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L.A. Affairs: Over bitter IPAs, I told him my mother was dying

Illustration of a mother, from the heavens, embracing her daughter and her new boyfriend.
Over bitter IPAs, I told him that my mother was dying.
(Sawsan Chalabi / For The Times)

In the hot summer months after graduating from college and after my mom was told that her blood cancer had returned, she and I spent an unhealthy amount of time on Hinge and Bumble.

After long days filled with scary conversations with oncologists and blood transfusions, we’d sit on her floral duvet and scroll through 4-by-6-inch pixelations of men.

“No mom, you do not want to date an accountant.” A swipe left for her. “No Becca, you need an older man.” A swipe left for me.

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This scene was not new for us. My parents divorced when I was 14 and my mother and I became unlikely partners in crime: a teenager and a middle-aged woman bonding over heartthrobs and heartbreak. We journeyed out together — two parallel quests for love.

Yet no matter how hopeless our attempts at romance were, it became about us bonding — sharing peanut butter M&M’s, laughing over the trials and tribulations of putting yourself out there.

When my mother became really ill in the fall of 2019, she shut down the possibility of love altogether. By then I was in my first year of graduate school longing for my first real love, but with my mom so sick it felt odd continuing the journey without her.

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“You should get back out there,” my mom said one November morning as I fed her ice chips and complained about men.

That’s when I decided I would give Morgan my phone number.

With his dark brows and dark eyes, I had been drawn to him immediately. He was working as a barista at the coffee shop I frequented before class every Thursday. One gray afternoon, heart pounding, I handed him a pink sticky note with my phone number on it.

We went on our first date on what we would later learn was the same day as my mother’s last attempt at immunotherapy treatment. Turns out his brooding exterior had misled me. He was gentle and genuine.

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“You can wear high heels,” he said in a voice that conveyed this would turn him on. “I don’t wear high heels anymore,” I responded. “They’re too uncomfortable.”

Over the next few weeks we went on a handful of dates at bars across town, ate ramen, drove the hills of Los Angeles. I’d go to Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center after each date and relay the thrilling details to my mom.

She loved seeing me so giddy. She always wanted to make sure I lived a normal 20-something life while she was in treatment, urging and insisting that I go out and have fun. But it was painful sharing my adventures in romance knowing she had lain there alone.

On our fourth date, I asked Morgan to pick me up at the hospital. Over bitter IPAs I told him that my mother was dying. I’d been on other dates that summer while my mom was sick and had told guys about it, and it had definitely scared many away, so I started guarding that piece of myself a bit more.

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Look, I’m 37 and in a no-B.S. zone. What you see is what you get. I’m at the point in my life where I’d rather get everything out on the table on Day One so there are no unwanted surprises.

I expected it to scare Morgan off too. Instead he took my hand and said, “I can’t imagine how hard that must be.”

My mother passed away one week later. I was paralyzed with shock and indecision. Morgan showed up at my door with raspberry White Claws. We didn’t speak much, but I lay against his chest in this new reality as he ran his fingers softly through my hair until I fell asleep.

The next two months were a blur of grief and uncertainty as we dealt with all of the stressful necessities that follow a death — planning the funeral and shiva, traveling to bury my mom in New York, where she was raised.

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He was there after I came back from New York. He was there after the new year — the first year I’d spend without her. He was there when the pandemic hit and the world itself was full of grief and uncertainty.

I’ve yearned to share this wild experience of falling in love for the first time with my mom. After meeting Morgan’s friends at a party, I instinctively grabbed my phone in the bathroom to call her. A few months after she died, he showed up at my Koreatown apartment with brown paper bags full of ground meat, panko bread crumbs and parsley. Then he called his mom, who lives in upstate New York, and put her on speaker so she could guide us through making her Italian meatballs.

I couldn’t stop thinking about what it would be like for my mom and Morgan to meet.

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Morgan and my mother could not be more different. My mother was cautious and controlling; Morgan oozes freedom and fearlessness. But when I am with him, I often feel her spirit — a subtle glow of warmth and comfort.

I had been traveling the world and was about to head out for a new adventure — Australia. Then, someone mentioned her name: Laura.

We recently celebrated one year together. One year with him. One year without her. Grief still seeps into everything. There’s misplaced rage. Longing, missing, the loss of self.

But what is most present is the fear.

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How do I love, when I carry around this ever-present certainty that love is always lost?

I spew my existential dread to Morgan sometimes, unsure how to reconcile the fact that everything eventually ends.

Yet somehow he’s showing me that despite inevitable loss I should embrace love, embrace uncertainty, embrace this moment.

I think my mother would agree.

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The author is a USC graduate and audio journalist. You can find her on Twitter @rebeccaerinkatz and Instagram @beccakatzz

L.A. Affairs chronicles the search for romantic love in all its glorious expressions in the L.A. area, and we want to hear your true story. We pay $300 for a published essay. Email LAAffairs@latimes.com. You can find submission guidelines here.


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