Joanne is waiting at the top of a long driveway, smiling and standing next to a shiny red Radio Flyer wagon piled high with bags. I hop out, introduce myself and confirm she is in fact the Joanne who ordered the Lyft, and then begin trying to shove her oversized wagon in my tiny car’s trunk as she peers nervously behind me.
It fits easier than both of us expect, and soon we’re off on a thirty minute trip across town, which she quickly begins filling with stories of her new grandson. And his newly formed sensitivity to lactose. And how he looks just like his dad did when he was born. And how he was kind of cranky today because the neighbors had been making noise and his sleep schedule was disrupted but surely he’ll get back to normal soon and she didn’t get to read him any of the books she brought in her wagon but she did make him the cutest little pirate hat and did I want to see a picture?
I say I do, because there’s really no polite way to refuse pictures of grandkids and also because it doesn’t appear I actually have a choice; before she’s finished asking, she’s placed her phone directly in front of my face and is cheerfully swiping through one album after the next, seemingly unconcerned that I’m hurtling us down the freeway. Baby in a pirate hat. Baby in a stroller. Baby on the couch. Her foot. (“Whoops. That not him. That’s for my doctor.”) Roughly one hundred and twenty-eight pictures later, I tell her he is as cute as she described, but he’s nowhere near as cute as my nephew.
After that’s settled, she begins explaining how her other two daughters are still looking for men to make more grandkids with and was I single? When I tell her I’m flattered but also gay, she says that’s terrific and surely I’ve found a nice guy because I’m such a good listener.
Upon hearing I haven’t, she sighs deeply and looks out the window.
“Your poor mother.”
Confused as to what my mom has to do with anything, she explains patiently: “mothers are only ever as happy as their saddest child, Travis.”
I start to tell her I don’t think I’m sad, but she cuts me off with another long sigh and starts grilling me about how I plan on finding love. Was I trying to date? Did I have all the apps? Have I tried meet up dot com? Joanne has heard good things about meet up dot com and maybe I could meet someone on meet up dot com?
I think of telling her about the nurse who made plans to meet for lunch but then didn’t eat anything because he was in the middle of a juice cleanse. Or the other nurse who showed up drunk for drinks. The unemployed actor who I ghosted on after two dates when he told me if things got serious, he couldn’t bring me to red carpet events because he wouldn’t want to “alienate his fans.” The retail analyst who ghosted on me after three dates because, well, I’ll never really know. And the graveyard of unanswered and abandoned text chains in the various dating apps on my phone. Most days, “Trying to Date” feels like a fitting title for my memoir or the epitaph on my tomb stone, both of which I assume Joanne would read consumed with pity for my poor, poor mother.
Before I get a chance to tell her any of this, Joanne begins busily explaining how she left her first husband years ago and then her second husband years after that, declaring she had never really been alone and wanted to find out “who Joanne really was.” She told me about plans of traveling through Europe and tasting wine and men and generally living Elizabeth Gilbert’s best life. However, before she could fully lean into her newly single self, “life happened.” She lost her business and had to move back to LA to regroup and then her youngest daughter got married and then pregnant and before she knew it, she was a grandmother and all she wanted to do was hang out with her grandson. Because nothing is more important than family and having kids and sharing love and didn’t I want to have a family and kids and share love?
I assure her I do, but I guess I just haven’t found the right person yet and also we’re getting close to her destination and where would she liked to get dropped off?
When we pull up to her apartment building a minute later, I retrieve her wagon full of books and toys from the trunk, deposit them on the sidewalk and begin to say goodbye when Joanne grabs me and pulls me in for a long, tight hug. Then, without letting go of my arms, she looks at me with that special mix of unbridled love and deep pain only a grandmother can muster and opens her mouth to say something, but instead just lets out what I now recognize as a classic Joanne sigh. She gives me one more quick squeeze and a pat on the back and I awkwardly head back to my car.
As I reverse down her driveway, I wave goodbye out my open window while she nervously watches me, one hand gripping her wagon’s long, black handle. When I’m at the bottom, she can no longer contain herself.
“DON’T WORRY TRAVIS! YOU’LL FIND SOMEONE TO LOVE YOU SOON!”
The busy sidewalk seems to stand still for a second, as I imagine everyone turning to see who this Travis is and judge for themselves if he’ll actually find someone to love him soon. I mumble thanks and wave to Joanne as I speed off, shaking my head and realizing she might be right.
My poor mother.