Loo and Moo, together again for the first time
|Laura Costales as Cornelia Otis Skinner|
Our Hearts Were Young and Gay
Madison High School, 1978
When my daughter Laura Jeanne Costales Morefield was in her teens the two of us had such a fraught relationship that we went to someone she trusted, a youth group counselor named Elliot, to talk about it. After listening to us for a while, he said we should take our show on the road. We were flattered only for an instant. He termed it witty, incisive and deadly. We were going to kill each other with competitiveness, clever lines and well-aimed barbs. Already we were drawing tears and out-of-control emotions; soon there would be blood.
He showed us how to quit the game, to give up our destructive act by identifying the routine when it started up, by discussing issues directly, and nipping the act in its bud each time. I think the game is more common to mothers and daughters than we know. It was even more deadly in our case because we were so evenly matched and we knew it.
Though the game stopped, the competition never died. The funny thing was that against her will Laura was drawn to things in which I was or had been engaged. We were great admirers of one another’s writing and the individual voice each of us achieved in both prose and poetry. Laura was a much more political animal than I and perhaps more interested in social justice. She had a great ability to organize and write clearly. She once told me I was an extraordinary writer and urged me to change my first person narrative memoirs into fiction, something I was never sure I could do. She wrote screenplays and fiction; and I, non-fiction, criticism and features.
We were published together a couple of times. Once in a hardback book of letters between mothers and daughters, and the second time in a literary journal in which we both wrote poems on the same topic, her father, Samuel Costales, who died when she was two. I still mourn him and she never knew him.
As for our relationship, almost lost when I left the stepfather she adored, it was healed eventually. Envious of our apparent harmony, people always asked us how we closed the breach and grew close again, even closer than before. They urged us to write a book about it, but darned if we could ever figure out how we did it.
The most important elements were the love and admiration we bore for one another despite the tacit competition; our ability to say it was okay to be angry and hurt; and at length, our ability to talk about the really tough topics, to open communication, to clear the air, and to state what we wanted from one another.
Of course, I wanted Laura to outlive me. She would take care of my creative legacy, what do they call it? Intellectual property? She would organize the archive so to speak, clean up the inbox, and bring me posthumous fame.
When first Laura was diagnosed with stage-four colon cancer in 2008 all I wanted was to die so that I would not have to witness her death. When it became apparent that I was not going to predecease her, she asked me to care for part of her intellectual property by collecting and editing her post-diagnosis poems, which she considered her best work. I did that and titled it The Warrior’s Stance after an image in one of the poems. This chapbook is looking for a publisher.
And then, because she asked, “What next, Miss Mommy?” in a dream, I created a dramatic reading for two actors and titled it The Warriors’ Duet. The subtitle, if it were standup comedy, would be Moo and Loo, Together Again at Last. We are still together through our work, and in a way this dramatic piece is the act we never performed in public, the healing book we never had time to write.
San Diego, June 30, 2012