and Mom tells me Dad turned down a job there in the early 60’s. Yellow taxis blur by as we wait. It’s not too cold; we have on jackets and our Roma scarves. The city feels alive; I feel alive too. The day smells like wet pavement with a hint of blended odors from food and exhalations of nearby buildings and cars. We continue across Madison Avenue. Horns honk intermittently as we pass a thickly accented argument over a parking place. After half a block we look up.
“We’re here,” Mom says.
Saks 5th Avenue, the original.
We enter through the jewelry department on 49th Street, moving past friendly uniformed staff next to bling filled display counters. We snake through a brightly lit tall ceilinged room, our noses barraged by mingled scents of perfume and makeup. Eager sales people turn on smiles and hold out their wares as we approach. I start to feel the energy of a crowd and soon after that, I hear them. Turn right. Near the door, I approach a Saks employee and ask where the press line is. She directs me outside. We open the doors and the sound intensifies. We step into the amorphous crowd. I look left and see a white awning; the press line is already in place between two lines of steel barricades. I tell Mom to stick next to me and I wait for my chance to ask someone if they received my RSVP. Well-dressed, well-groomed, and very large men of African descent tell the crowd to move back. Somehow Mom and I have stood in a spot where people aren’t required to move. Back everyone to our right goes. Back, back, back, and then a barricade goes up in front of us. Have to clear a space for patrons, fire code, they say. I’m in the front row. We wait. I look to my right and a blond woman smiles at me.
“Fern?” I say.
“How did you get heeah?” She says, with a smirk and a thick New York accent. I smile back and shrug. Introductions are made. We wait, and we talk. I’m reminded of a favorite expression of Diana’s, for we are most definitely packed, cheek by jowl.
Something is happening. One of the suited men has slid the barricade over and is admitting people while counting heads.
“7..8..9..10.” He stops the line. I’ve grabbed Mom and we are floating forward, like two sticks in the creek. The line starts to move again.
I’m 10. “Mom has to come with me,” I say.
“Come on Mom,” he says.
We move forward, skirting the barricade. She trips on the barricade leg, which I anticipated, I’ve stuck close and I catch her. We’re moving down a cordoned off row behind the press line, a row of waiting fans, mostly women, in front of us. We settle into our spot. Fern recognizes an organizer of the event and I ask her if OutlanderBTS has a spot in the press line.
“No,” she says.
“OK, thank you” I say, knowing all things happen when the time is right. The truth is, my site has only been live for a few days, and I never got a confirmation email, and so I assumed not, but it never hurts to ask. I’m happy to be here anyway.
Behind us St. Patrick’s Cathedral rises up: glorious 19th century spires trimmed with unsightly construction clad ankles, a perfect metaphor for NYC. In front are the Saks windows, each occupied by an 18th century couple: mannequins resplendent in Terry’s sumptuous costumes. It drizzles intermittently. At 5’ 3,” Mom is administering the umbrella. I fear for people’s eyes around us as it opens and closes without warning over the next hour and twenty minutes. A crowd gathers across the street behind us on the steps of the cathedral. In the window before us stands a fiberglass Claire bedecked in the exquisite brown dress with floral embroidery we’ve seen in the trailer (as she strolls through the garden at Versailles). Mannequin Claire has curly hair resembling tinsel ribbon, and she’s wearing the hat, yellow gloves, and shoes. Everything is the same. I haven’t had a close look yet, and there is a glare on the window, but I can see that it’s gorgeous. Next, I spot the Cuilean purse in the window to our left. One of Terry’s Easter eggs, the face of her own pooch in Scotland.
It’s 2:30PM. The guests of honor are meant to arrive at 3:30. We stand and chat with our neighbors. In the press line in front of us and to our left is a couple in costume from “That’s Normal.” She’s wearing a replica of Claire’s dress from The Gathering in Season 1, including undergarment with lacework sleeves and cowl. He wears a Highland tartan kilt complete with plaid piece, sporran, leather vest, stock, and boots. They both have red hair. Some of us know each other from Twitter, and we make those connections. I meet the lovely women from Outlandish Canada, in front of us. We exchange information. Mom’s legs start to ache.
“Put yah leg out and bend ovuh…” (Demonstrating) “I’m a phy-si-cuhl thahr-a-pust.” Fern says. Mom obliges, and a stretching session ensues.
