“Your mother is in the hospital,” Frankie says. “Cedars emergency room.” Cedar Sinai Hospital, just on the eastern Beverly Hills border, and a good 20 minutes away at this time of day.
So the hammer drops in judgment. As I’ve been sitting here thinking about orange powders and bad boyfriends and all I need to do, my mother took an ambulance to an emergency room. At the very least she’s frightened, and I don’t want to imagine the worst. I can only hope she’ll be okay.
I just stare at Frankie and can’t formulate the words to ask for more information. I can wonder, and imagine possibilities, but they’re all just fictional story lines for now. Once I hear the actual words, crushing, her health status, my innocence will be lost forever and I’ll need to deal with whatever medical emergency in which my mother is already fully immersed. I scan the rows of potted makeup and suddenly only want a cup of hot coffee. Would the caffeine jolt wake me up or am I still just trying to escape facing crisis? As if I don’t have a lot already going on.
But my mother isn’t getting any younger and her health has been getting progressively worse. She worked so hard, raising me and my brother, and never took time for much of anything else. The clichés pile up but, you know what, many women so slog through life, sacrificing all for others, usually their kids. And what do we pay back in return? We blow glittery powder into the air.
Oh God, I feel horrible. Still, I just stare at Frankie. She’s so tiny, only about 5’1, and all I can recall ever seeing her eat are almonds and unpeeled carrots. Yes, her skin tone is slightly orange from so much beta carotene, but we counter that tinge with the right foundation and her lifestyle gets wiped away. So much in life gets brushed under even more elaborate carpets. Makeup is one of the more honest masks.
This morning, Frankie is wearing some crazy gauzy dress, white and billowing, with a link silver belt around her tiny waste. Her ginger hair is in tone with her carrot skin and she studies me, biting her lip, and kohl lined brown eyes clearly worried. I feel the same but maybe more panicked.
“Well?” I ask, not able to muster more. Frankie just stares back and I watch her eyes scan my haphazard stacks of products. Everything before me is literally a mess.
So I smile. I learned that once, as a child. When everything falls apart just smile. That response surprises people and they back off. Show weakness and…well…I won’t finish that sentence. I’m too vulnerable right now.
“My mom…?” I ask, pleading. I love my mom. The morning sun has ripened to noon-time glare and I watch my skinny assistant who just stares back, hers eyes blinking like crazy butterflies. I hear the traffic outside.
“She had a stroke,” Frankie says, and the sentence stands.
“And?” I whisper. I’m still kneeling on my leather chair. My knees hurt and I really need to run away but can’t. Let her be alive. Let her be okay. My brother is up in Silicon Valley and works even more than I do so I know he isn’t with her. Is she alone or did she find a friend to drag along? Or did that friend drag her instead? My assistant has been answering the phones I’ve been ignoring so I wait for her insights. Did my mother try to call, desperate? No, Frankie knows to always put mom through.
“She’s probably okay,” Frankie finally replies. “The hospital gave her whatever medication they give people who’ve had a stroke,” Frankie continues, and I watch her pause and breathe, her words still registering. Probably okay? Thank God. Who took her to the hospital? Is she frightened?
But I don’t ask and instead grab my handbag then run for the door, cell in my other hand. I want comfort, someone to tell me things will be okay. I want to call Brad but we’re in a fight and getting through to him is always a crapshoot anyway. Why did we have to argue today? My brother? Ron will at least always take my call though he gets so into his own world I often wonder if his time is worth the hassle. Well, he needs to know.
“Has anyone spoken to Ron?” I ask but Frankie just shrugs. Ron scares her so she just avoids him. As if life were so easy; but I do let her get away with it. I have a meeting this afternoon with my manufacturer of the new line. They’ve been kicking up a fuss about manufacturing timetables, shipments sizes and Christmas. I need to be back to deal with them, regardless of any medical emergency. My future is on the line here. Life doesn’t wait for us but rather demands that we meet whatever crazy schedule it decides to inflict.
“I’ll return by early afternoon,” I start, a hopeful statement given Los Angeles traffic and the reality that my mother might have almost just died. “Don’t cancel anything.” And I head to the door, dialing Ron. I get voicemail and tell him what happened. He should fly down here.
