Meetings in Mama's Room

Burbank, California

Mama is in the bedroom getting better. We sit with her while she lies in bed. It's Mom and me, Dad in the puffy, white recliner talking about how can't see the stars at night past the smog and light, my sister, Grace, who looks like me but with freckles and green eyes, my brother, Grady, who's about to get married to Brittaney who sits with us patiently listening, and Lily and Daisy, our ying-yang dogs: one white and one black.

We visit Mom in her room and talk about the future. It's March of 2020 and the lockdowns have just begun. Sanitizing groceries. Taking shoes off at the front door. Searching convenience stores for anything sanitizing to wipe down everything else.

We've lived here in Burbank, California, for seventeen years, but a wind is blowing in from somewhere, sweeping us up like birds sensing changing weather. The migration east and out of California is intangible and imminent. Sometimes the talks move to the deck out back. Lawn chairs and warm sun on skin and cold beers.

I sleep on the couch and watch the world outside through the big front windows. I watch the family of crows in the pepper tree. My neighbor, Lee the mechanic, drags carts from the shop to his trailer, up and down the street. Hot days with hands in dirt, planting hydrangeas, and an Oak Tree. We talk about how we want to stay together. We've been each other's homes forever.

A wind is blowing in from somewhere, sweeping us up like birds sensing changing weather. The migration east and out of California is intangible and imminent.

The summer fades into fall, but fall feels a lot like summer in Southern California. We stop disinfecting everything. My brother's small backyard wedding. The relief from the city smog shows itself to be only temporary as cars arrive back on streets, smog mixing with sticky, orange smoke from the fires. Close the windows. Don't let the smoke in. Helicopters at three in the morning.

I keep my hands in the dirt. I keep watching the blackbirds and Mr. Lee walk up and down Providencia Street while my family dreams. There are places in America where we can eat inside and not have to wait in line for groceries. Where we can go to church and for holidays see family.

Next thing, Grace leaves for Austin, Texas, and her room is empty and the rest of the house fills into brown boxes cause Mom and Dad are moving back to Wisconsin.

I carry down dusty, brown boxes from the attic while Mom decides what she'd like to keep. I put the unwanted by the street - racks of clothes and shoes and paintings and golf clubs and fishing poles. I watch from the front window our neighbors and strangers drop money into a cup.

Dad drives away with the ying-yang dogs for the last time down Providencia and I am the last to leave the house I do not want to leave. I sweep the wooden floors and clean the granite counter tops and cut lavender's purple flowers and fragrant leaves. One last time, hands in dirt as I dig up hydrangeas and my oak tree.

Providence does not keep us together. Instead it spreads us like pick-up-sticks across the country. Meetings in Mama's room become a faint memory.

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