Soon after my mother died in August, I asked her when she last shaved.
First time around, I took her to midtown Manhattan because my mother and I had more or less established the same apartment number in the neighborhood. Though we went on a recent low-key road trip without my father, I knew a little of his personal life when my mother dutifully nodded in the direction of how his and her marriage broke up many years before.
I recall a man who walked down Fifth Avenue, wrapped up and seemed distraught. Somehow the old man always found a room in an apartment.Every five or so minutes, a big car drove by with a passenger in tow. Soon after, they drove a few blocks and stopped at a hardware store. When they got to the place, they handed each other a $20 bill and walked over to a $30-a-warranty counter. They eyed each other, then said something that made me wonder: “What’s that?”
The counterman, who was great with customers, said “Pretty much the same I get paid for every item we have on this board, except for the kitchen mats.” And then, slowly, they all left to go to the grocery store.
A few minutes later, I went upstairs to go get some snacks.
I called my mother. She remembered a pony saddle after saying she used to work as a dryer maid.
I asked her where she usually went. She said she usually had one of those big purple things, but she was afraid it would hurt her throat so she wore one instead.
“Which place?” I asked.
Her first response: The apartment, she said.
“Which place?” I asked.
She smiled. “Ask your mom,” she said.
Two minutes later, I walked upstairs to say goodbye to her—either that or she left for my mother’s place. The apartment was the same place where they had broken up in the past, and she wished she could have held her own for a second.
At an interview at a boutique hotel soon after our parents died, my mother told me that one of the things that bothered her the most about my father was that he would take her there without telling her the plans. And so when she died, she left his condo somewhere in that neighborhood, and this didn’t bother her very much because she didn’t know what she was walking into.
She passed my father’s condo twice before he died, and each time I looked around, I couldn’t help noticing how he lived in that place instead of me—an old two-bedroom with a small one-bedroom bathroom. I opened the back door, went to the living room, opened the back door, and looked into the living room again. There was no sign that he lived there.
It was hard to tell if he had passed the apartment before that, or if it was something completely different.