My Mother and Me: And Then This Happens….- Laura Davis
Every story, whether it be a novel, a movie or a TV series, begins with an inciting incident—the unanticipated event that forces the protagonist out of their familiar, normal world into a series of ever more difficult challenges that ultimately leads them into the kind of transformation they desperately need. In this excerpt from the beginning of Laura Davis’ new memoir, The Burning Light of Two Stars, you’ll witness the inciting incident that changed everything for Laura, setting her dramatic story into motion. In the prior chapter, Laura burns the cancer notebook she received at the Stanford University Cancer Center, signifying the end of her year of treatment for breast cancer. As that scene ends, Laura is looking forward to a calm and peaceful time with her family—her spouse Karyn and their two young children—with no more toxic surprises.
And then this happens….
Two hours after my ceremony, I tasted my homemade tomato sauce, simmering on the stove, added basil and oregano, a generous pinch of salt. A splash of red wine. Karyn was picking up the kids on her way home from teaching reading at Watsonville High. They’d be home in half an hour.
I was about to drop a handful of spaghetti into a pot of boiling water when the phone rang. It was my mother in New Jersey. We were due for a call; we hadn’t spoken in several weeks. Cradling the phone between my neck and shoulder, I dropped the pasta into the pot, stirred to separate the strands. My glasses fogged with steam. I imagined her, smoking Parliaments, curled up with an afghan on the couch in the den. She’d probably just gotten home from her poetry class or her Shakespeare class or her Course in Miracles study group. I could never track her schedule. I set the timer for thirteen minutes.
“Laurie, I’ve got a surprise for you.”
“Oh yeah?” I was only half listening, maybe a quarter. I opened the fridge, rooted around for salad fixings.
“Why don’t you guess?”
“I dunno, Mom. What’s the surprise?”
“Don’t you want to guess?” I pictured her lighting another cigarette, residue of the day’s lipstick reddening the tip.
“Uh . . . you went to an audition and got a part in a play?”
“No, I’m afraid my acting days are over. Guess again.”
“Just tell me, Mom.”
“Are you sure you want to know?”
“Of course I want to know.”
“Darling, I’ve finally made up my mind.” She paused for effect. “I’m moving to Santa Cruz. I wanted you to be the first to know.”
Blood rushed from my head. I closed the refrigerator. Leaned back against the door. Pictures of the kids and little square art magnets clattered to the floor.
It’s true—years earlier, in a moment of generosity, I had invited Mom to move out to California “when she got old.” We’d talked about it once or twice, but I never thought she’d actually take me up on it. It had been ten years.
“It finally feels like the right time, Laurie. New Jersey just isn’t the same anymore.”
That’s right. Your friends are dying off, going into assisted living, or moving to be close to their children. Oh my God. That’s me. My hand tightened on the phone.
My mother and I had been estranged for years. Yes, we’d forged a shaky peace, but three thousand miles still separated us for a reason. Our reconciliation went only so far.
“I love Santa Cruz. And I love your family.”
“Wow, Mom. That’s amazing. I mean…great…I’m so…happy.”
“Well, that’s good, darling, because I met with the real estate agent today. I’ve put my condo on the market. She says it’s the perfect time to sell a place at the shore.”
I collapsed onto one of the red cushy chairs at our yellow Formica kitchen table, stared at the black-and-white-checkered linoleum. The floor needed a washing.
“Laurie, are you there?”
“Yeah, Mom. I’m here.”
“You still want me, don’t you?”
“Of course I want you. We all want you. It’s just that I never thought you’d actually do it.”
“Well, I’m not getting any younger.”
No, she wasn’t. Mom was eighty years old, and her memory was failing.
“You don’t sound very excited.”
“I am excited. I’m just surprised, that’s all.” How could I possibly be excited? The woman who’d betrayed me at the worst moment of my life was moving to my town. And I was the one who’d invited her.
A beep reverberated in my head and wouldn’t stop. Mom was talking about escrow and how hard it was going to be to pack. But I barely heard her. She was the white noise in the background. I was hovering outside my body, listening to just one voice—the one screaming in my head and taking up every inch of bandwidth: I’ve finally gotten through cancer, and now this? Why the hell didn’t you ask me? How about, Laurie, do you remember that conversation we had ten years ago? I’ve been thinking about it more seriously and wonder if you still think it would be a good idea. For you? For me? For us? For Karyn and the kids? Or how about, Laurie, I know you’re just getting over cancer. Is this a good time for me to move across the country to live in your town?
“. . . my friends told me about this gorgeous mobile home park right at the beach in Santa Cruz. De Anza. Have you heard of it?”
“I’ll go right from one ocean to the other. So, you’ll stop by and talk to the manager?”
“Sure, happy to do that for you.”
I grabbed a brand-new yellow legal pad. It had been months since I’d made a list. What would I have put on it? “Take toxic drugs. Throw up. Smoke pot so you can eat. Grow white blood cells. Watch West Wing reruns. Survive.”
As I wrote “Find Mom a Place to Live: De Anza?” on the pristine yellow page, Mom said, “Gotta run, darling. I promised your aunt Ruth a call tonight.”
She hung up on me.
The timer was still beeping. I looked into the pot. The spaghetti had congealed into a gelatinous mush. I dumped it in the compost and set a fresh pot of water to boil. As I lifted the heavy pot, I knocked my favorite glass off the counter, and it shattered on the floor. The kids were going to walk in at any moment, and they’d be starving.
I swept up the shards and set the table for four, but I couldn’t remember which side the fork was supposed to go on.
Excerpted from The Burning Light of Two Stars (Girl Friday books, 2021) by Laura Davis, available in print, e-book and audiobook wherever books are sold
PAID RECORDED PROGRAM
Unraveling the Mother Knot with Words and Stories: An Online Master Class with Laura Davis
Laura will utilize evocative writing prompts and deep listening to lead you into a deeper understanding of this most primal of relationships: the bond between mothers and their children.
Laura Davis is the author of The Burning Light of Two Stars, the story of her loving yet tumultuous relationship with her mother, and six other non-fiction books, including The Courage to Heal, Allies in Healing, I Thought We‘d Never Speak Again, and Becoming the Parent You Want to Be. Her groundbreaking books have been translated into 11 languages and sold 1.8 million copies. In addition to writing books that inspire and change people’s lives, the work of Laura’s heart is to teach. For more than twenty years, she’s helped people find their voices, tell their stories, and hone their craft. Laura loves creating supportive, intimate writing communities online, in person, and internationally.