I reach in my backpack and dig out the cashews I snagged from our hotel room honor bar; I begin munching on and dispensing them around to our neighbors. We pass the next hour and twenty minutes thusly.
At some point I see a familiar face dashing across my line of sight, in front of the windows, and I realize it’s Davie the driver. A smattering of women recognizes him and yells,
“Davie!” and “Hi Davie!”
It appears that he arrived in a fire truck? Can that be right? The crowd settles back down. At about 3:50, there is some commotion at the far end of the display, near the corner of 5th and 50th.
“There he is!” A woman yells excitedly.
I’m reminded of the book “The Polar Express,” when the children first catch sight of Santa Claus. There is that level of elation and electricity with it. Hoards of cell phones go up. We can’t see anything from where we’re standing. Apparently, The Red Dress has been covered and is being unveiled ceremonially. Fern says she saw The Red Dress yesterday so this is a re-veiling and unveiling.
After about ten minutes of this, Mom says, “I could really use that inch and ¾ that I’ve shrunk right now.” She wants to see what’s going on, but mostly, she’s here to see the costumes and to meet Terry. Before long we see the handlers and logistics personnel slowly working their way down the press line. The first man to catch my eye is a secret servicey looking guy. He scans the crowd, presumably for psychopaths who might leap onto the artists or brandish weapons. Over time he relaxes and eventually wears a bored expression, apparently resigned to the fact that we’re a bunch of women with I phones and umbrellas. I notice another man, preceding the artists down the press line, seemingly giving interviews. I can’t hear what’s being said. He’s very manicured, a slick LA looking PR guy (my guess); slightly incongruous with what I know of the Outlander culture, but clearly he’s part of the entourage.
Gradually the artists make their way toward us, doing small interviews with each press person or pair along the way. Cait and Sam are first, followed by Ron, and then Terry. I didn’t realize Ron would be there; the press invite only mentioned the other three, and I’m pleasantly surprised. Before I can see them, I’m watching them on Fern’s phone, held high in the air. This feels familiar: watching them on screen doing interviews.
“There’s Jamie,” Mom says, and soon after, Ron is in front of us. He has leap frogged Cait and Sam, and is the first one to appear. I can’t hear the questions or answers, so these descriptions reflect my impressions as a participant of the overall experience, not a member of the press line. Ron is wearing a double-breasted black wool pea coat with a charcoal turtleneck, which looks nice with his salt and pepper beard and shoulder length hair of the same color. His sincere brown eyes take each question in and answer with competent humility. My impression of him is that he’s unaffected, a person of relaxed efficiency, unpretentious and considerate. His interviews are fairly short. Before we know it, he has moved on.
Cait and Sam are next, and they arrive together. I first notice Cait. She is stunning. She is more beautiful in person than on camera. Her skin appears to be flawless and she carries herself with a combination of dignity, humor, and unassuming grace. She’s charming, attentive, laughs easily, and is thoughtful in her answers. She is wearing a tiny-checkered black and white Houndstooth dress; her dark hair with auburn highlights is pulled back into a classic bun. I’ve never been so attracted to someone’s neck before. She is at once delicate and strong, like a ballerina in Swan Lake. Her eyes are a luminous intelligent blue surrounded by thick dark lashes, with faint, appealing smile lines at the corners. She has those full red lips, her mouth always holding back or giving into a laugh or a smile. She is a true Irish beauty with beautiful light skin framed by dark hair, and you can see the quick wit behind her eyes. She reminds me of a college buddy, another Irish lass.
And then there’s Sam: the guy who seems to be turning the world on its ear. Seemingly loved by men and women alike, even William Shatner has a crush on him. As I watch Sam give interviews, I can’t imagine what it’s like to be him. He introduces himself and listens attentively to each individual to whom he speaks (every one I see), despite the hundreds of cameras and cell phones trained on him with singular focus and intensity. All the while women in close proximity are shouting his name, waving, and asking for autographs. Somehow you don’t get the feeling he’s ignoring us, it’s more like, he’s being courteous to the speaker. He occasionally looks up between conversations, making eye contact with members of the crowd, smiling and waving, and then resumes giving each interviewer and Cait the courtesy of his (seemingly) full attention. When they finish the interview just before us (with Scottish ex pat journalist Katie MacLeod), a woman standing in front of me asks Sam for an autograph. He looks around conspiratorially, takes her book and signs it, as his handler closes in with apparent disapproval. (Does it occur to anyone else that handler is also the term used to refer to animal trainers?) It seems like everyone wants something from Sam: a smile, eye contact, a touch, an autograph, a word, a hug, marriage, his attention. What must that feel like from so many people? I would think overwhelming, but he seems to take it all in stride.
