One of the things I notice women seem to talk about after the baby is born is how motherhood can be so isolating and lonely. You go home with your new baby and life for everyone around you returns to normal… and then what? For me, the “then what?” always felt extra. As an only child and a recent transplant to LA, I realized that new mom friends were not going to magically appear as I pushed my baby jogger around West Hollywood.
One friend encouraged me to treat my friend search like dating. Scan the landscape. Get numbers. Make coffee dates. I never perfected the art of the chase, but I did find mom friends to bridge the ages and stages as my two boys grew. With some, our bond was brief and intense. With others, it was more casual and intermittent. A couple were keepers, but life intruded and they moved away.
Then when my youngest was in third grade I met someone new. I’d seen her around school, standing out in her cool European shoes and geometrically patterned skirts. Artsy, sharp, a little intimidating. As our boys locked on to each other, Christine and I edged closer too. Then one day when I was laid up in bed with my annual fever, she called to tell me she was picking up Wyatt at school and bringing me soup. Didn’t ask. Told. And I realized, Wow, this is it. The holy grail. The sister mom I’d been waiting for.
There was a daily intimacy of sharing rides to violin, school pick-ups, and sleepovers, but also just talking through our shit, big and small because there was so much… my marriage was disintegrating and both of her parents died within months of each other. We had work issues and money issues and creative issues. But what I loved most about Christine’s was that her atheism extended to a non-belief in the cult of motherhood. She never learned to make Thanksgiving dinner or organize a bake sale, and our conversations were laced with f-bombs. She could be brutally honest, but she was also the most intent listener I’d ever met. She became my emergency contact.
In time, our group grew to include three other women, and I stopped having that “but who will I sit with at lunch” feeling. Whatever the event or outing or plan, Christine would invariably offer, “Oh, we should do that!” We went to art openings and started a book club and went dancing whenever we could, where we would go out of our way to intimidate millennials with the skillful way we circled around our pile of jackets and purses on the dance floor, throwing back craft cocktails with a wink and a toss of the hair.
One Mother’s Day, Christine and I decided to assert our holiday privilege by taking our boys to a feminist art show about cultural interpretations of motherhood followed by a screening of the RBG documentary. When we discovered our movie was sold out, we had to pivot, settling on five tickets to see Tully—you know, the indie feature where Charlize Theron plays a new mom suffering a psychotic episode of postpartum depression? The boys emerged from the dark theater stunned and pale, my son sharing, “I don’t think we were the intended demographic for that movie.” Christine and I thought we were brilliant.
We didn’t want to be the moms who leave all the fun, adventurous stuff to the dads. We all took our boys to Sequoia each fall to hug some giant trees, the kids throwing rocks in the lake as we drank Moscow mules by the fire at night. It was there in 2016 that I convinced Christine to travel with me to the inaugural Women’s March in Washington, DC with me, not that it took much. Once I told her we had first dibs on my old roommate’s guest room, she just said what she always did: “Oh, we should do that!” Then she took to knitting pussy hats for everyone we knew.
We marched that year, and the years after that. We also kept drinking, and laughing, and showing up for each other. When my son almost didn’t graduate high school because he was failing his graphic design class, Christine called him up and made him come over with all of his unfinished work. Six hours later, it was all done. A week later, she was there to share the toast at his graduation dinner.
We had a good thing going. Until we didn’t.
Last spring, after an unrelenting pain in her neck spread to her side, Christine was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. Our circle of friends dug in, armed with meal plans and CBD tinctures and an impromptu drive to the see the poppies in bloom in the high desert, cursing and laughing and rolling down the windows so the warm air could dry our tears.
That Mother’s Day, there was no chance to come up with new ways to torment our boys. Instead, just a month after her diagnosis, Christine couldn’t catch her breath and was hospitalized. My last visit while she was still lucid, I sat down beside her bed and took her hand, bracing myself, ready to for whatever she wanted to share — words of wisdom, advice for her kids, regrets or fears.
She slowly lifted her oxygen mask, looked in my eyes…and said none of these things. True to character, she called out the brutal truth. “I’m so fucked.”
I held her hand for a long time that day, watching her drift in and out, knowing the only thing I could do was to be there and tell her I loved her because she was right. She was fucked.
Three days later, she passed away, her husband and children by her side.
These days my crew has circled in closer, each of us aware of the thousand tiny fissures losing Christine imprinted on our world. It’s still a gut punch when I get to the emergency contact line on a school or doctor’s form and I wish I could call her just so we could exchange our usual…
But what I miss most is the way she helped me feel like anything is possible. It’s the thing I am trying so hard to hold onto. It’s the voice that says, “Oh, you should do that!”
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