She makes every effort to reach out to others and to live a normal life. She mostly pretends that she does not have cancer, and she’d rather not discuss it because it’s depressing. Instead, she wants to have fun and be around friends. She likes people, she likes new people, and she wants to introduce me to a young neighbor mom that just bought a new house three doors down a few months ago.
My mom tells me ahead of time, “I invited Candace over for coffee so you could meet her and then you could have a local friend here when you visit me!” (She seems to possibly forget that I lived in California most of my life, went to high school and college here as well as lived just down the street for many years working a variety of jobs. I already do have a few friends here.)
I want to humor my mom, so I say, “Fine, let’s have Candace over.” Then I start thinking about it: she is constantly reminding me how much Candace and I have in common, and maybe she’s right—it would be nice to have a new friend walking distance for when I visit; maybe we could go to the gym together. I know Candace has two sons (just like me), and one is the exact same age as Tall (to the day—as my mom tells me repeatedly). I know she studied abroad in college (apparently, my mom and Candace have had many nice long chats). I know her husband is a multi-millionaire and started his own company (okay, so we don’t have THAT in common). My mom tells me that Candace likes to write, and that she is a runner.
Candace can be my New Best Friend!
The appointed day arrives. Candace shows up at 10 AM on the dot. The hyper-punctual Virgo in me thinks, This is a good sign. She knocks on the door and through the peep-hole I see a very sweet-looking woman in a red embroidered top and linen khaki capris (does she know she is sporting the unofficial Target uniform?! is she being ironic?), wearing a delicate necklace with red stones. She has a small build, pale skin, sleek dark hair, and big friendly eyes. If you were casting a movie, Selma Blair would play Candace.
She greets me warmly, “Hello, MOV, it's so nice to finally meet you!”
She has a grizzly voice, like someone who smokes five packs of unfiltered cigarettes a day. The voice does not match the cute perky girl standing in front of me. It's like one of those flip books you have as a child, where the picture of the person is divided into three sections: you flip the head to a different torso to different legs. Girl’s face with a hat (head), boy’s mid-section with a guitar (torso), zebra hooves (legs).
She walks inside and we sit on the couch. My mom offers to bring us tea (which, in itself, is strange on so many levels: I don’t drink tea, if I did drink tea I could certainly get it myself—she has cancer! she should lie down!—plus, I don’t think my mom even has any tea in the house, and oh by the way didn’t she say she invited Candace for coffee?). Candace hoarsely says that she will just have water (which, considering how her voice sounds, is probably a good idea).
This feels oddly like a first date.
Or a very awkward job interview.
“Candace, my mom told me that you write? I write too! I have a blog! You would like it, it’s called mothersofbrothersblog,” I beam, always happy to talk about myself. “I can give you the link! I know you would enjoy the stories about, you know, having sons.”
Candace gives me a sterile what-the-hell-are-you-talking-about grin. After what seems like about 8000 seconds, she says, “Uh, write?”
Does this girl not speak English?
“Right. Write.” We stare at each other.
“Ohhhhhhhhhh! I RIDE! That must be what your mom meant! Ha ha ha ha! Ride! Ride horses!” Now she is nodding, even though “write” and “ride” are not even remotely the same thing, at least we are (sort of) communicating.
Candace continues, “My husband and I have four horses that we keep up at our ranch just outside of Ventura. I loooooove to ride. I used to jump competitively. I'm teaching the kids how to ride. So you ride, too?”
I am nodding-nodding-nodding-YES, a little bobble-headed writer: “No.”
“You don’t ride?”
Candace looks around the room. We can hear the ceiling fan whoosh-whoosh-whoosh. Candace rubs her head a little. Her forehead has become transparent: the lights in her brain are flashing “FIND SOMETHING TO COMMENT ON!”
She tries, “Well, like I was saying, I am trying to teach Kyle and Elizabeth to ride ... ”
I cut her off: “Who?”
Now she speaks s-l-o-w-l-y like I might be the one who doesn't understand English. “My ... son ... Kyle ... and ... my ... tod-dler ... Eee ... liz ... uh ... beth.”
I know a lot of trendy moms are picking unisex names for their sons these days. There’s Ryan, Bryce, Taylor, Grayson, Alex, Dylan, Aidan, Sam, Hunter ...
“Elizabeth, my two-year-old daughter,” she repeats. Even with the Nicotine voice, she is clear: “DOT-TER.”
“I thought you had two sons?” I inquire, utterly bewildered.
We stare at each other again. She glances around the room. She tries not to look at her watch (vintage Rolex), but she does.
She rallies, “MOV, your mom said that your son Tall has the same exact birthday as Kyle! That is so funny! What are the chances? June first,” she is triumphant at last. She knows that AT THE VERY LEAST, we have THIS in common. She smiles.
I frown. “Uh, Tall’s birthday is in December?” I say, unsure, like maybe it might have changed when I wasn’t looking.
Right then, my mom walks in to save us. I am interviewing for the retail buyer position, and this Candace person thinks I am here for the legal research opening. Everyone is confused. (And when I say "everyone", I mean "me".) Uh, what exactly has brought us together?
“Mom, Candace has a daughter?” I semi-ask, trying to sound patient.
“Bert?” my mom says, almost as puzzled as we are.
“BETH.” Candace says, emphatic. She knows her child’s name and her child’s gender (and unlike me, she probably knows her child’s birthday, too).
“Also, uh, Mom? Candace said Kyle’s birthday is in June?” I toss out.