Physically speaking, Sam wears his hair down; his red curls somewhat tamed and tucked behind his ears. His face is scrubbed clean with a scruffy beard and mustache. He’s wearing a collared pinstriped shirt and light grey suit with a round lapel pin, a very dapper look. Since I can’t hear him, I notice nuances. He has a very mutable, expressive face, particularly his mouth and eyebrows. He’s listening with a smirky smile, then considering with a furrowed brow. As he talks he looks around for his words, he wears the expression of a good listener. He purses his lips in a British way, and occasionally lets loose with a full see-all-of-his-teeth smile. My overall impression of Sam from this interaction is that he’s conscientious, polite and self-contained. He seems humble, caring, and disciplined. He takes his work seriously, both as interviewee and in his sincere acknowledgement of his fans. He seems well mannered and quick to find the best in others.
They move on down the line and there is a lull. For a moment we start to worry that Terry is no longer here and our spirits drop. The crowd thins a bit as women follow Sam’s trajectory. The woman who asked for Sam’s autograph hears us talking about Terry and offers us her first row spot behind the press line. We are delighted. As she departs, we see Terry’s platinum head approaching. Mom is so excited.
She looks at me and says excitedly, “I’ve never done anything like this in my life. I’m going to go talk to her!”
Mom leaves me to find an open spot in front of Terry. As Terry nears there’s a different, more familiar vibe. I hear women’s voices around me.
“Yes, she is.”
“She looks younger in real life.”
Again, I can’t hear the questions or answers from the press but I see Terry giving thoughtful responses peppered with smiles and laughs. She has shoulder length platinum hair, beautiful skin and gorgeous bedroom eyes. Her nose is tastefully decorated with a tiny piercing. She’s dressed in her signature black with a long chained necklace and a favorite pair of pointy-toed medium brown leather boots. When she smiles, she crinkles her nose, and light radiates from her, creating loveliness greater than the sum of her parts. She is an autumn beauty, often disregarded in our culture, which comes from life experience and cultivation of inner self over time; an appeal as or more sublime than spring beauty to the seasoned observer. Terry has it and her costumes mirror it.
“Terry, soft boiled eggs.” Mom says with a girlish grin and excited eyes, leaning over the barricade.
“No waaaay!” Terry says, mirroring her smile.
She looks around for me and our eyes meet in recognition. We all smile.
“Hi Terry,” I say. “We’re all here.” I indicate our little group, “Mom, Fern…”
After greeting us she says, “I’ll come back.”
While she continues down the press line, we stand around and talk; Mandy joins us and we make introductions. I spot Ann from Germany, and we say hello and exchange info about how long we’ve been in town, what we’ve done and will do, etc. We discuss staying to get a closer look at the costumes after the hubbub dies down and Mandy suggests we come back at night for a better view. At length, Terry returns and by then the press line has all but vacated, so we snug up to the front barricade and have a wee chat. Women are asking for autographs so Terry is signing and chatting. Before long Fern asks for a photo together and hands Terry her phone. There is apparently a problem with zooming and selfie mode because after four tries it’s still not working. Ron approaches with LM (Little Moore, the youngest of their kids) in tow and indicates the throng of fans still waiting down at the end of the line. We say our farewells and the three Dresbach/Moores head off arm in arm. We linger for a while until the break down crew gets going, under the efficient and watchful eye of the young woman in the orange trench coat and fabulous shoes who has been overseeing the whole event.
We stroll back toward our hotel contentedly chatting. As we approach the corner of Park Ave and 49th, the classic facade of the Waldorf Astaria comes into view. I check my phone, 5:00PM.
“Want to have tea at the Waldorf?”
Mom’s face lights up. “Really?!”
So we cross and enter through the revolving doors.
