My mom loved the place - she had even intimated that we might hold Annie’s baby shower there slated for the following March. The night of the Christmas party we listened to music on the Bose stereo mom brought in for the occasion. Towards the end of the night she and I did a karaoke-style rendition of Janis Joplin’s “Mercedes Benz” as we pretended to drink out of little bottles of cheap red wine. Someone snapped a picture and I have it on my desk.
We, of course, had no way of knowing that just 2 weeks later she'd be gone. That we’d be right back in the wine cave, mom's beloved chocolate fountain flowing in the background as we toasted her amazing life with that same cheap red wine, and mourned her passing.
The night of the party mom had asked everyone to bring an unwrapped toy for House of Ruth, a shelter in DC for women and their children. The guests dutifully obliged and deposited teddy bears and board games and books into the box mom brought. I took the box home, promising to drop it off, but after I learned House of Ruth doesn’t take toys, I put the box in the corner of Annie’s spare bedroom hoping to find another proper home for its contents. Two weeks later the bottom fell out of our world and the box would sit, untouched for two years. Every time I caught sight of it, those stuffed bears with their ears sticking up and out reminded me of how awesome and thoughtful and strong my mother was – how she fought for the little guy her whole life. How finding a good home for those toys would honor her memory. And then I would forget about it until I saw it again, at which point I would feel that familiar little stab in the heart that is equal parts gratitude and regret.
About this time last week, I had my first check-up with Dr. Fishman since that final PET scan, the one that said I was cancer free. I now work at an office at 21st and M about four blocks from Dr. Fishman. The scenery on the walk over is the same – same bagel shop where Charlie and Annie would go and get lunch for me and for the nurses, same parking garage where we would wait for Rocinante the wonder Jeep to come forth and carry us home, same breast feeding center in the basement filled with new mothers and their little ones – all of that new life and hope a stark juxtaposition to the way I felt so used up and one foot in front of the other. I don’t eat at that bagel shop anymore, but I’m a regular at the salad joint next store. And now seeing those babies just makes me smile. Today the neighborhood around Dr. Fishman's office is all about possibility and moving forward and happy hour.
Most of the time I almost forget about that whole cancer thing. Almost.
Last week, just before I saw Dr. F, I got an email from one of the professional list serves that flood my inbox, from some guy named Lorenz. He and his girlfriend were volunteering to collect and distribute toys to kids at the Extension Center. They needed to collect 200 toys in seven days. Could anyone help? His email signature featured a quote from Khalil Gibran, one of my mom’s favorite poets. I remembered the box and sent him an email. We met on the street in DC and I loaded the managerie into his car. As he drove away, all I could see through the back windshield was so many sets of fuzzy, stuffed ears sticking out of the top of box.
After the event that Saturday, he sent me a bunch of pictures, including the one posted above here.
It was a good reminder that life has a funny way of coming full circle - that you can walk by the same buildings, but see them through such different eyes, depending on the day, or the month, or the year. Mostly it was a good reminder that even if it doesn't happen at the time or in the way that we expected, sooner or later all of us (every stuffed bear and every girl) winds up exactly where we’re supposed to be.