Nora barely glanced at it; she was too busy watching Ruby. “What is it?”
Ruby backed up, stepped alongside her suitcase.
“Read it," she said dully.
With a little shrug, Nora pulled the table close.
“I need my glasses …” She peered down at the paper squinting.
In the interest of full disclosure, I must tell you that I was paid to write this article. Paid handsomely, as they say in the kind of restaurants where a person like me can’t afford to order a dinner salad. Enough so that I could trade in my beat-up Volkswagen Bug for a slightly less beat-up Porsche.
I should also tell you that I dislike my mother. No, that’s not true. I `dislike the snotty salesclerk who works the night shift at my local video store.
I hate my mother.
Nora looked up sharply.
Ruby was crying now, so hard her cheeks were bright pink and her shoulders were trembling. “It’s article for C-Cache” magazine."
Nora drew in a sharp, gasping breath. She knew was all in her eyes-the stinging betrayal, the achy sadness … and yes, the anger. “How could you?”
Ruby clamped a hand over her mouth, grabbed the suitcase, and ran out of the house.
As if from a great, unbreachable distance, Nora heard the car start up and speed away, sputter: through loose gravel.
It was quiet once more.
Nora tried not to look at the yellow pages, their scrawled blue words marching across the lines, but she couldn’t help herself. Those horrible hateful words leapt out at her.
I hate my mother.
She took a deep, deep breath, then looked down again. Her hands were shaking as she lifted the pad began to read.
The story of us starts a dozen years ago, in a few of you have ever seen: the San Juan Islands in Washington State.
It was only a few sentences later that Nora began to cry.
Ruby made it all the way to the end of the driveway, then she slammed on the brakes.
She was running away again, but there was nowhere to hide on this one, no way past except through.
She’d done a terrible, selfish thing, and she owed more to her mother than an empty house.
She put the minivan in reverse and backed down the driveway Parking, she walked down the path, through the fragrant garden, and out to the edge of the bank. he would have gone to sit on her favorite rock, but her mother couldn’t get there on crutches.
She wanted to be seen. When Mom finished the article, she would undoubtedly head for the porch; it was her favorite place. Then she would see her daughter, sitting out on the edge of the property.
She sat down on the grass. It was a beautiful summer’s day. The islands were an endless mosaic of color–blue, blue sky, green forested land, silver, choppy sea.
She lay back on the grass and closed her eyes. The air smelled sweetly of grass and salt, of her childhood.
She knew she would remember this day for the rest of her life, and probably at the oddest times-when was elbow-deep in sudsy water; washing the dinner she’s. In the shower; with the sweet, citrusy scent of her mother’s favorite shampoo all around her; or holding the babies she prayed someday to have. At times like that, she would remember this moment, and all the others that had led up to it. In a very real way, this would be the beginning of her adult life; everything that grew afterward would be planted in the soil If what she and her mother said to each other right here.
She wondered if she would ever get over her shame, or if she would carry it with her always, the way she’d once been weighed down by anger.
Now Ruby would be the one sending gifts across the miles, leaving phone messages on machines, waiting, forever waiting, for an answer.
Ruby opened her eyes and saw her mother standing beside her. She was leaning awkwardly forward on her crutches. The sun haloed her auburn hair in brightness.
Ruby jackknifed up. “Mom,” she whispered, finding that her throat was too tight to say anything more.
“I’m glad you came back. You can’t get away from me so easily on an island, I guess.”
Mom tossed the crutches aside and knelt slowly onto the grass, then sort of fell sideways into a sitting position. She set the article on her lap and stared down at it. The curled edges fluttered in the soft breeze. “I read every word you wrote about me, and I have to admit, it broke my heart.”
Ruby wanted to curl up and die. She considered how far they’d come, she and her mom, the winding, shaded road that had taken them from then to now, and she ached for what her selfishness had wrought. If not for the article, Ruby would be laughing right now, telling her mother about the night before. Maybe they would have talked about ridiculous, girly things like wedding rings and bridesmaids and flower arrangements.
“I’m so ashamed,” she said. “I knew those words would hurt you. In the beginning, that’s what I wanted to do.”
“I would give anything to take it all back.”
Nora smiled sadly. “The truth always hurts, Ruby. It’s a law of nature, like gravity.” She glanced out at the Sound. “When I read your article, I saw myself. That doesn’t seem like much, but I’ve spent a lifetime running away from who I am and where I came from. I never trusted anyone enough to be myself. When I started my advice column, I knew people wouldn’t like me, so I made up Nora Bridge, a woman they could trust and admire, and then I tried to live up to that creation. But how could I? The mistakes I’d made-the woman I really was-kept me on the outside all the time, looking in at my own life.” She looked at Ruby again. “But I trusted you.”
Ruby squeezed her eyes shut. “I know.”
