Somebody rang my phone at 2:30 am this morning. It was a wrong number but it took me a long time to go back to sleep. Memories started parading by and it occurred to me that unless I wrote some of them down they will be lost in a decaying pile of past events too far gone for identification, much like the old movies that get lost in some Hollywood warehouse.
When you are our age there are so many events struggling for dwindling memory space. However, some memories are iconic and losing them diminishes the value of one’s personal journey. The introductory opening to what I consider my current stage of life is the movie that played first in these wee hours.
It started when I came back from Denver to Taos late in September 2005 after helping my mom wrap up the sale of her home of 59 years. Of course, there was a lot more to it than that, and all the connected pieces bobbed to the surface at once. This Habitat for Humanity house that PQ and I live in now was then still under construction and before leaving for Denver, I struggled to acquire a few more of the required hours of labor by painting the inside of all the closets and corners and edges in both bedrooms. I hurried but didn’t have time to start the living room. I sensed that I wouldn’t have another chance to work on my house for an indefinite period of time. Since there wasn’t any running water yet, I brought a bucket of water along to rinse the brushes. This simple event clings to my memory even though the facts are trivia.
I can still feel the rocks in my stomach, as I headed out to take on the unavoidable monster of change, a dragon that dwelt on the other side of this big mountain that I was in no condition to climb. PQ’s father, Joe J. Suazo, whom we all called dad had just been admitted to Holy Cross Hospital. We all knew it was serious. He barely recognized his dear friend Diane, who made a special trip back to Taos to see him, and as I looked through the window behind him at the colorful Taos sunset, I found myself praying that I would make it back before he passed. Then I left for Denver.
Mom’s move was everything I dreaded it would be plus a few things I didn’t anticipate. We only had three weeks to undo 59 years of memory and accumulation. After that loomed the task of setting her up in her new digs. I took the two cats along because I knew the stay would be indefinite. I had some help here and there from my Cousins, but they had other things to attend, like jobs and families. I wasn’t ready for this ordeal but as an only child, I was automatically responsible for this project. Have you ever noticed that life changes don’t come in orderly progression but pile up like snow on an avalanche prone mountainside?
Next came a blur of disorganized memory clips. One was the yard sale with sadly disappointing results due to changes in the neighborhood during the 14 years since holding a similar sale before my move to Taos. Mom had a lot of nice stuff, but not many buyers came to this sale. We ended up leaving most of her belongings in the garage for the new owners to dispose of as they pleased. In Taos, I still lived in the small old Adobe Casita on Upper Ranchitos and certainly couldn’t afford to move this stuff to Taos and rent storage space. Thankfully, mom decided to rent a storage space in Denver so that I would have some needed furniture when my Habitat house was finished.
My dear friend Rachel helped clean mom’s two refrigerators and the a freezer full of five-year-old peaches and long expired items bought on sale for a future that never came. We took items from old cabinets, closets and storage sheds, carried what seemed like hundreds of trash bags to the street for trash pickup, and found a seller of used books willing to go through a library that contained lots of mom's Christian literature that he didn’t take, and lots of books that I had collected before leaving home. In the desperation of a time crunch, I had to let many things go that I once looked forward to someday owning. Among these was a collection of National Geographic magazines dating back to 1949. At one time the basement flooded and I took the pages apart one by one to save them. But this time I had to let go and leave them to an unknown fate.
I drew a furniture layout for her new apartment, and with the help of my cousin’s husband and grandson, moved her in. Then I met the movers at the old place to deal with everything that went to storage.Forgive me if I brag about how well I planned out her new apartment, it was one of the few things that came out right and gave me the courage to keep going.
I’m just now recalling what it was like going through many files and desk drawers for anything that might be important. Several times, I suffered brain freeze in the presence of years of accumulated papers. After that came the task of setting up new accounts and closing old ones. I got a cell phone for mom so that we could stay in touch with each other and all the people involved in both the move and setting up the new apartment.
Mom’s old house lay on half an acre of land, with a garage, a full basement, an attic and three outbuildings full of dad’s tools, mowers, power tools and junk that he thought he might have use for someday. While cleaning out the garage I discovered that if dad couldn’t find a tool he bought another one. There were multiple screwdrivers, hammers, saws and blades, plus canning jars in half a dozen places full of screws and nails of every size. To complicate things, our restless relatives tended to leave furniture and other items that didn’t fit in their current abode with mom and dad to store until needed in a time that never came, and then there were grandma’s things that no one had gone through since she passed.
My cats had a nervous breakdown. This house had always been their home away from home and as sure as if a tornado struck it was coming apart. Rugs were jerked from under them, their favorite chairs suddenly disappeared and strange loud men stomped through the house carrying frightful boxes. I decided to sacrifice the bed in my old bedroom to the new owners because it was the only place left for Joe and Missy to hide. Missy never fully recovered from this kitty hell. She went down rapidly afterwards, lost weight, looked scraggly and started peeing on the carpet when we got back to our Taos casita. Both of them were edgy about every move I made for a long time. Now I can admit that I felt just as devastated as they did. Like small children, animals act out the true state of things.
My life's original skin was peeling away and my emotions were in the turmoil of fear, grief and ecstasy. It was a kind of death and reincarnation experience, but not a gentle one. Remembering this time, I can now see that every scene was a hologram of my entire life and I chose this theme to write about because it chose me last night.
Finally, we all moved over to the new apartment. I remember that night feeling like the strange calm after a disaster when you discover that you are still alive and it’s time to give thanks and start over. We stopped at a pet store on the way to the new apartment and I purchased a kitty bed and some catnip to put under the new bed. Mom held Missy on her lap while I was in the store. They always got along well and I could see that it was comforting to both of them. Joe crouched in a corner of the van, eyes wide with fear and confusion. Finally, it was over. Oops, not quite! Although I’d mentioned it several times, mom forgot to leave the old house keys for the new owners. After dropping off her and the cats, I had to go back to the old house and place its key under the front door mat.
The next night Linda called to say I’d better get back to Taos as soon as possible. Dad, (Joe J. Suazo) was beginning his final journey. When I arrived in Taos, I dropped the cats off at the casita and drove immediately to PQ’s house on the reservation where Mom and Dad had been staying since he left the hospital. However, he’d already asked the family to take him to the pueblo house to make his transition to the mountain. When I arrived there, he was no longer conscious but his spirit filled the room surrounding the friends and family gathered in that ancient living room.
Two transitions emerged on this sleepless night, and now that I’ve honored the process and memory, it occurs to me that there are micro lives within the life of one being. Perhaps it is an illusion that there is even a single life. There are so many changes from infancy to old age. Only the chain of memory holds them together so that we can tell our stories.