The year Mother didn’t die was an aberration.
It was a year of El Nino, a time when global conditions, cloud cover, tides, and wind currents somehow make a mockery of the Sunny Southern California expectation. Normally bright, clear, blue skies stretch over an endless horizon of rippling saltwater and the sun makes diamonds in the curve of the waves that splash with a latte-froth of foam and sand, then disappear before your very eyes, leaving a heavy, wet slope, exposed.
Before your very eyes.
In the year of El Nino, the sun went into hiding and layer upon layer of fog rested heavily on the scrub brush of the cliffs along the water’s edge. Rain beat against the rag top of my convertible, making a swift riverlet along the top and spraying far behind, but constant and unrelenting against the windshield heading north, where Mother lay not dying day after day after day. Rains came unforgiving and covered the black asphalt with puddles that made the wheels splash. Whooshing cars raced up and down the concrete ribbon that defined the Very End of the United States – the tilted, off-balance strip of highway along the Southern California coast that made the drive from San Diego to Dana Point swift and frightening. Off-kilter. As if a wave of grain in the Midwest could start a rumble that would build westward, gather strength through the Rockies and slap down the Western slope, scattering cars into the Pacific like tub toys.
Others raced past me, too fast, as I plodded faithfully north three nights a week, jumpy from the speed and the headlights and the darkness and the rain and the rain and the rain. Past the yellow traffic-sign silhouette of a desperate immigrant family dragging a child across the eight deadly lanes. Hurry. Hurry. Mother is dying. My Mother is dying. My Mother is dying. I whispered the words in time with the windshield wipers – sometimes shouted them, sometimes added hot wet tears to the huge drops beating outside the car. Hurry.
Instead, El Nino died. The rain was held back and, briefly, winds would take the churning clouds to one corner of the sky and expose a patient blue. There are scientists who can explain the weather. Different scientists than the ones that deal with sagging flesh, bloodclots, brittle bones and faint hearts. Weather scientists who depend on the perspective of satellites far, far above the earth, who can see the whole thing at once, and watch the inevitable collision of forces. These scientists declared that El Nino was dead and in its place was dead calm.
By the end of the year that Mother didn’t die, the forces around us were quiet — a condition called La Nina, or Little Girl.