The day that M was leaving snuck up on me too quickly. Of course, I was expecting it. Of course, I knew it was coming. I knew the time and day exactly. She was leaving on the 12:42 train from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh, to visit her ailing mother there.
But she was leaving me. Again.
We decided since we had to drive in to Philly anyway to take her to the train, we'd make a memorable morning of it: enter, the incredible fun of the Reading Terminal Market. I was dying to show it to her.
As we were packing up her stuff, more questions started flooding out of me, they felt so important and immediate at the time, but for some reason now, I don't remember them. All I knew was she was leaving me and I had more to ask.
But about what? I remember it had something to do Muhammed, the guy she was with after she had me who had basically hinted that I was putting a dent in their relationship. Maybe I blocked her response out already. Sometimes (I'm being serious here) I think I have a hard time remembering things because of this, no joke. People literally bring things up from the past and I'm literally like, "I do not remember that. Was I really there?" Anyways, I think I wanted her to reiterate the situation. I think I wanted to double check about that whole "did he pressure you to give me up?" After all, she called him the first real love of her life. Sigh. Oh, M.
As we drove the hour to Philly, I was just talking. I do that when I'm nervous. My apologies to everyone who has had to suffer it in the past. I don't think it's going to change, though.
When we got to the market, we walked all over it, greeting the Amish, me buying butter and cheese and homeopathic pellets. She bought shea butter, tomatoes, fresh kibbeh, and some spices. Then we rubbed patchouli on our scarves. I bought her a lavender cupcake to have on her 7 hour train ride. After all the wandering and gazing at things like authentic french linens and imported italian oils and fresh fish, we went to Kamal's for some middle eastern food.
I remember telling her to pick what she liked and we could share it, since I like all mid-eastern food. I know this sounds crazy, but sometimes I still had my doubts. About her being my mother. I mean, look at her! And how can she know so much about this culture? Did she really sleep with a Saudi Arabian? And have me?! (go ahead and laugh, but at least I'm being frank here). Plus, I look like no one I know. Hell, even my son looks nothing like me. Sometimes I truly feel like a lone reed in this world. Well, obviously that would be a "Lone Reem", haha. But I'd have doubts and then she'd do something like what she did at Kamal's counter: order all this food in this way that clearly illustrated she knew exactly how it was prepared and cooked and what she wanted a little extra of, a little less of. I swear, they were looking at me like "why are you not ordering and um, where'd you get this lady?" Then M laughed because she said the cook looked up and was checking out my butt when I turned around to go find a seat. She said, "See? Anytime your own people see your heritage in you, they know it!" I'm like, "M, all he was looking for was some ass."
So my birthmom and my little babybird and I sat down and proceeded to share our first meal made up of only middle-eastern food: taboule, persian rice, hummus, pita, and chicken kebabs. Yum. It didn't hit me how important this act was until we were actually sharing it. But food is not only cultural, it's ritual---and that's why it's cultural. We eat when we're happy together as humans (showers, weddings, baptisms, graduations). We eat when we're sad together (breakups, funerals, goodbye gatherings). We eat when we're just...together. This is why we all know, deep down, it's not good to eat alone.
So M and I ate together. For happiness. For sadness. For celebration. For what we knew was goodbye. For now.
She'd been worried about missing the train, but I google mapped it for "on foot" and thought I had it all calculated so we'd make on time. We asked the guy at the cafe on the way out if he thought it was too far. His eyebrows went up and he said, "It's a hike, but you can make it." The old lady we met on the way did not agree. But she was pushing a city-grocer cart, so I'm gonna say her input doesn't count.
They aren't kidding when they say that the 'Market's on 12th Street and we had to walk to the 30th Street Train Station. I mean really, Emily. Who were you kidding? I now know I subconsciously did this on purpose because I am that bad at goodbyes.
So we booked it. We dragged her little suitcase, my baby worn on my back, hiking up those Philly sidewalks, past the many universities, over the bridge...into the old train station. We made it just in time to print her ticket and step into the already moving line. We got into line, and I began helping her to get all of her stuff together. "Here, hold this." "Oh, I've got that. You just..." Like all of us trying to get on a plane, train, or bus, it's overwhelming to get all those passes and papers and id's together at the last minute. Suddenly, we were coming up on the woman scanning tickets and only then did I realize that I wasn't going with her. Oh my gosh, how did I miss that part? Oh ya, this is it.
Uh, M. I have to get out of the line now. I step awkwardly backwards over the red velour cable.
She suddenly stops rummaging through her purse. The man in front of her is almost done handing over his ticket, headed down the escalator.
She looks at me and we fall into this massive embrace over the cable. She whispers, I love you.
Surprised by the words coming out of my mouth, I say Love you, too.
And then she was gone, down the escalator. Just like that.
I turned around. I looked out into the sea of faces. I wanted to stop everything for a minute. Freeze time. Run down there and have us keep moving together, swaying in time, just the two of us in this massively busy city. There was still so much to be shared, unchartered terrain to navigate together, facial expressions to memorize, noise to shut out, unsaid words to say. Was my blood sugar low? Maybe. I walked dazed through the station, stopping to buy a latte for the cold wind and my nearly 15 block walk back to the car. As I was paying, my hands shook, my heart still beat. But my blood sugar wasn't low.
We meandered. We stopped to look at pigeons. We admired brave pink blossoms on the trees in the city landscape.
But mostly, we just wandered back to the car dazed and confused. All while people rushed past us, too many places to go. I felt I had no where I ever needed to be again in my life. As we crossed the bridge, a train was pulling out of the station. We stopped and looked over the railing and waved. M, are you in there?
It took me a bit to pull myself together. I was grateful for the hour long drive back. When we got home, we both just crashed onto the bed and napped.
In some sense, I feel like I crashed that day and haven't woken up. I won't lie, it's been hard. I've been having a really hard time. Just as we were opening up, warming up, we had to part ways. Oh, life and all its jobs and limited time off and distance and different cities to live in. She has admitted as much to me. Yes, meeting each other made it better, but it also made my heart open in a way that created some crevasses to fall into. And I do. Every day now. I miss her. And she misses me. It's amazing to be missed by a mother. No, she didn't raise me. She didn't mother me. She's not my friend or my confidant. She's my birthmother. And while I'm still figuring out what that complicated title entails for this reconnected, very complicated relationship, I'll take it for what it means to me each moment we have together from now on. It's that simple.