I find myself with five luxurious, uninterrupted hours after I drop my 18-year-old daughter off at a television taping in Van Nuys, my three-year-old son home with my husband over an hour away. I am not used to having so much time to myself; the swath of it stretched before me almost makes me dizzy. I've brought my laptop; I want to find a place to sit and write — specifically, to write about my mom, who hanged herself one week after I gave birth to Asher. I know writing is the best chance I have to make any sort of sense out of her suicide — writing has always been the way I've been best able to make sense of my life — but it's been hard to let myself get as close to her death as I know I need to. It's felt too scary, too raw, too soon. But it also feels urgent to me now. Desperately so. Maybe this extra time will give me the chance to dig deep.
I zero in on a teahouse with great reviews on Yelp, but when I pass the address, I realize the shop's inside a big mall and I've missed the entrance for the parking garage. After I round the corner to find another way inside, I wind up in the lane that pours onto the freeway. Something in me rises up and says, Maybe I'm not supposed to go to the tea place. Maybe I'm supposed to get on the freeway and drive to South Pasadena; maybe I'm supposed to visit Golden Oaks. The thought makes my blood sputter, but it also feels clear and whole and true. Writing can wait. I know exactly where I need to go.
For a while, I had only known my mom had hanged herself in a random parking garage in South Pasadena; I hadn't known what sort of building the garage had been attached to — medical offices, a restaurant — until I received her death certificate in the mail and plugged the address on the form into Google. It turned out the garage was below a luxury apartment building named Golden Oaks, a name that seemed strangely fitting. My mom had developed a delusional disorder 16 years before her death, and believed my dad was hiding millions of dollars from the family. She had been on an obsessive quest for this treasure over those 16 years, hiring one lawyer after another, driving long distances to confront people she thought were in cahoots with my dad. She had wanted to find something golden; perhaps she saw the name on the building as some sort of sign, the X on her treasure map.
I've considered a pilgrimage to Golden Oaks many times — on my way home from readings, on my way to museums; any time, really, I drive near Pasadena — I've wanted to see this place where she ended her life to feel more connected with the moment of her death, but it's never felt like the right moment. Today is different. I don't have to be anywhere for hours. I am alone. Plus, it's August 30th, 33 months to the day we got word of her death. This feels significant; 33 was my favorite number for years. As much as I hated 333 Hibbard Road, my family home when I was a teenager, the house where our family started to fall apart, I loved all the 3s. And I'm starting out in Van Nuys, home of the police station that first dealt with my mom's missing person's case after she had torn out her IVs and absconded from the hospital she had taken herself to, thinking she was having a heart attack. She ran away when she believed a couple from across the hall was spraying her with poison from their cell phones.
I pull onto the eastbound 101, follow it onto the 134, tap the address for the Golden Oaks Apartments into my phone for directions when traffic comes to a stall.
Can I do this? I keep asking myself. Am I up to this? Nothing in me says No, at least not too loudly, at least not louder than the part that says Yes, so I keep moving forward.
I drive past Suicide Bridge, a gorgeous old span of Beaux Arts arches that curves by the freeway in Pasadena. Its official name is the Colorado Street Bridge, but dozens of people have jumped from it since it was built in 1912 — the majority during the Depression years. A suicide barrier was eventually erected, but the nickname stuck. I wonder how many survivors have journeyed to its concrete pillars, how many have stood under the globe lights, pressed themselves against the railing and imagined their loved ones hurtling themselves over the edge.
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