Audio Blog, 3:03
Wear a Coat When It’s Cold Out
By Richard Gordon
(Dedicated to Ardith Gordon 1934-1990)
Adulthood began for me less than two months before my 30th birthday. My mother was dying in a hospital bed less than 1000 yards from the house I grew up in, where she and my father still lived. I went to see her for what turned out to be the last time, and parked the car in the outdoor lot. It was very cold for May in New York, but I took my coat off and left it in the car. I don’t know why I decided to leave my coat. At that time in my life, I said and did a lot of things that didn’t make much sense.
I ran to the door of the hospital, sweating from exertion and nervousness. My father had been to see her earlier in the day, and he told me she didn’t have much longer to live. I knew what to expect, but it was still jarring to see my mom in that condition. Her body was ruined by metastatic breast cancer. The high doses of morphine that eased the suffering also left her thoughts fractured and sporadic.
I don’t even remember what we said in our last conversation. I recall watching her sleep, trying to picture exactly what she looked and sounded like before she got sick.
After a while, I took a long last look at her, said “I love you”, and turned to leave. She replied in a firm, clear and familiar voice, “Richard, where’s your coat?” I turned back to her, and noticed her eyes were open, clear and locked on my rugby shirt.
I said, “It’s in the car.”
“What’s it doing in the car?”
“I don’t know.”
“What do you mean you don’t know?”
In the few moments it took for me to think of a decent response, which was impossible because there was none, she drifted off again and fell back asleep. She didn’t stir when I finally left the room.
The sun had set, and the wind blew hard across the parking lot. By the time I got to the car, I was freezing. The coat I left was slung over the driver seat, uselessly warming an inanimate object.
Most people evolve into adulthood gradually over a decade or more. Others have it thrust upon them from the psychological blunt force trauma of a loved one’s death or illness. Everyone gets there at their own pace. But however long it takes; it helps to wear a coat when it’s cold out.