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Updated on August 12, 2013


By late January of 2001, mom artfully crafted an alternate existence of prayers and begging, handouts or odd jobs. Come her fifty-eighth birthday, which conversely was also to be her last, the debilitating shock of her homelessness a year previously, had apparently morphed into quasi-acceptance. Indeed, she had evolved into one of those Darwinian isolationists; liberated from society's conventional obligations, yet so alone, that living within her head was the only haven left where she wasn't judged, and would always be accepted.

We spoke frequently via telephone. Throughout our conversations, even until her death a few months later in June, I was capable of respecting a self-articulated promise I'd made to myself; to remain cordial and never again verbally abuse my mother, as I had on Thanksgiving morning, months previously.

A well-constructed network of street confidantes and financially hospitable donors kept her marginally fed, occasionally flipped the bill to have one of her cats spayed, bought batteries for her tiny a.m. radio, etc. The cycle was routine and endless. On more than one occasion I was taken by the ironic duality that no oneis completely immune from bills; not even the homeless.

A young and handsome San Franciscan named Bob, who lived up in the City but worked and played down on the Peninsula, was her biggest fan. He gave mom money and routinely lent his assistance as needed. Mom shared with me that Bob was generous, wealthy, gentle and kind, yet apparently in serious conflict with himself due to the oil-and-vinegar mixings of his deep religious foundations and his hush-hush homosexuality.

For her birthday, he bought my mother an old van, which, although looked dilapidated, had a strong engine, a strong transmission, and a functional heater. It was to be her final birthday. Mom telephoned immediately, sobbing with elation. It certainly wasn't much but finally, after over a year of having had nothing of her own to call shelter, she finally had something; and, yeah, someone actually cared enough about her to help.

That hurt.

However, my initial response was not elation but rather, jealousy! I wasn't relieved or even thankful that my mother finally had some sort of a shelter, but instead envious that a stranger had rectified what was essentially a family obligation. As I concluded, it should have been me who helped out in her time of need, not some arbitrary stranger. If nothing else, my commitments to selfishness and immaturity were unfathomable. Without even realizing it, I'd become so overwhelmed in my disassociation that arrogance and conceit were the only feelings I had left to summon. Although I hid my feelings well at the time, reflecting back I'm amazed that I had the capacity to actually feel anything at all.

A short time later, while alone in my thoughts and high on a ten-year-old bottle of chardonnay, I conceded that the emotional rush I'd experienced wasn't jealousy at all. In three decades of living what was happening to the little boy who once earnestly believed that the world owed him a living, or that those few select individuals with whom Reid Martin Basso came into contact, should have been grateful to be in his presence at all?

Again, as had happened on Thanksgiving morning three months previously, I was compelled to deal with that same new and unfamiliar emotion: guilt.

The monster within me had begun evolving, but certainly wasn't ‘cured' by any means. Through conscious reflection I started constructing what, for so long, had been lacking in my own emotional development; a ‘foundation,' by which I'd someday hold myself accountable and take ownership. Although I was in the wee small hours of ‘maturity,' any solid ‘grounding' of the person I sought to become wouldn't begin to resemble human for at least another few years.

A whole alternate life still awaited me, the introduction of which was poised precariously upon a not so distant horizon. Although I did not know it at the time, I still had a wide collection of intensely adult issues to resolve before any grounding, or maturity was ever to occur. Ultimately, these challenges would be confronted with reserves of strength I could never have believed I possessed. My greatest challenges were not behind me but still ahead; Mom's impending death, numerous job layoffs, a lengthy term of unemployment, a bankruptcy and subsequent loss of nearly all my possessions, deep-rooted sexual addiction and a rocky divorce.

At the time, I dramatized my life ad nauseam. What completely incapacitated me was my insistence upon trying to place elsewhere the blame for my personal misgivings and shortcomings. My decisions were the result of my choices and nobody else's, but I was too blind to see or to admit otherwise. I'd been living the whole Marlene Dietrich scene, wallowing in chaos, feeding on drama, and flatly refusing to accept mistakes, which I alone had crafted. However, the past is the past. Thus, the past is arbitrary, if not completely capricious anyway.