“I was right to trust you, Ruby. I knew it when I finished reading. You listened and you wrote, and when it was over you’d revealed me. From the girl who hid under the stairs, to the woman who hid behind the metal bars of a mental institution, to the woman who stood behind a microphone.” She smiled. “To this woman, who isn’t hiding now. You made me see me.”
"I know I gave away all your secrets, but I’m not going to publish the article. I won’t do that to you.
“Oh, yes you are.”
Ruby wasn’t surprised that her mother didn’t believe her. “I’m making you a promise. I won’t deliver it.”
Nora leaned forward, took Ruby’s hands in hers, and held them tightly. "I want you to publish this article. It’s a beautiful, powerful portrait of who we are, and it shows who we can be, both of us. It shows how love can go wrong, and how it can find its way back to the beginning if you believe in it. What you wrote… it isn’t a betrayal, Ruby. Maybe it started Out that way, but why shouldn’t it have? We had a long, long road to walk. And at the end of it, what I saw was how much you love me.
Ruby swallowed hard. “I do love you, Mom. And I’m so sor-”
“Sshh, no more of that. We’re family. We’re going to trample all over each other’s feelings now and again. That’s the way it’s supposed to be.” Nora’s eyes were bright with unshed tears. “And now, we’re going to go inside and call your agent. I’m appearing on Sarah Purcell with you.”
"No way. They’ll eat you alive.
“Let ”em. I’ll be holding my daughter’s hand for strength. They can’t hurt me any more, Ruby. And I’m itching to fight back."
Ruby stared at her mother in awe. She was doing it again, changing before Ruby’s eyes. She had a sudden glimpse of yet another woman altogether. “You’re amazing.”
Nora laughed. “It took you long enough to notice.”
I had my fifteen minutes of fame, and amazingly, when the clock struck the quarter hour, I was still famous. My mother and I had become, it seems, symbols that the world wasn’t on such a fast and ugly track, after all. It makes sense, when you think about it. We live in a time when the evening news is laden with one depressing story after another.
Sadly, none of it surprises us anymore. We sit in our living rooms, on our plush sofas that a decade’s affluence has allowed us to purchase, and we shake our heads at the stories. Sometimes-boldly-we turn off the news or change the channel What we rarely do is a. why. Who has declared that murder is more news worthy than the heartwarming story of an elderly woman who delivers Meals-on-Wheels to local AIDS sufferers?
But, as Dennis Miller says, I’m off on a rant like It’s just that I have seen firsthand that celebrity is not the utopia I’d imagined, and it has made me question my interpretations of the world around me. people have more money … and less freedom; they have more choices. . and less honesty. Everything is a trade-off. And when we let the media choose our heroes for us, we are lost already.
What Mom and I discovered was that we are not as isolated-any of us-as we believe. People want good news as well as bad, and they loved the story of my redemption. Girl hates mother … girl learns to love mother … girl gives up career to keep from breaking her mother’s heart.
People loved it. They loved me.
But most of all, they loved my mother. They heard the story of her whole life, laid Out before them like a novel, and they cheered at what she had overcome. She became something more than a celebrity … she became one of them. An ordinary woman, and surprisingly, it made her more famous and more beloved.
I listen to her on the radio now, and I hear the responses. Every now and then she gets an angry caller, who labels her a hypocrite and a loser for abandoning her children.
The old Nora Bridge, I think, would have fallen apart at such a personal and accurate attack. No more. Now, she listens and agrees, and then goes on, talking about the gift of mistakes and the miracle of family. She hopes that people will learn from her bad choices. And she wraps that spell around them, the one only she can spin, and by the end of the show, her listeners are reaching for tissues and thinking about how to find their way back to their own families. The smart ones are reaching for the telephone.
There’s no substitute for talking to the people you love. Thinking about them, dreaming about them, wishing things were different … all of these are the beginning. But someone has to make the first move.
I guess that’s one of the things I learned this summer but it’s not the most important; it’s not the thing I will hold close and pass on to my own daughter when the time is right. The truths I gathered on Summer Island were so easy; they were lying right there on the grass. I should have tripped over them. I would have, if only I Would have opened my eyes.
As mothers and daughters, we are connected with one another. My mother is in the bones of my spine, keeping me straight and true. She is in my blood, making sure it runs rich and strong. She is in the beating of my heart.
I cannot now imagine a life without her.
I know how precious time is. I learned this from my friend, Eric. Sometimes, when I close my eyes, I see him as he once was, laughing, standing at the bow of his sailboat, looking forward to the rest of his life. I hear his voice in the wind, I feel his touch in the rain, and I remember …
Life is short. And I know that when Eric loses his battle with cancer I will find the missing of him unbearable. I will reach for the phone then and call my mother, and her voice will bring me back to myself A daughter without her mother is a woman broken. It is a loss that turns to arthritis and settles deep in her bones. This I know now.
I left Los Angeles as a hard, bitter cynical young woman with a huge chip on her shoulder. On Summer Island, I became complete. And it was all so easy. I see that now.