Born Hazel Travilla Gooch, my grandmother joined her family of six in July of 1909. She was the runt of her litter, so to speak, at 2.5 pounds. So tiny in fact, she slept in a shoebox near the stove while her mother worked in their modest turn of the century Indianapolis kitchen. She remained tiny, only ever reaching 4’11.” It was a rite of passage for us kids when you passed up Granny in height.
Her passion was learning and she could be found in her local library daily from a young age. Books were her escape, and the way she explored the world beyond hers. After three years of college, the economy tanked, and at age 21 she moved to NYC. Engaged to a conservative, responsible young man who was in seminary school at Oxford, she was doing her part to contribute to their dowry. She lived with three other girls in a tiny apartment, and they all worked in offices downtown. The year was 1930: The Great Depression.
A couple of years into her adventure, a young Irish lad became the elevator operator in her apartment building. An outrageous flirt, he charmed her each day, on every trip up and down. After some time she traded in security for adventure and was married to Peter John McDermott, my grandfather, here in NYC in 1933. My mother’s line, my line, was started here, in this place.
In contrast to my bookish Gran, who earned a masters degree in education at 55, her PHD at 63, and was a college professor until 83, Pete was a street smart, risk taking party animal. Times were hard, and everyone was hungry in those days. More than once Pete was known to carry ground up glass in his pocket, putting it into his restaurant meal after having his fill in order to get a decent meal at no cost.
To my grandmother, the Waldorf Astaria was a symbol of a life she only read about in books and magazines. She would never have dreamed of going in there. On this day of course we see everything from an evening gown to ratty jeans and a Disney t-shirt. The luxurious old atrium really is something to behold, with its elaborately patterned tile floor, lofty gold inlaid ceiling with decorative molding, black marbled pillars and deep mahogany furniture in the bar.
We take our seats and order two decafs and a slice of chocolate cake. The spell is soon broken by a string of poor service events including delivery of the wrong cake, a disappearing waiter, and ingredients missing from the correct cake. There is a man with Turrets Syndrome in our immediate vicinity who emits a loud succession of four coughing sounds at about six minute intervals.
We finish up, pay our bill and walk through the hotel to the doors at the backside; our hotel is across the street. Outside there is something going on. There are six to eight police cars parked in front, including unmarked vans, and heavily armed men with leashed police dogs patrol the street outside.
Perhaps they’re looking for our waiter, I amuse myself.
We move through and head across the street into our hotel. Our room faces the street we just crossed, and Mom keeps a close watch on the goings on below. We remove shoes, coats, jackets and scarves, and eventually land on our beds to rest. Mom dozes off while I research a dinner spot. I reach out to several people who are in the city, and end up calling Gary’s recommendation. Mom is tired and thinking room service but I convince her that missing a meal in NYC is basically a sin.
Prune is a meat and marrow kind of place- Mom loves it, my husband would too. I have aged beef and watercress soup with a glass of Pinot. Mom has the lamb shanks. It’s a delicious and surprisingly light meal in a sunny warm casual atmosphere. Like most in NYC, it’s a small space and we’re cozily situated in a row of two tops. A rustic decorative mirror hangs at an angle on the wall before me, reflecting the bar behind, giving the illusion of more space. The couple to our left celebrates his birthday; the couple to our right remains deep in conversation. Our server is friendly and does her job well. Mom and I talk about all kinds of things. We don’t usually have long stretches of time to just visit and drink wine. It’s wonderful.
We catch a cab to Saks after the meal and a short walk. The costumes look amazing at night, Mandy was right. They are all lit up. We start at the corner with The Red Dress and work our way down. I notice particulars that were harder to see in the daylight: the intricate details of lace stocks and elaborate sleeves (Terry always designs remarkable sleeves). Louise’s Versailles dress is there, and Bonnie Prince Charlie’s golden suit. The Dior. They are all works of art, beyond couture pieces. I can’t imagine what it’s like to actually wear them.
It’s dark out, the night is crisp and it’s energizing to be here. We encounter other small groups of fans, including Ann from Germany. She proudly wears her tartan, and we talk for a short while. I learn that they are actually going to walk IN the parade on Saturday with a group called Outlander United. Soon, I see that Mom is ready to go, so we say our goodbyes and walk back to the hotel.
