The weather was its usual cool perfection in L.A. That’s the way I remember it and I’m probably not wrong.
A beautiful day for getting lost.
To be clear, she wasn’t roaming. Roaming is sluggish, and an excellent form of leisure. While roaming, you hope to make discoveries. I know because I like to roam and I like to wander. She was on her way to our place on foot, she’d later explain, but she got confused.
I calculated it would take 55 minutes on foot and 9 minutes by car. This is why Angelenos drive everywhere all the time, pretty much without exception.
Pat left a message that she was walking over. I tried her back on the cellphone that she never learned to use, but she’d was already in motion.
The sun was setting in that lazy way it does, with greys and orange and shades of pink. Hours passed. It seemed cruel to think of my mother, the once elegant lady of Chanel perfume and designer scarves, high heels and summer espadrilles now sockless, walking the streets without direction, without purpose, as if she’d heard a calling.
My husband went out looking for her on the scooter. I drove around the neighborhood in the car with the radio turned up high, blaring out the panic that was setting in. She’s out there somewhere. Untethered. On the loose.
She walked and walked and walked until her long dancer legs began to betray her. Past big rambling houses off the Boulevard. Commuter cars going somewhere west. She walked until all the signs looked foreign and all the streets looked the same. No markings. Nothing familiar, as if she’d been tricked.
She stopped for a cigarette. And another. And another. Maybe she had a few conversations, maybe none. Until, in that twilight hour, when nothing makes sense and day is confused with night, a man stopped his car and asked if she needed his help.
He was middle-aged and played in an orchestra. Or maybe that was a different driver from another day. Maybe this first one was the radiologist. There were so many lost days and so many saviors, I honestly can’t be sure. The man who picked her up was overweight and breathed heavily as his foot depressed the brakes. We’ll go with that.
The report about the man and how she ended up in his car came from my mother, an unreliable narrator. I am also, admittedly, an unreliable narrator. I can say she was delivered to our home in Los Feliz around 8 PM, after my son gave out directions by phone. I can say what I remember, about that day, that incident, but we know that memory is faulty. Memory is overrated.
Yet we assume that memory is everything. We believe in it, praise it as a record of lives lived, of things imagined and glorified, or we curse it for a vision of the past we wish we did not own. Memory becomes the anchor of our selfhood. Our treasure chest. The container of our secrets, our lies, and our noble deeds. And when it’s lost? What happens then? What are we then? Are we lost, or are we found?
That evening, my seven-year-old stayed home alone. We told him not to open the door to anyone, except Nana. So, after giving careful directions to her driver, after being engulfed in several shows, my son looked up to find Nana appearing in the driveway like an apparition. When my husband and I arrived home, she was there at the door in her fitted wool jacket and her scarf tied at the neck, her good leather shoes, her blistered heels, and her handbag, always the handbag, stuffed with assortments of hairbrushes, bags of nuts, Reese’s peanut butter cups, jewelry, scraps of papers, ancient bus schedules from another city, loose change, red-hued lipsticks, expired licenses, and broken cigarettes — just in case.
She was thirsty, she was tired, she was amused. She had rebelled against all the instructions about how to be safe in this city, how to navigate, how to alert us that she needed to be picked up, how to call a taxi. Instead, she’d told herself she was going to walk from her apartment to our house. Or at least a part of her would walk and a part of her would finally arrive.
When I saw her at the door, I felt the same relief I’d felt when I’d lost track of the kids in an open space, even for a moment and then found them hiding behind a rack of sweaters or ducking down beneath the register. The adrenaline rushing, the panic like a siren, and then the calm of the crisis ending. I wanted to scold her, tell her never to do that again, but she was already at the point where not listening had become her private rebellion. I don’t think I had harsh words for my mother. I think, I want to think, that I made her a cup of coffee and asked her if she’d like to stay for dinner. I think I showed her my love.