A few months had passed since mom acquired that dilapidated old van. Though we spoke often, I recall one specific conversation in which she seemed unusually strong and content. Spring was in bloom. Warmer nights and relatively longer days gave mom permission to experience a life of her choosing. Homeless or not, she was actually living, not merely going through the stagnant shuffle of some routine, mundane existence. A year and a half previously her eviction absolutely horrified her, but by this point she had adapted and evolved and, whereas her circumstances were still challenging, I can not remember any other time when she was so open-minded and, dare I say, even philosophical in her approach. She mastered the art of puppeteering the friends and the confidantes of her street network. She was good, I must admit, yet she never ‘used' anyone, as she would routinely interject into our conversations. In her homelessness she was liberated, crafting an existence upon which life was lived according to her rules. In doing so, mom did more living than many of the millionaires I know today.

I remember one particularly revealing telephone conversation:

"What about trying to find a man? Doesn't it just get lonely?" Clearly, I was so engrossed in my own quest for enlightenment that I could not comprehend anything. Here I was a completely broken person attempting to offer up advice on how someone else should live.

Irony does love this comedy entitled the human condition.

"God, no!" Her response was automatic and fluid. "I have no need for a man. Men are transient; just like me now." To this she issued one brief, dignified chuckle.

I sat mute. I was simply too ill equipped to provide any answer whatsoever to such a statement; I simply did not have the psychological tools. The awkward silence amplified my apparent stupidity. Indeed, men are inherently stupid creatures anyway.

"You should see all of the artwork I've done. It really is amazing. I'm selling them too. People are buying my sketches and pastels." Mom jump-started the conversation.

"Really?" She had successfully piqued my interest. "You're selling your artwork?"

"Yes, Reid. I do have a master's degree in graphic design, remember?" The sarcasm only served to underscore her entire argument that, indeed, she was independent, didn't need any man, and was navigating life without the necessity of anybody. But as quickly as she spit her barbs, she continued: "I've started a pen and ink study of California's indigenous plants. I'm doing sixty-six to coincide with the number of books in the Bible. I've selected one scripture passage from each of the sixty-six books, which I'll match with one of my pen and ink studies."

She was speaking circles around me. It took me a few moments to summon a response.

"I have a really neat tree in my back yard." I blabbered nonsensically. It was all I could think to say. As soon as I spoke I could feel my lips wanting to be sewn shut. Here she was amid homelessness, still governess of her own destiny, and I was suddenly six years old again, interjecting nonsensical ramblings into an adult's conversation. I continued, nonetheless.

"I planted it a while ago, but I've forgotten its name." I suddenly felt as if I was choking.

"Oh interesting." She chirped, neither sarcastic nor inquisitive, merely a cordial audience.

"Not much to tell, really," I stammered. "It's about five feet high, and has dark berries. The berries never seem to be in season though. I imagine they would be sweet, if ever in season."

Mom chuckled and I did too.

"I can't remember its genus or its name...Sorry." I resigned.

"Well, defining a tree by the fruit it bears is easy, if we're not looking to be filled."

"That's cool. Did you just make that up?" I replied, absorbing what she'd said.

"Actually, I just took a jab at you." Mom's piercing laughter took me aback. However, her laughter ceased abruptly and she suddenly spoke hurriedly. "Reid, give Teagan a kiss for me, okay? I'll call in a few days. I have to go now. Bye." With that said, our call disconnected.

I flopped back on the couch. I remember not caring that when the telephone receiver dropped to the floor it shattered one of my Waterford Crystal wine goblets.

That stain never lifted.

Prior to my blacking out for the evening I can still recall one coherent question echoing about my mind: Mom is homeless...Where the hell did she ‘have to go.' Yeah, clearly, I was so engrossed in my own selfishness that I could comprehend nothing else.

