In May of 2010, my mother, from whom I had been estranged, was given a terminal diagnosis of cancer. She had lung cancer the previous summer, but apparently it was a simple case: a little radiation and she was done, in remission. She spent the winter doing yoga, getting in touch with her spiritual side, and, surprisingly, becoming a better person.
As I said, we hadn’t spoken in four years. Working to become a better person had never previously been my mother’s strong suit.
When the terminal diagnosis came, that was pretty much it: the cancer was not only back, but it was lurking in her brain and spreading to the rest of her organs, her spine. They gave her three to six months, but she lasted less than two. A smoker for fifty-odd years, my mother had been slowly trying to die her whole life. When she was finally given permission – that’s it, Theresa, you’re done, it’s fine, you did just fine – she took it to heart. And she died with more grace than she had ever done anything else during my life. She never complained about her lot, though she was embarrassed at the helpless state her illness had put her in: she wore her vast collection of jewelry around the house and in the rented hospital bed as she ate ice cream and champagne for dinner while livid bruises blossomed on her face from the frequent falls she took. And my mother was a complainer: I don’t remember a day when she wasn’t complaining, and if not to me, then about me. Some of her last words to me, were, in fact, complaints about me. My haircut was too short; is that cut fashionable? And I looked good, skinny – but oh, I was running too much. It’s not good to run all the time, she said.
But dying made her softer, and graceful, and I’m glad for that. If she was an imperfect mother, I was and certainly am still an imperfect daughter, but I’m glad that we had that much.
The call came at 6am (after a near-all-nighter spent partying with friends in a band) on July 31st, two days before my sister’s 38th birthday. Mom was going then, that day, and we had to go see her. My sister, Caitlin, was driving down from a vacation cabin on Whidbey Island to pick me up in Downtown Seattle, and then we’d get on the ferry to Bainbridge Island, where Mom was in hospice. Hurry up, Caitlin said, I’ll be down there in a couple hours! So I washed, dressed in whatever clothes seemed comfortable. I don’t even remember, except flat shoes, and no socks but legwarmers from Paris that a friend had given me.
I called her from downtown. “We’re still three hours away,” Caitlin said. “But we’re really on our way.”
I hadn’t eaten a thing. Whatever. An aquaintance of mine worked the morning bar at a very cute little French cafe on First Avenue in Pike Place Market, where I worked. Early in the morning it was quiet, even on a Saturday. So I went there to try and eat. I think I texted a few friends about my plans for the day (a scenic cruise, maybe catch a little death in the afternoon?), and Michael Montoure asked me: Do you want company while you wait?
I hadn’t even considered it. Sure. Sounds good.
Montoure had been my sister’s friend when we were kids – I’m almost seven years younger than Caitlin – and we weren’t close then, but when everyone hits their 30s a few years like that don’t matter so much, so when he looked me up we became real friends then. He had known my mother, too, who was indulgent and even protective of our friends. I remember her smoking cigarettes on our porch with my best friend at fifteen, who was this gay kid from Bremerton, a navy town in Kitsap County, across the water from Seattle. Growing up queer in rural Washington bites the big one, but she, who had made herself as cosmopolitan as she could while living in DC in the 60′s and 70′s, adored him.
But there we were, on a stunningly warm and beautiful summer day, drinking way too much coffee, and waiting for me to leave to watch my mother die. Montoure and I had talked a little bit about a collaboration over the past months before: I was (am) a playwright and had recently produced and acted in a short film that was accepted into the New York International Film Festival. I was desperate for more of the abusive-boyfriend high of making movies. He, as you may know, is a prose writer of horror and urban fantasy stories. I wanted to do something long, with big character arcs, longer than a feature. I’m not a novel-writer – I don’t “get” prose, really – but I thought a webseries could work. That day I said I wanted to do a quirky, Friends-meets-Twin Peaks show about lost 30- and 40-something weirdos who have no family but each other. Montoure said, What about time travel? I’ve always liked “Causality” for a title…
There’s more to that story, of course. There’s the rest of the day, for a start: one of the longest, strangest days of my life. But if my mother hadn’t died, in that way, on that perfect, bright afternoon, then maybe you wouldn’t be reading this. Maybe you wouldn’t be hearing about Causality. Maybe none of it would have happened.
Two days before Christmas, 2010, we finished post-production on the first teaser trailers for Causality. (Or so we thought. Yet another story.) That’s about five months, from conception to inception. And that’s everything: creating characters, outlining the first season, casting principal leads, writing the first few episodes, writing and producing the promos, composing music, and hiring a crack team of badass indie filmmaking geniuses. I worked at the Market that day, which was packed for the holidays and I was exhausted and elated and overwhelmed to know that we had really, really, finished something. At the end of my day, I packed up, headed out, and got the call: my friend from grad school, the fine, spirited lady who gave me the pink cashmere legwarmers I wore the day Mom died, had only a little time left. She had fought ovarian cancer for five years, and it was time to lay down arms and rest. She had been like a mother to me for a time during and after school when my own was not quite good enough at her job.
In the end, for me, that’s what Causality will be, and is, about: the families we find, even when we don’t look for them, and the little and large griefs along the way. Who we are and who we become as we move through time. As always, there’s more to our story…but you’ll see what I mean soon.
I sat in Post Alley, with all the shops closed up but the neon lights still on, and had a tidy cry in the December rain.
Welcome to the family, Time Travelers. Everything happens for a reason.