The bald and stocky Lyft driver hops out of his Jeep and with one swift motion takes charge of my medium-sized bag by tossing it easily into the trunk. He quickly gets back into the car while I slide onto the back seat. Wearing a distressed denim vest, my driver taps on his phone as my eyes trace his sleeve tattoos.
“Where are you from?” he asks, directing the car out into a busy lane.
“Originally from Ireland but I live in Portland, Oregon now.”
“Ireland huh? What are you doing here?”
“Here in L.A.?”
“Yeah, been here before?”
“Oh I love L.A.! I come here often for the sun, the food and the ocean.”
I smile at being back in sunny Los Angeles as my driver coasts down Lincoln Boulevard. With a quick glance in the rearview mirror he asks “What is it you do, for a living I mean?”
I was a kindergarten teacher for ten years..Back then, this was not a question I dreaded. But now, as a writer, it is. I tell him that I write and he follows up with the inevitable question: “What do you write? Thrillers or mysteries or something?”
And bam. The moment of dread..
“No, not thrillers or mysteries…” my voice trails off as my eyes refocus on his sleeve tattoo. A dark skull flagged with roses and their thorny stems wraps around the man’s thick bicep.
I decide to get it over with.
“I’ve written a memoir. My mother died when I was eleven so I wrote about her death and the aftermath of that loss.”
My driver’s eyes briefly meet mine in the rearview mirror and I wait as silence fills the space around us. Perhaps now he’ll just let it go and we can move on to a bland and comfortable topic, like the LA traffic or its unending sunshine. I glance at my phone. Nine more minutes to the hotel. An eternity in small talk. I peer out through my window noting the familiar premises.
“Eleven? That’s too young!” he says. “What’s your memoir called?”
“A Lovely Woman.”
“Jeez, I miss my mom!” the man says quietly. “She really was something else!”
Was. Oh. Again I meet his eyes in the mirror and nod. He continues.
“She was a writer too, you know, and she was real good at it.”
“Did she ever get anything published or did she like to write for herself?”
“She published one piece but really wanted to write a book. I’d like to write a book myself come to think of it.”
“Maybe you will someday?” I suggest, offering segue into a different topic if that’s what he wants. Most people want it.
That isn’t what he wants.
“My brothers and I, five of us, would go visit my mom. We’d all sit together and talk late into the night over beers. She was funny, real funny. She had such wit and was so sarcastic. I haven’t thought about those times in a while, but God do I miss them!”
“I’m sorry about your mom. It’s nice that you have those memories with her.”
“It sure is.”
My driver smiles into the mirror and suddenly I detect a softness I hadn’t picked up on earlier.
“Look, thank you for letting me talk about and remember my mom. I don’t talk about this kind of thing normally, and it feels good, I tell you. It’s good to remember her.”
Something warm stirs in me as I take in this man’s words. I decided to write about my mother’s death in order to allow for these kinds of conversations and yet I often shy away from them, afraid of making people feel awkward or uncomfortable. My driver pulls the car in to an open spot in front of a brightly painted hotel, and smiling, I step out onto the sidewalk. The man places my bag on the ground at my feet and says “Thank you for the chat and I sincerely mean that. Best of luck with your book!”
His eyes are wet but he doesn’t seem to mind.
My mother died thirty years ago from ovarian cancer. I’ve had enough years of explaining why she isn’t around — as a child, a teen and now as an adult — to know that most people will do anything to avoid speaking about death. But every so often I am reminded how okay it is to bring up the topic. Authentic expressions of sadness give us insight into each other’s hearts thereby allowing us to empathize with the unique challenges each of us face. Stories move and connect us in the most unexpected of places and with the most unexpected of people.. Let us weep, but also, when we are ready, let us speak.
Born and raised in Ireland, Carmel Breathnach moved to Portland, Oregon in 2005. Carmel’s work has appeared in Huffington Post, Upworthy, Scary Mommy, VoiceCatcher and the anthology Hidden Lights by Golden Dragonfly Press. Currently seeking representation for her memoir A LOVELY WOMAN, Carmel keeps a regular blog and an active Facebook page dedicated to mother loss and grief.