When I was a teenager, my mother was driving us through the San Fernando Valley one winter afternoon. We had probably been doing errands together; groceries, gas, maybe some hot dogs from Wienerschnitzel. No, eating hot dogs isn’t considered an errand, but consuming them usually does facilitate “errand completion.”
Winter in Los Angeles isn’t really winter, as everyone knows. It was probably brisk outside, sustaining a nip in the air that people in, say, Canada or Northern China or even the East Coast would find pleasant, possibly almost warm.
Still, it must have been somewhat colder than usual, because across the Valley the San Gabriel Mountains were snowy white. It was this sight that got my mother’s attention that day. It was this sight that drew her forward, drew her to them.
We were driving down Van Nuys Boulevard, headed north, when my mother, staring past the windshield toward something I couldn’t see, suddenly said, “Let’s keep going.”
At the end of Thelma & Louise when they’re idling in the car before the ravine in the Grand Canyon, trying to decide what to do next, I remember getting goose bumps when Thelma looks at Louise and says, “Let’s keep going.”
My mother’s desire, laid alongside Thelma and Louise’s, was as different as it was the same. Backed into a corner, a situation they would not get out of (at least in any desirable way), the movie characters decided to take their fate into their own hands instead of leaving it up to the cosmos. Or the U.S. justice system.
My mother was, at this point, middle-aged, which wasn’t so bad, but after having fostered a career as a dancer/choreographer, opened her own school, worked with Duke Ellington and been offered a gig at the Ahmanson Theater, giving it all up to raise two children probably wasn’t at the top of her list.
By the time my brother and I were teenagers, the Duke Ellington days were long gone. I imagine that my mother often must have felt the way anyone would feel when desire took a backseat to the humdrum, the everyday, the routine.
Unlike Thelma and Louise, she wasn’t going to drive off a cliff. But something distant and shining, the towering presence on the horizon, beckoned.
Staring outward, she said, “Let’s keep going.”
In the same vein, much like Thelma and Louise, my brother one day unfortunately decided to keep going too.
Years and years later, despite everything, or in spite of everything, regardless of, or due to—I no longer know—my brother, backed into his own corner and perceiving no possible way out, took a seat in that symbolic car and drove himself off that symbolic cliff.
One sunny afternoon, before he unloaded the bullet that ended his life, he gazed outward toward that same horizon, that same horizon, and he said the same thing. “Let’s keep going.” And the bullet agreed with him, no argument, no complaint. Let’s keep going. Let’s keep going.
At the San Gabriel Mountains that winter afternoon the snow came all the way down to the foothills, although toward the bottom it was in random and uneven clumps. My mother and I got out of the car to stretch our legs. I picked up some snow and held it in my hand. It wasn’t supposed to be here. Even though we were in Sylmar, it was still Los Angeles.
My mother had said, “Let’s keep going” and then arrived at the mountain and stood and watched the mountain for a while, turning back only to see how far we’d come. She could hold her regrets like I was holding the snow, turning them over and over in her hand.
But in the end she would lay them aside because there was more road ahead of her, ahead of us, paved with the still-unspoken, the still-undone.
In that moment, her heart wasn’t broken yet, cleaved by the bullet that would agree, yes, yes, let’s keep going, in a different way, a way she herself would have stopped, if she could have, many years later.
In that moment, at the mountain, she and I were far from sorrow. She toed the reverie while I gazed at the sky. The snow was cold and wet in my hand, but it lined the top of the mountains majestically, brilliant in the late afternoon sun, incongruous and beautiful, like our lives.