My big brother recently founded an educational software startup in Silicon Valley and his investors have him running full speed, with barely time to speak. It’s his first time starting something, after having worked for companies a little bit further down the growth path for years. Brad found me my code writer for my new line and provides ongoing strategic and emotional strength. That’s the role big brothers fill; or at least mine does.
At 5’10 he’s a few inches taller than me but he’s always been bigger as a human being, and more mature. Somehow I can’t seem to catch up. He looks like an elongated version of me, with the same green with a touch of hazel eyes and a dotting of freckles across his nose. His hair veers to golden brown while mine gets highlighted to golden with softer streaks. And while my smile is straight and reserved, his is lopsided and more of a wide grin. People warm to him.
I’ll be glad to see him, despite the circumstances, I think as I get in my very old Audi and turn the key. All my money goes back into Muse.
Soon, I’m on the 10 Freeway and speeding to Cedars, through Beverly Hills and into the denseness of the city. Traffic, streets, cars and people, all in that hazy grey mishmash of colors that characterize most modern cities. I’ve known these streets my whole life. The lighting here is perfect for movies, neither exactly soft nor light but rather direct. It was chosen as a base for the Hollywood apparatus for a reason. Things look better on film here, a combination of weather and geography but also that perfect desert lighting.
I was born here and increasingly that’s becoming the norm as we no longer have an inflow of migrants as was the case when I was a child and in the minority (being native born). My birth family reflected that oddity, with dad an Angelino and my mom London born. Their union tied her to these sandy beaches and not the rainy shores across the Atlantic and a world away.
The city’s fortunes have ebbed now, and more broken dreams are washed in by local waves than are never ending promise and instant stardom. But that isn’t the narrative I know and choose to tell. We all create fictions here and turn them into polished media, seducing the world with visions of stars splashed across Hollywood Boulevard, camera lights flashing.
That the reality can be different is of little matter to someone who creates paints of camouflage and potions designed to hide a woman’s flaws and enhance her beauty. My mom taught me the basics.
And how my mother struggled, with two small children, and alone. Far from home and family (not that they would have helped). She’s pretty, still, more so than I am. Her eyes are wide, spaced a little too far apart but ever so glamorous. Defined cheekbones and a delicate jaw, set her perfectly angled face. With always red lips and a tiny nose, she sold her cosmetics and beauty tricks with a smile from a succession of stores. Bullocks on Wilshire, Neimans, Saks and finally Nordstrom. She even met Estee Lauder when her ultimate boss came in and out of stores, touching customers and pushing product. Like Frankie, my mother is tiny. I inherited my father’s somewhat greater height, as did Ron, and so we tower above her.
She’s so feminine and quite a lovely presence, as her customers always told me when I did homework hidden behind her counter. “Grow up to be a lovely lady like your mom,” they would tell me and hand me a quarter. I always wondered why she never married again. Broken? Her butterfly wings more willing to carry the burden of two demanding children but less so to lighten that load by risking her heart again?
I’ve watched her get older, bones beginning to show through thinner skin and the veins getting bluer and more distinct. But at least her blood was flowing and I could hope that she’d be there, always, for me. And not just this bullshit about always being there in my heart. Her eyes have changed from vivid blue to an icier version while her hair has faded to nothingness. But she kept her job, selling Estee when there was no longer an Estee, just the brand and all it connoted.
I exit the 10 onto La Cienega and keep driving through traffic and strip mini malls. The cars move slowly and the weather is just so hot, pushing 80 degrees when what we really need is rain. Our hills are a burnished gold and more than a few have burst into uncontrollable flames over the past weeks. I keep moving forward, toward the looming towers of Cedars and my mom, ignoring a falafel shop and the monstrous Beverly Center and its stories upon stories of shops.
In the hospital lot I find a spot and park. Then I sit and cradle my face in my hands, gathering my courage to face what I’ll see inside. Of course, as in a movie, given that this is Los Angeles, my phone rings just then and it’s Ron.
“I’m at Cedars and about to go in to see her. I’ll call you after?” I say and he agrees. Then I exit the car, still in my jeans and absolutely not ready for what I’m about to face, then head to the hospital proper. Is my mother really mostly okay or am I in for a shock? Brad has been silent all day but I can do without him. For now and for always. Unfortunately, my potential investors have been silent as well and I’m at a total loss regarding what my future holds. Especially how much it will include my mother.
And I’m feeling that discomfort which always signals something bigger. I’ve missed a key factor and something else isn’t right. But how can I focus on that now?