Exhausted, I wheeled the bicycle into the driveway of the condo complex. It had been a grueling, mind-clearing twenty- six mile Saturday morning ride along the bike trail near the beach. The morning school of dolphins, swimming near the shore, had put on a big-time show with a feeding frenzy on a school of fleeing, jumping smaller fish. The Santa Monica sun had climbed overhead, forecasting one of fall’s warmer days. Sweat poured over me. The ride had helped to clear some but not enough of the storm clouds in my mind.
I unlocked the gate to the bicycle storage area and gathered myself, still dreading the day ahead.
This October 31st was a double whammy for my wife and me. She had elected not to get out of the bed. The thought of a year ago today made her weak and nauseous. The ache that resided deep down inside of her had not yet subsided.
“Are you coming, honey?” I had asked.
“No,” came the short and curt answer from under the bed covers. I understood.
Two years ago, my mom died on October 31st. It had been a slow debilitating ten-month bout with that bastard cancer. Over time my mom was no longer my mom but the shell she had come packaged in. Our roles became reversed as time ticked away and I became the caregiver and caretaker for the woman who had done that for me all my life. October 31, Halloween, would never again be a day of tricks and treats.
Then it happened again.
One year ago, on October 31st we lost my wife’s mom, who had become my second mom. Again, to cancer and again on the same date. This one had been a six-month battle, ending one year exactly to the date of my mom’s passing. It had been a two-and-a-half-year ordeal of hospitals, medicine, doctors, and finally a double loss.
The ride was designed to help me get through the day. Exhaustion would slow down my mind; suppress feelings, and bad memories. I didn’t want to spend the day feeling sorry for myself, even though, faith, the fuel needed to hope, no longer resided within me. My moms would tell me to move forward. I could only respond with “I’m trying.”
Then I saw Mary.
Mary, a petite, peaceful woman and our neighbor, was standing on the sidewalk in front of our building, crying. Slumped, she cried a silent cry. There were no wails, no moans, and no big demonstration. She was just standing there motionless with quiet tears flowing down her cheeks and off her face.
Mary, a foster mother, had given up her baby.
Mary stood on the passenger side of a big, black expensive SUV staring at the baby in the back seat. The lady who had come to take the baby away, a woman I didn’t know, stood in the street on the driver’s side of the vehicle. She was smartly dressed and reeking of class and dignity. The SUV, with the baby boy snugly and securely strapped in the back seat, separated the two women; two mothers in love with the same child.
Saturday morning dog walkers caught up in their own little worlds of dog walking, cell phone talking, and poop-cleaning, passed the two women and the baby boy. They did not see the drama unfolding in the eyes and hearts of the two mothers. Bike riders on their thousand dollar bikes, in their loud colored, spandex bike riding suits, whizzed by on the street, on their way to bragging about how far they’d ridden that day.
No one noticed.
The two women’s eyes never left each other’s. Mary had been here before; there was always some sadness when it was time to give up one of her babies. Being a temporary mom takes a special ilk. But this time was different. Mary had fallen in love with the baby boy.
How could you not?
He was special in the way that loved babies are. He was loved and he knew it. He had big blue eyes that glistened in his mocha colored skin. Who wouldn’t want to take him home?
Mary’s latest child stole the hearts of everyone in our complex. Mary had other babies before, but this baby, with those eyes, and that smile, and his apparent self-awareness became my favorite-the condo’s favorite. He was our baby. He was with us almost ten months, and Mary would, on sunny days, bring him into the courtyard where he always drew a crowd. He fit our little community. He made us all feel better by helping us to forget our lives and fall in love with his.
A mother who he probably would never know had given him up at birth. Within days he had been placed with Mary until an adoptive parent showed up. October 31st was the day he would leave one mom for another.
The new mom, negotiating unfamiliar emotional territory but nevertheless feeling the unconditional love only a mom feels, made a heartfelt, earnest plea to Mary. “Call anytime you want to,” she said. “I mean it. Early in the morning, it doesn’t matter. Visit whenever you want.”
Mary nodded through her tears.
The two women did not take any steps closer to each other, keeping their respectful distance. They did not want to touch. They only wanted to share their individual spaces with the little boy who ga- ga’d and goo-goo’d and slobbered in the back seat, unaware of the significance of this day, now both to him and to me.
The new mom wanted to and tried to leave but could not. As much as she wanted to get on with being a mom and loving her new son, she could not bear to break another mom’s heart. She paced back and forth from the driver’s door. She reached for the handle, opened it and then couldn’t get in. She let the door close again, all the time her eyes were connecting to Mary’s, and Mary’s to hers.
Finally, the stares were no longer enough. With nothing more to say, she got into the big vehicle. The SUV with Mary’s baby rolled off down the street and into other lives. The dagger in Mary’s heart had been as cold and as deep as the one in my own heart two years ago today, and my wife’s a year ago.
I joined Mary on the sidewalk, giving her a big hug. We cried silent tears for motherhood and our own individual loss.
“I’ve had him longer than any of the others,” Mary told me. “This is the most difficult good-bye.”
”Goodbyes are hard,” I agreed.
“He’s going to a great family,” she managed, I held on to her for a while.
We broke up our pity party and headed to our respective condo’s. My wife was still in bed, drowning in the memory of her loss. My mind, awake and churning again, wouldn’t stop thinking of the baby boy. Born into adverse circumstance, he’d already gotten a lifetime of love from two mothers and I’m sure well wishes from a third in just his first ten months of life. I hoped the love would continue to flow for him.
I thought of the new mom, a warm, seemingly loving human being, who was empathic enough to temper her excitement for herself, her family and their new loved one with compassion for Mary’s loss as only a mother can do. My mind ran to Mary whose love was so strong, it allowed her to give the babies up so other mothers could love them as well, again as only a mother can do. I couldn’t get the baby boy with the big pretty eyes, wrapped and strapped in the back seat on October 31st, out of my mind. The baby boy had created a new October 31st memory for me. I thought, in ten months of life he’d already had three moms.