Wednesday, November 11, 2009

California Dreamin'

This was originally published on La Bloga:

Unfolding Stories, Unfolding Lives

There's a Middle Eastern grocery store that I often visit, for its ingredients and excellent produce prices. One afternoon, not too long ago, guilt forced me to shop without my young daughter.

That afternoon I stood lifting my plastic sacks of beans, rice, chiles, fava beans out of the cart and onto the counter while my daughter exhibited her usual irrepressibility, causing the cashier, to smile at her, offer her a candy, and then say in mildly accented English, "She reminds me of my own daughter."

Ah, and what is your daughter up to now, I asked.

"She was going to be a doctor. She was an excellent student. And a happy girl. Up until the day she died. Car accident."

The cashier rang up my purchases, glanced at my daughter, then turned away and began wiping her tears. I stammered something about being so sorry. I didn't bring my daughter shopping with me again. I couldn’t bear the longing in the woman’s look.

Awhile ago we were house hunting in the Pasadena area. We finally settled on a home in Altadena, but occasionally I drove through a charming neighborhood to keep tabs on a home we didn't make an offer on, one that seemed so inviting, so full of the promise of family life, with its two storeys, its gables, a child's nursery in the attic, that it seemed destined for a happy family. As time passed I noticed baby accessories then toddler toys sprouting on the front yard; I caught a glimpse of the parents playing with their children. A sense of pleasure filled me, that of a mother of toddlers watching others like herself.

More time passed and as I drove by I noticed that the father appeared ill.

Now as he pushed a stroller up the tree-lined street he was bald. This home began to hold a morbid fascination for me, and I purposefully drove up that street more frequently. I caught a glimpse of him in a wheelchair, then he disappeared from sight completely.

Oh no, I thought to myself.

A "For Sale" sign appeared. Then that family was gone.

Twenty years ago I took a train from Boston to New Haven, during a time in my life someone I loved fiercely was dying, and my life was spinning into dizzying, sickening, circles. The young lady sitting next to me reluctantly struck up a conversation, but somehow it turned to her plans, once she graduated from Brown in month.

"I am going to California. One day I'll run a major film studio," she announced matter-of-factly. "And I know exactly how I'm going to do it."

In the midst of my own grief, being sideswiped by life seemed more probable, but I was fascinated by someone whose life's plan was so clear to her.

The cashier of my produce store stopped showing up. When I asked about her, another woman said, in a pitiless voice, "She was a teacher in her own country. What was she doing here?"

Through a friend in the neighborhood I found out that that young father did indeed die, and his widow moved back east, to her family.

As I think about them now, I prefer to imagine that the cashier is a teaching assistant somewhere, if not a teacher; that the survivors of that father have found something wonderful, if not to replace him, but to enrich their lives. And that driven young woman? I like to believe that her name flashes on the screen at the beginning of the TV shows I watch, or at the end of the films I see.

So many stories if we merely open our eyes and ears to perceive them. Then fill in the blanks to suit our own needs.


  1. I didn't think I was gonna read all of this. But, touching stories.

    Each day we come across many people. What might we a great sunny day 4 you or me, a foot away is a dark, cloudy, or worse day for them. And vice versa.

    Peace, Love, Patience, & Understanding. It's what we all need to give each other.

  2. A lovely poem, to those we know and care about from the outside looking in.

  3. My neighbor died not long ago. On the block, we all watched with grief as his health waned. He was only 50 or so. He left behind his wife and teen-aged son. For a while, we didn't know what to say to them. But she recently sent an email. "It's okay to talk to me," she said. "I need to hear your stories about him."

    Your post reminded me of how sometimes people feel alone in their grief, and it can be okay to talk about it even with a relative stranger.

  4. P: Life's a drama.
    And CP, thanks for reading through. After it posted I thought, sheesh, that's a long block of text!

  5. Desiree, grazie. I passed here to read advices about recipes, but I found a touching story :), thanks.

  6. Thanks Italo. We shall return to regularly scheduled programming--

  7. November is my favorite month. Happy Birthday!

  8. Aha! Happy birthday, classy one.

  9. Thanks, ladies :)
    Petrea, I am going to have to embrace that moniker--