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The things you love

Now you have them, now you don't


Just my luck. The sun is out in Zurich, so that means I must stumble around clutching my eyes to keep my corneas from being cremated. I probably have a hundred million sets of sunglasses, but I lost my most beloved pair recently, and out of mourning I'm keeping a naked-eyeball vigil or something, because I never seem to remember to bring any of the others on my travels. Bad move, because in Zurich they have expansive plazas laid with light-colored concrete that reflect the sun like space-age lasers aimed straight for your face.

"My eyes!" I'm shrieking, and you'd think I'd draw attention to myself, but I am not the only one shrieking.

I don't even know how I lost them, my sunglasses. How I got them, though, I remember that. They were in a big bin in a liquor store in downtown Las Vegas under a sign that said, "Your Pick: $1." I dove in, figuring I could find some great fat-Elvis glasses to bring back to Daniel and Grant. You know, the kind with chunky metal rims around mammoth lenses the color of old TV screens. We love stuff like that, especially if it's only a buck. We're nothing if not stylish, I say.

But there were no fat-Elvis glasses to be found that day. Instead I walked away with a pair of plastic Jackie O glasses that were dark enough and large enough to protect vampires from the noonday sun. "This is great," I said as I walked out of the place, "I can hardly see anything." I much prefer this method of sightlessness, because the other way -- to be blinded by the light -- is tons more painful.

So I loved those things. They had survived so much. Mae once used them as a teething ring before I figured out what she was chewing on and coaxed her with the plastic cap from a Starbucks cup in exchange. That incident later proved fortuitous after I left them at a taverna in Isla Mujeres. I had the proprietor snatch them right off the face of the waiter's girlfriend after identifying the baby teeth marks on the frames.

So, after all they'd been through, you'd think their disappearance would have been accompanied by some fanfare or something. But no, nothing. I simply had them one minute and didn't the next, but isn't that always how it is with the things you love? You lose them and it hurts ("My eyes!"), but then eventually the rest of your life seeps in and seals the grooves, like cake batter in a Bundt pan. Still, though, it's funny when you think of the things we cling to.

Like I remember the day we took my mother to Tijuana. "My purse," she rasped as we made our way to the car. "I need my purse." She didn't need her purse, not in any physical sense anyway. She probably hadn't even looked inside it for months, not since the last time she left the house. Our destination was a clinic where, for $5,000 a day, Haitian doctors administered a cancer treatment unapproved in the U.S. By then my mother was so close to death she literally looked like a corpse except for the laborious breathing, and for the fact that she was clutching her purse. "I am not a cadaver to be stared at," she exuded. "I am a normal person with a purse."

She clung to that conviction until a few days later, when my sister and I rigged a wheelchair to take her outside. Just our luck, the sun was out and the exterior of the clinic was paned in two-way mirrors. The glare practically blinded us. It was painful in so many ways. We had to rush to a shaded area right next to the wall -- the mirrored wall. It had probably been months since my mother had last seen her reflection, and in that time her deterioration had been rapid. Looking in the mirror that day, watching my mother watch herself, I saw the precise moment she conceded reality; I saw her face deflate and her eyes widen with defeat. My favorite sunglasses would have come in handy then. "Take these," I would have told her. "You'll hardly see anything."

But I didn't have them to give her, and when we ran out of money soon afterward, we had to take her home. "Don't forget your purse," I called as I followed the gurney. She weakly waved her hand dismissively. "I don't need it," she was saying. She died, as it so happens, in my arms. It's not as romantic as it sounds. At the time, I was helping her sit upright in bed because her breathing had become difficult, and I didn't expect her to die right then, but she did. Her last words, spoken about 15 minutes earlier, were used to request a cigarette. There was no moment of repose in which she gathered us about her bed to bestow words of wisdom. No fanfare. Nothing. I simply had her one minute and didn't the next, but isn't that always how it is with the things you love?

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