or “We are travelers on a cosmic journey” —Deepak Chopra
or, the second anniversary of my mom’s death
It was ten a.m. on Labor Day, and I was driving down I-25 at 80 miles an hour toward the breathtaking northern New Mexico vista while ugly crying. A John Lennon song I’d never heard before blared from my CD changer, because my mom adored John Lennon and she never got over his assassination.
Let me back up.
Four years ago, during my mom’s second hospitalization (or was it the third?) a doctor with the most appalling bedside manner told me that I should ask my mom her final wishes.
“If it’s not illegal, I want to be cremated and my ashes scattered in the place that was so beautiful when we first drove into New Mexico,” Mom said from her hospital bed.
I knew the area she was talking about. It was the execution of the activity I was a little dicey on. I entertained the vision of riding shotgun in my mom’s truck with a boyfriend resembling Smallville season 10-era Tom Welling at the wheel and me leaning out the window, tossing the ashes to the wind while crowing “Fly free Mommy. Fly free!” and then letting loose with Xena’s warrior yell.
For a multitude of reasons, that whole scenario remains a fantasy. Albeit a cherished one.
Now, as the second Labor Day since Mom’s passing approached, I made plans to fulfill her request one way or another. There’s a scene in Dark Angel where one of the characters says “good luck” and the other one says something like “there’s no such thing as luck, only a well thought out plan executed with precision.”
My first fear was that I would bungle making the turn off onto the side of the freeway and wind up in the parking lot of a small-town McDonald’s, sitting in my car and wailing like Charlie Brown about how I can’t do anything right. My second fear was that I would get caught by a state trooper with ash on my hands.
Last year, when my writing crew and I were driving back from RWA in Denver, CO, I paid close attention to potential places where I might be able to pull over and scatter ashes. As far as legalities, I called my legal counsel, the county, and the state and federal DoT’s. The answer I got was various versions of the shrug emoji. I took that to mean just fucking handle this business.
I booked a hotel in Trinidad, CO and drove up Sunday afternoon. Upon arrival I took a dip in the pool and the hot tub, then went to nearby Tequila’s restaurant for the best meal I’ve had in ages. That night, I sat on the hotel patio breathing the clean pine air and looking up at the stars and contemplating how runaway slaves used the Big Dipper to navigate to freedom. (It’s bizarre where your mind goes when you have a few minutes to sit and do nothing.)
I turned in early but didn’t sleep for shit. Woke up every hour on the hour. Finally dragged out of bed at six Labor Day morning and started the day with the shittiest cup of hotel coffee ever. Took another swim in the pool to expel some adrenaline. Dried off too hastily and dripped water from under my cover-up as I rode the elevator next to two men covered head to toe in hunting camo. After a shower I re-packed, wolfed down a banana—no way could I sit through the free continental breakfast in the crowded hotel lounge with my stomach in knots—and took one last look at the urn containing my mother’s ashes. Burst into tears.
It really was, as my counselor had said, like saying goodbye all over again.
I checked out of the hotel and hit southbound I-25. Adrenaline raced through my veins as I crossed the border into New Mexico.
Keeping it five miles under the speed limit so that all the cars would pass me worked like a charm. Nobody was hovering on my tail when I saw a wide shoulder leading down into the underbrush. I pulled over easily.
With my pack holding the urn slung over my back and my camera dangling around my neck, I got out of the car and headed down the slope to explore the embankment.
Only to find trash strewn in the tall grass. I couldn’t scatter Mom’s ashes here.
Then I looked up. A steep slope covered in rocks and chamisa and crowned by trees stretched to the sky. No garbage there.
So that’s how I found myself halfway up a hill overlooking the freeway, in full sight of vehicles, vigorously shaking an upturned blue floral urn. So much for stealth. If there were any drones flying above, somebody had a field day with that footage.
Streams of white ash flowed everywhere. For a woman who weighed next to nothing when she died, there sure were a lot of remains to contend with. My friends had been like, “Take pictures of the ceremony!” but between trying to empty the contents of that pot and checking for cruisers, there was no ceremony. We’re talking the most inelegant and unceremonious proceedings ever. By the time I finished, I had dirt in my camera and ash on my shoes and chamisa stalks in my backpack.
But it was done. I pulled back onto the freeway and cranked the volume on my mom’s John Lennon CD.
Halfway through the fourth song, I completely broke down.