My mother blinks at us. Then she blinks some more. Blink-blink-blink. What is she, I Dream of Jeannie? Does she think blinking changes dates, sex, age, oh and maybe favorite hobbies (writing/riding)?
“They don’t have the same birthday? Oh, really? I thought they did—I guess I was wrong on that one. Huh. Well, they are the same age. That’s all that really matters.” She has rescued the larger pieces of the conversation, and hastily glued them back together.
“That’s true, they are both six and a half and going into first grade,” I confirm, feeling my shoulders relax a little.
Candace shakes her head. “Just turned five. Kindergarten.”
“Oh,” says my mom, shocked at this discrepancy. And then, back-pedaling, “Well, you two, MOV and Candace, you two are the same age.” Then she cocks her head to the side a bit, as if to say: right?
“I’m 40,” I blurt out.
“I’m 27,” says much-younger-than-we-thought-and-now-slightly-insulted Candace.
“Does anyone want anything else? I might have some crackers,” my mom says hopefully, as she sets the ice-waters on the coffee table. Without waiting for an answer, she scoots off.
“Oh, well, Kyle and Tall are close to the same age! I’m sure they both love Star Wars and Legos,” I say a little too eagerly. We are stumbling our way through this audition to be each other’s New Best Friend. I don’t think she’ll even make understudy at this point.
Candace gets a serious look on her pretty (27-year-old) face. Uh, oh, is she going to say the plastic in Legos is poisonous? Or maybe she doesn’t care for movie/ toy tie-ins. Perhaps she’ll start jabbering about the excessive violence in Star Wars and that it is really inappropriate for small children? or that we are way too materialistic as a society? I don’t think I could deal with any of that rubbish right now.
“Can I ask you something?” Candace semi-whispers, leaning in.
“Sure,” I lean in a little too, conspiratorially—plus, it makes it easier to decipher that raspy voice.
She waits. I nod. Still waiting. Maybe she didn’t hear me?
“Sure,” I repeat a little louder, still nodding as I say it.
She is looking at me, but sort of right through me at the same time. Now my curiosity is really getting to me! What is she wanting to ask me? If I think my mom is crazy? (sometimes, but cut her some slack, she’s on aggressive chemo.) Where I got my cute sweater? (Macy’s, on sale.) Does she really look 40, or do I—MOV—actually look 27? (neither.) If I will go to that new gym with her tomorrow? (yes.) Where the bathroom is? (down the hall, second door on the right.) If having two boys is easier than having a boy and a girl? (probably not, but I don't know.)
She is waiting so long, I think she might have forgotten the question.
“Have you accepted Christ as your personal Savior?” she begins reticently, like an 8-year-old who must give her history report out loud in front of the entire class.
Uh, oh. Here we go.
I am not sure how to respond. What I want to say is
- that is really none of your business or
- can we talk about horses again or
- did you study in Paris or was it really Peru and my mom got that wrong too or
- I do believe in God but I am not particularly religious or
- I really like your necklace are those real rubies or
- come to think of it, Tall’s birthday IS June first!
Now my mom, already the victim of cancer/ chemotherapy/ slight memory loss/ trying-to-do-something-nice-for-her-daughter, also becomes the victim of poor timing. She chooses this precise moment to walk back in with a plate of neatly-cut cheddar cheese squares and wheat crackers shaped like butterflies.
Candace and I both swivel to her. I am sending her a mental telepathy message, “What exactly do Candace and I have in common? Besides the fact that we are both here in this same room at this same moment?”
I look back at Candace.
Now Candace has a HUGE grin on her face. Her entire face is teeth and lipstick.
Oh, I finally get it now, it’s a joke! My mom told her in advance to say that to me, to make fun of me, because maybe I’m a little sensitive about People. Shoving. Religion. Down. My. Throat. Ha ha ha , that must be it! They are going to start laughing any second, and then say, Wow, MOV you are so uptight! We sure got you!
But wait, why would my mom be trying to play a joke like that on me? That’s kind of weird, isn’t it? I’m only visiting for a few days ... now that I think about it, this joke is a little mean. Does cancer make you play mean jokes on your daughter and neighbors?
“Join us, friend! We were just talking about Jesus and how we are all children of God,” Candace says enthusiastically to my mom, her previous 8-year-old student persona melting away now.
I try to gauge my mom’s mannerisms for what I am supposed to do next: still laugh? is that the game plan? Oh, wait, are we Being Serious? What is wrong with me? why can I not read the social cues in this situation?
And besides the whole Christ/ God/ Jesus/ church thing, the continual thread in my thought process is: was Tall really born on June first after all? Did I write it down wrong? Did I dream it?
In my (admittedly warped) state of mind, the situation is morphing from sweet little Selma Blair into the Blair Witch Project. Pretty girl, opens her mouth, strange things happen—maybe religious things. Is it my turn to stand in the corner?
My mom sits down with us. She abruptly changes the topic (when I say abrupt, I mean like SWERVE—tire track marks!) and just like that we are talking about Paris. Ahh, back to my comfort zone—who doesn’t like Paris? Candace takes a sip of the ice-water. I nibble on a butterfly cracker’s wing. Then my mom comments on Candace’s lovely ruby necklace. Candace laughs and says her husband surprised her with it for their eight-year anniversary. (I am pretty sure it’s real.)
Sorry, Candace: I'm sure you must be a very nice person, but you’re just not New Best Friend material.
(“Misreads Others' Vibes”)