Our last road trip

Created on Jul 12, 2020.

I can’t remember when it was that my mother called me in tears. She said her house was being foreclosed on. Long story short, she had been paying faithfully on this house for well over 20 years and it was supposed to be her’s. It was one of those purchase from the owner deals. And, after the time was up, the owner said she still owed more than the house was worth. I flew out there the following week while coordinating with my job and learning everything I could about the situation specifically and the laws around it in general.

I was very concerned when I saw her. A life of stress had taken its toll. Most of that stress seemed to revolve around the house. Long story short I found an attorney who could help her. I found all of her bank statements - on paper - for the last 15 years or so. We worked together to decide what the plan that I’d be facilitating would be. I flew back to Virginia after that week and told my employer that I’d been taking a week off the following week (I worked remote that first week). They didn’t question me on that.

I flew back out and started setting everything up to get the house into a state my mom could manage given her state. Her neighbors mentioned that they wanted to buy the house to keep it from turning into something they didn’t want in the neighborhood, condos. They also mentioned respecting and loving my mother a great deal and wanting to honor the woman “who was the neighborhood.” The attorneys were doing the math - pro-bono - and I am eternally grateful. I flew back to Virginia.

It feels like it took forever, at least two years, before I finally got the call. The house would be sold to the neighbors. A portion of the purchase would go to pay off the original owner and mom would get the rest. If it was less than one-hundred thousand dollars, we would take what was there and put it into an annuity to keep mom going. If it was higher, we would become partners in the remodeling of the house and share profits of the sale of the house.

It was less.

I flew out. Picked up the small moving truck from near the airport. I drove it to mom’s house.

Everytime I walked up the steps to mom’s door I was always concerned this would be the day that I would knock and there wouldn’t be an answer. I would have to find a way in, at which point I find find her dead. I used to sit for at least 10 minutes or more to become emotionally prepared. That day never came.

This time, when I pulled up, she was standing outside. She looked weak, frail. Her color was a faint olive-green. She wasn’t able to take good care of herself anymore. I mentally kicked myself for not being brave enough to just quit my job despite all the rest. Because she was outside, I also didn’t have a chance to mold my expression from concern and pain to something approximating joy at seeing her. I got out of the truck.

“Hey, mom,” I said.

“Hello, Joshua,” she replied, squinting against the sun.

“How are you?”

“Okay.”

“Are you ready?” I asked.

We were moving from this house to an apartment in New Mexico. It was a small studio and much easier to maintain. It was also cheaper than paying the mortgage and property taxes on the house.

“No,” she said with her trademark cackle of a laugh. “I haven’t done any of the things you told me to.”

I smiled and then looked to the ground, frustrated, “That’s okay, mom.”

“I was thinking this time it could be us hanging out more than you working.”

“It could have been all just us hanging out, mom. This time I’m on vacation, not working remote. But we still have a lot to do and if you can’t do it, then I have to.”

I hugged her. Her billowing clothes belying the absolutely skinny body inside of them.

“Let’s go inside,” I said. “I’m hungry.”

I ordered food. We sat and visited for a bit. Her stomach was bothering her again; the last time I was there she couldn’t eat a bite of pizza without potentially choking, vomitting, or both. The inside of the house looked pretty much the way I had left it.

One room of the house-turned-apartments filled with her belongings from the second floor. The tarp I put up to direct water from the hole in the ceiling to the sink in the bathroom. The years had not been kind to my mother and the house had become an embodiement of that lack of kindness. I berated myself a lot since that fateful first call.

Why couldn’t I have come and visited more? Why didn’t I call more? Why wasn’t I a better son? (Better by my terms not anyone else’s.)

We did spend time together between packing the truck. I was surpised at how little she wanted to keep. I don’t know if it was because she actually had let it go, or if it was because she wanted to spend time with me. Moving day was fast approaching and we made it on time.

On moving day we stepped and said goodbye and gave hugs to the neighbors who purchased the house. I climbed in the truck and mom into that same Chrysler minivan from over 20 years ago. I followed her to her faithful mechanic who had managed to keep the car with the falling apart and rusted body with a “motor like a top” running. Mom climbed into the truck with a struggle. And then we were southern bound.

On a normal KD road trip, we would have stopped at every highway attraction she could find. Instead, we were mostly silent. When mom came to Colorado she said she felt like she found home. That sense of home is a part of why she and my father divorced - she refused to leave. This might be projection on my part but she never really felt at home anywhere she went until getting to Colorado. As we went, she would point to mountains and recall a story from her younger days.

“Youngers days,” feels weird to say that, mom was roughly 60 at the time. I’m almost 40 as of this writing. I wonder if it’s weird because I don’t mean younger in age, I mean younger in physical spirit. Mom’s naturalism was pretty infectious and I remember her still laughing when life would pleasantly surpise her again. That all seemed gone somehow. Old. Tired of life. This was not my mother as I remember. I started to think to myself, “I’m basically transporting her to hospice. I can’t imagine her bouncing back from wherever she is.”

We made our first stop for gas and food. It was a bar-b-que place near a truck stop just off the highway. We sat. I noticed her color seemed to be coming back a bit, which I took as a good sign. We ordered. Mom ordered a crazy amount of food given this was the woman who could be keep down pizza not too long ago. I didn’t care though. Whatever she wanted, this was her time, not mine - not even remotely.

I was taken aback when she finished her plate. Like all of it. I left a hefty tip for whatever this miracle food was and we headed back to the truck, with a takeaway bag. I don’t remember much of the trip, to be honest. More stories from mom, I’m sure. Her pointing out mountains and things that had changed since the last time she was there. It’s almost as if I blinked and we were there, with just a brief stop to have a meal, like almost waking up but falling asleep again almost immediately.

Denver to Hobbs in the blink of an eye that took a lifetime.

We stayed in a hotel that first night. I woke up the next morning and went to the continental breakfast that had more than just bagels and juice. I didn’t want to wake her so I showered and ate downstairs. When I came back up she was awake, barely.

“Hey,” I said.

“Hey,” she replied, trying to find her eyes; literally wiping the gunk out of the way and reaching for her rose-tinted glasses.

“There’s a pretty nice continental breakfast downstairs. You want me to grab you anything.”

“No, I’ll get it.”

“Okay, it shuts down in about an hour.”

“Okay. Don’t worry about me.”

“Okay,” I said, “I’m gonna head downstairs and make some calls, if you need anything, just give me a hollar.”

“All right.”

“I love you, mom.”

“I love you too, son.”

I went downstairs. Made the calls. And continued trying to concile what was going on. Was she shedding the emotional and psychological weight of that house and all that came with it? Was she gonna be okay?

When I came back she was sitting at the small table near the window. She had two plates. One had been finished at some point and she was just starting on the second, which was piled high with food. As I entered the room a few unplated fruits were sitting next to her.

“Good god, mom, you gonna be able to finish all that‽”

“I think so,” she replied.

She had showered and was seeming pretty awake and alert.

“How’d you sleep?”

“Good,” she replied. “What do we have to do today?”

“Need to get you to the apartment. Unpack the truck. Then I need to return the van and maybe get a rental until we can pick up a new car for you.”

“Okay,” she replied, staring peacefully out the window.