My mother loved the boardwalk. A few months before her death, she and Dad walked it with us, so we could check out the craft fair. She pointed out a lamp ring, encouraging me to buy it along with an essential oil to pour into the circular channel.
-This thing is wonderful! When the bulb heats up, the oil dissipates and the air smells like–Night Queen!
-Yes, you must smell it.
I did, and almost bought it on the spot. But—what if I liked another oil better? I didn’t always have to like exactly what my mom liked.
I smelled oils. I smelled oils and oils and oils. Determined as I was to find my own scent, I forsook them all for the Night Queen. We were not surprised. Linking arms, we walked lightly across the boards to our husbands and toward my home.
Two years later, I sat in that house surrounded by pictures of my mother. When the medium had recommended I try to connect with Mom before our phone session, I knew what I had to do. I removed the lampshade in the living room and doused that ceramic ring with Night Queen.
“Your mom is saying something about an oil? Does that mean something to you?”
My heart went into a clamor.
“What—kind of oil?” I breathed, somehow hoping against my greatest hope that she would say “Oh, vegetable oil. Canola.”
But she didn’t. “Seems like—an essential oil? She thanks you for the oil. And there was something about you choosing it. She’s happy.”
I’m happy too. I was a little mad at her that day—I had wanted to like my own oil. But I will never have my own chin, or my own pinky finger, my own voice, or my own essential oil. The day I gave in and chose Night Queen on the boardwalk we talked about coming back to the fair every year, into our old age. She would live to be quite old because her mother did, and we’d buy a mother-daughter in Long Beach and all live together. She would stay on the first floor because she’d be older. We’d walk the boardwalk every evening to stay alive as long as possible. My mother and I would grow old together on that boardwalk, so old we’d hardly hear the planks plunk-plunking slowly, then quickly plink-plinking as younger, faster people passed us by. We’d be happy just to rest on a bench and smell the salt, and when she finally died (because we were prepared for that) we’d have sat on so many benches that I’d have to have one installed in her honor.
It makes sense to me that a new boardwalk is being built. I’m not sure if I’ll want to grow old here, without my mother to stay for and walk with. But if I do, it will be a new path I walk. Not the one I had planned out, not the one I thought I knew and believed I’d keep.
When the construction meets my street, I will try not to pine for the past or the future as I run, bike, and walk with my friends and my love. We will tell stories of the old boardwalk, for sure, of moms and dads and grandparents and kisses and proposals and weddings. Steve’s first night in New York was whiled away under those original planks. We salvaged some, and plan to incorporate pieces into a wall of our house, so we can touch it and remember.
But the new boardwalk will be 2.1 miles of in the moment. It will know—we will all know—that it only stands as long as it stands. Like all we hold dear.
Sometimes I have the urge to go to Map My Run and look at my old maps—I ran the boardwalk to Magnolia, now National, now Edwards, now Riverside….I want to trace what was, what I did. I want to go back and run every mile again, and wave to the memory of my mother at the Night Queen stand as I pass.
For I think there will be room for ghosts on the new boardwalk. Mom will walk beside the 1920s ladies with their parasols, looking equally proper but feeling the wild pull of the sea. It will draw me back one day when I am dead, an irresistible riptide.
But that is for then. This is for now. The only plan I have is to feel the pull. The pull and the power, the sea effortlessly pushing and pulling us into the moment as it did on the day of the storm. I write this from a place of high anxiety, and I ask the waves to push me out of the fear for our future. I am stuck in seaweed and muck, surrounded by jellyfish of the mind.
I ask the boardwalk to extend to my heart, and offer me a walkway steady and strong. When you do reach my block, may you find me in the present, at peace.