We’re in for the night. Mom’s body aches so I do some assisted stretching with her, despite her protests. I know she’ll sleep better and feel better tomorrow. I’ve forgotten my pajama bottoms, and I have no sweats with me, so I improvise and wear my down jacket, one leg in each sleeve. Mom is shaking her head again. We each go about our nightly rituals and then snuggle into our respective queen beds. We’re in the W NY, courtesy of my husband’s accrued Starwood points. I feel I’ve earned those points too, being the ship’s anchor all these years. We turn out the lights.
The next day I awake bright and early with thoughts brimming over. Mom is sacked out so I crank up the fan for white noise, pull out my laptop, and start writing. As usual, as in this moment, it feels heavenly: an unquantifiable amount of time open before me to pour out my mind. Luxury.
“What would it be like to give up writing for a while?” He says.
My stomach lurches.
“To create no stories, no processing, to just be in the present feeling whatever is coming up?”
Sounds terrifying. And foreign. Part of me wishes I never met this guy.
But he’s the person who is most honest with me in my life. He is a father figure, my mentor, and my therapist. He’s harsh and compassionate, and honest, and I trust him. I decide to do it. My grief stricken heart kicks off my new assignment, and I give it up.
I get a good two hours in and Mom wakes up. There’s more so I keep going while she gives me the gift of her silent presence. I find a place to stop. My mind is empty and so is my belly. We head down for breakfast at a leisurely 10:30AM. I’m generally excited so I don’t eat much. The coffee’s delicious. When the bill comes, it occurs to me that we can exchange the points we earn for our stay for our breakfast. These hotels and airlines have figured out that my husband and his peers are just big grown up gamers. He’s happy, works for me.
In my travels I’ve discovered that taking the Hop On Hop Off City bus tour soon after arrival in a new place is an excellent use of time. I get my bearings, learn about the city, and identify sites to revisit in more depth. Despite his protests, my husband and I did this in Dublin and it became one of the highlights of our trip for him. Mom is not at all convinced either, but we buy our tickets and board the bus.
The only patrons, we find our seats on the top deck, which is open air. With a high five, we commandeer the front row. We’re both sporting hooded coats and Roma scarves; Mom’s wearing my green one today, and I’m dressed in my blue striped one. We unwrap and plug in the issued earphones as we take off. The bus first heads up 49th Street past Rockefeller Center, and there’s quite a lot of traffic. I’m somewhat nauseous today, and Shirley, our tiny Southeast Asian driver, moves forward by lurch and release. The bus heaves forward and then abruptly decelerates.
Lurch, halt, lurch, halt.
I think I know why this bus is empty.
After some time, Shirley stops surging about and we glide through traffic. I start to enjoy myself. It’s a cold crisp day full of possibilities. I am underwhelmed by our tour guide though, as he tosses out the bare minimum of information: X building on the right, Y building on the left. I feel like I’m on a bus with stops being announced vs. a tour. Mom is happy but I want more. Usually on these things (I’ve done them in Scotland, Ireland, the Netherlands, and the US), they give you interesting background information about city landmarks, they don’t just tell you names. I spin around in my seat and give the guy an assessing look.
As we navigate Times Square, I feel like I’m on a ride in an amusement park. Cars are everywhere, horns honking, as bike couriers dart in and out. In front of us, a pair of police officers patrols on horseback, and gigantic 3D or digital signs display movie trailers and advertisements all around us. Every non-windowed building surface is used for this purpose. A larger than life King Louis from the new “Jungle Book” movie towers above us to our right, and I can’t help laughing out loud. I’ve been to Tokyo, and I’m wondering who copied whom? As we pass a female officer making theater of directing traffic, I think, is this really Times Square? Or a parody of itself? A grand scale selfie for the tourists?
We adopt a strategy to get information out of Vinnie, as we’ve dubbed him. I ask him questions, or Mom asks me questions, which I then shout back to him. Soon he starts to come to life, and is in fact a veritable treasure trove of information. Probably 60 or so, he’s grown up in the city, and he knows something about every place; the tour becomes an experience.
“There’s Trump Tower, where his majesty stays while he’s in town.” Vinnie says.
Soon we approach The Plaza Hotel and memories of my first trip to New York City come rushing back… (to be continued)