Fifteen years ago yesterday, on August 9, 2002, my mother, Sylvia McNair, died in the very early hours of the morning. This photo is one that my dear friend the novelist Eric Charles May had enlarged and framed for me after that loss. We are in the Hilton Hotel, drinking with our buddies after a Columbia College Chicago Fiction Writing Department Story Week event. The picture must have been taken in 2000. She was not yet sick (or rather, that is what we believed at the time.)
I never thought I looked like my mother. I thought I look like my dad. I do. But clearly, evidently, proof right here, I look like my mother as well.
I have given her my first finished, at the time not yet published, short story post MFA to read (later placed as the incendiary first story of my collection, The Temple of Air.) We are talking about stories in The New Yorker for some reason. She says: “New Yorker stories are slice of life stories. Your stories are like New Yorker stories.” Well, well. I’ll take that! She goes on: “I never really liked New Yorker stories.” Oh.
Another time we are working on a travel piece together. It is about a trip we took on a river boat along the St. Lawrence River. “You write the opening. You are a better writer than I am.”
That last day before her last night, she had been in a sort of sleeping coma for part of a week. She woke up and I sat close to her on the hospital bed we had rented for her living room so she could look out her wide French doors over her plant-filled balcony to the tall, tall trees in the courtyard of her building. She was tired, exhausted from trying to stay alive when it was hard to breathe, when she could no longer stand, when food would not stay down. She was ready for whatever would come next. “I’m proud of you,” she said. “Me, too,” I said. “Me too, you too.”