The other night I got into my minivan and drove over to Bed, Bath and Beyond, because I am officially my mother.
Bed, Bath and Beyond was her jam. Shopping in general was Mom’s favorite pastime, but something about those high-thread-count sheet sets, kitchen gadgets, designer towels and vacuum displays got her giddy. All I had to say were those three little “B” words, and off we went in the Toyota Previa (my ulterior motive: hitting The Gap on the way home). So obsessed was my mom with Bed, Bath, and Beyond that when she was going through chemo, she sent me there to buy her favorite designer lollipops (cinnamon flavor), and when she was basically bedridden during home hospice, she convinced my father to take her, her wheelchair, and her oxygen tank for a trip to buy some new sheets. (According to my father, she touched every single sample until she settled on the right set.) It was the last time she ever left the house.
Our most memorable outing to Bx3 was when I was sixteen and feeling particularly jubilant, which was rare because I was morbidly obese and generally suicidal. But Mercury must have been in retrograde that day, because I was joking and dancing around my mother like we were in West Side Story. I loved making my mom laugh – her happiness seemed to bounce back and fill something in me – and I had my A-game on. I sang about dish towels and loofahs on a stick, leaping down the aisles like a large marine mammal.
When we got to the bedding section, I was struck with inspiration: it was time for my big finish. With a running start toward a bed displaying a Ralph Lauren duvet, I took a flying leap, anticipating a stylish landing on the soft mattress, complete with jazz hands.
I might be the only person on the planet who didn’t know that the bed displays at Bed, Bath, and Beyond are not actually beds (food for thought). They are essentially a frame around a bunch of boxes covered with sheets and blankets to look like beds. The structure is flimsy at best, barely stable enough to withstand a collision with a slow-moving shopping cart, let alone the meteoric landing of a 250-pound wannabe Broadway ingenue.
It was mass destruction: the whole thing collapsed under me with a sharp, resounding BOOM.
For a second, I thought I was dead. But I was just buried in all kinds of non-bed-like material and cocooned in Ralph Lauren. By some miracle, I wasn’t hurt. It didn’t occur to me yet to be humiliated, because I was too busy fighting my way out of the wreckage.
I expected, when I got out, to find my mother nearby, holding out her hand to help me up. But when I finally poked my head through, all I saw of her was her back, moving farther and farther away from me at lightning speed.
My mother had bailed.
I can’t say I blame her. I imagine that the moment she saw me sail, then disappear into, a bedding display at Bed, Bath, and Beyond, Mom was faced with two choices: a) stay to help me and risk never being allowed to come to her favorite store again, or b) RUN.
She had her priorities straight.
When I saw her take off, it finally occurred to me to be embarrassed; I took a quick look around, expecting the store’s entire staff to surround me, armed with dust-busters. But after my earth-shaking explosion, the place was as quiet as a tomb.
No one had seen it.
I mumbled a few clumsy words of thanks to my Benevolent Creator and pulled the rest of me out of the debris. Then, whistling like I was just another mom on the market for seasonal napkin rings, I sauntered away from the scene to find my mother by the exit.
It was the one time we left Bed, Bath, and Beyond without buying anything.
Twenty years later, as I walked through the store looking for a food scale, I imagined her showing me starfish placemats and wrinkling her nose when I made her smell scented candles. I pictured her grabbing her favorite lollipops from the impulse buys. And I saw her running away from me after I destroyed a fake bed I didn’t know was fake.
And for a moment, I felt that old, sweet stirring: the fullness of making her laugh.