The next morning I immersed myself in a breakfast of cigarettes and coffee. Staring blankly into my backyard, the tree I'd described only one day previously seemed taller and fuller than I had remembered. I was suddenly inspired to write. I tapped a pen upon my chin and struck my most deceiving Ernest Hemmingway pose. Cigarette smoke wrapped around me like a turban and, setting ink to paper, in one spontaneous jaunt, I authored my poetic two cents worth:

Donna Dee awaits, like approaching September skies; Grey as steel on eviction day. Staring for hours, a window sill cat, hers is a world of yesterdays and make-believes, of "let's-pretend's," and "might-have-been's."

Someone's sister; but never close. Someone's daughter; but now the parents each have died. Someone's mother; though long ago the child fled, just to "save the world."

Sometimes the ones who have it most together, are those appearing completely out of control. Sometimes that straight and narrow path, intersects the junctions of both Wall and Easy Streets...

Only now is ‘Simplicity' realized. And, only now does seeking forgiveness translate into simple begging.

Not once the thousand kindred spirits, nor Horsemen, four, Apocalyptic souls, could ever have foreseen the fate awaiting, Donna Dee, who waits herself, like a windowsill cat, a homeless stray, beneath fast-approaching, September skies, which long have since turned grey...

In the final years of her life mom had always been disturbingly thin. A precarious cocktail of cats, Christ, veganism, torturous exercise, and anorexia-bulimia kept her hovering somewhere around a hundred and ten pounds. On the day she died, the death certificate reflected a death weight of only eighty-nine pounds. Most likely, in a skewed sort of way, she would have been proud of that.

Upon viewing her body, the funeral home's inner parlor was dimly lit and smelled of iodine. One needn't look too closely to acknowledge that regular dusting had been neglected for quite some time. No make up, no flowers, a simple linen wrap and devoid entirely of any frills or glamour whatsoever; it was the perfect non-ceremonious resolution to a pauper's demise. She was finally at rest; yet, even in the solitude of death, she stubbornly refused to look completely at peace. The mortician had inadvertently arranged mom's facial features in such a way that she appeared to be smirking. Additionally, one eyelid had opened ever so slightly, which when complimented by her sly grimace, suggested that, even in death, the entire circumstance was ridiculous to her.

Down from the rafter, one soft light silhouetted mom's lifeless body. Finally, in death, she had captured the spotlight and commanded it all for herself. It was the elusive center stage which she'd pursued throughout her entire existence. Those long since evaporated daydreams of Broadway fame and of Hollywood notoriety and of holding court before a captive Carnegie Hall audience were all finally realized. It was now the final day of production for a production which had run, uninterrupted, fifty-eight seasons. True, throughout my mother's entire fifty-eight year run there had been numerous false starts, unrehearsed or forgotten lines, and far too many awkward entrances to count, but it was now her final curtain call and, contemptuous grimace and all that went with it, she basked in that spotlight's glow.

Does anybody ever really have enough time to say farewell to a loved one anyway?

I stood over her and cried for what seemed like a very long while. Eventually, I whispered my love into her ear and then gently kissed her forehead. My attention was immediately drawn to the refrigeration of her tautened skin. Had I been cerebral, I am certain that I would have been thoroughly disgusted. After clipping a lock of hair, we said our farewells. I made a point of not turning around again. In doing so, the final memory of my dead mother, lying still beneath that center stage spotlight, is her strong, poetic hands.

Mom's death was as humble as the existence she had crafted throughout her homelessness, as well as those few years leading up to eviction day.

No matter how much time I borrowed, or final good-byes I spent, I'm certain that just a little more time could easily have been stolen, perhaps.


/ / / / END OF PART SIXTEEN / / / /


© 2007 - R. MARTIN BASSO


Part 17 - The Lord Is Close To Those Whose Hearts Are Breaking.


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