For Martha

Adoration Revisited, part fourteen

Welcome to Not Knowing How: Adoration Revisited, a capsule newsletter by Lisa Locascio Nighthawk in sixteen parts. Names have been changed. The version of events is my own.

Whenever I run

Wherever I run to you lost one

It's never done

Just hanging on

I long for my mother, so I create a way to spend time with her.

I invent an errand to the iconically bland L.A. mall The Grove to return a pair of pants I ordered online. Feeling woozy in the wake of recent revelations and departures in my life, I post on Reddit1, asking where I should eat. Most of the suggestions are located in the neighboring high-end food court, The Original Farmers Market, where I’ve never been. Nothing feels right until someone suggests Bar Verde, the restaurant in Nordstrom. “Finish it off with a warm white chocolate bread pudding. No one does it as good as them.”

I pull up the menu and immediately know I’ll go to Bar Verde when my eyes land on Rigatoni and Chicken Sausage, a dish that both recalls a pasta I used to order at the Nordstrom restaurant in a Chicago mall called The Shops at North Bridge and a dish I briefly loved at Pronto Roma, a quick service Italian place that opened in my hometown before we realized it wasn’t very good.

I drive to The Grove from the library where I spend one day a week writing after my therapy session and park on the third floor of the structure. I might have come here once with my mom, but we spent more time at Rick Caruso’s other outdoor upscale mall, the Americana, in Glendale. I have a picture she took of me in front of a poster for Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole—a 2010 film that, with its animated all-owl cast and Owl City theme song, was basically made for us—on the third floor of the near-identical Americana parking structure. I can already feel her with me as I walk from my car to the elevators.

Entering Nordstrom, I hope that I will be allowed to reenter my old life.

I cross the cosmetics floor with a wistful sense of alienation, skirting the edge of the shoe department, nonplussed because I don’t want anything. At Bar Verde I am led to a wide booth beside a window overlooking the mall. I order a simple salad, a glass of pink champagne, and the rigatoni I chose before getting in my car. I am brought a glass of water with a straw in a paper wrapper. I peel the wrapper carefully, split it in half vertically, and begin to fold it into an interlinked chain. When my champagne arrives, I sip it, facing the empty booth and talking to my mother in my head.

“I’m so proud of you,” she tells me.

I’ve just sent my agent a revised draft of my second novel, and we have gone out to lunch to celebrate. My mom summarizes the years of work I’ve put in on this project, the many nadirs, the times I told my partner I didn’t know if I was a writer anymore. She commends me for prioritizing my book even with the demands of new motherhood and my jobs. “To you,” she says. We toast.

The fantasy that she is here with me makes everything taste wonderful. My salad is delicious. My rigatoni, when it comes, even mores. It tastes familiar. We discuss people close to me, their comings and goings. We gossip. “Whenever someone in your life is acting in a way that is hurtful to you, it’s important to understand it’s more about them than it is about you,” my mom says. For desert, I order the white chocolate bread pudding, per the Redditor’s recommendation, even though I don’t like white chocolate or bread pudding.

I am tempted to get another alcoholic drink. In the old days of my family I was infamous for always ordering another beer or one more coffee right when everyone else was ready to leave. I decide to order a cappuccino instead.

The waiter draws my attention to the promotion being run on my pink champagne I ordered. I can scan a QR code and enter for a chance to Give Mom the Gift of Music This Mother’s Day,

I do it. Mother’s Day was ten days ago, and I am Mom.


the past has let me be

returning as if dream

shattered as belief

After lunch I stroll Nordstrom, trying to touch the feeling this place used to give me. My mom and I often went to the Chicago location on Michigan Avenue in a mall called The Shops at North Bridge. I close my eyes and I’m there, walking into the store from the elevator from the underground parking lot. Its clean bright windowlessness. Cosmetic scents wafting over to the colorful shoe displays. I felt so happy to arrive there, to drift around and pick out things my mother would buy for me.

But the experience does not scale to life after my mother, and not only because I do not have the money to shop as we once did. I came to the Grove Nordstrom a year or two ago, just to wander, thinking I’d try things on, maybe buy some dress or pair of jeans that didn’t really fit and I couldn’t really afford. I was shocked to find the store basically empty, strung with a few haphazard items. I left with a sense of racing unease.

Today Nordstorm is better stocked, but nothing draws my eye. I go downstairs, walk through the shoes, nod away a salesperson’s gentle “You doing okay?” I go to makeup, wanting a lipstick the color of my lips, but I can’t bear the attentions of the salespeople. I am too used to the frantic self-serve of Sephora, which my mother hated. Thinking of the way she enjoyed these interactions, I gamely engage with a Chanel salesman, who doesn’t think much of the lipstick I want to try and shows me one I’d never wear.

I thank him and leave the store, go a few storefronts down to the bombastic storefront of an over-the-top femme brand famous for its nude lipstick. Immediately everything seems ridiculous and embarrassing. They sell a lipstick named after George Clooney’s wife. I swipe a few against the back of my hand and leave, feeling guilty as I dodge the salespeople who enthusiastically welcomed me.

I go to Sephora and havethe same shitty experience I’ve always had. The store is mobbed, hectic, but I can touch the makeup without mediation. I swipe more lipsticks against my hand, decide to buy one along with the new tube of sunscreen I used to justify this cosmetic detour. The salesperson with corrects me when I call it sunblock.

After Sephora I should really leave but instead I go try on leggings. I never saw my mom wear jeans, or any hard pants. Almost all the days of my life she wore black leggings—she called them stretch pants—and black t-shirts. My favorite showed Swamp Thing running at high speed with his daughter Tefé in riding in his back forest.

For a while I’ve wanted a pair in that ubiquitous chalky teal color I see so many other women wear. I try on several pairs. They look nice on, very soft and clean, and although I do not need them and should not spend the money, I am talking myself into buying them. Then I turn around and squat, watching in the mirror. Not only the outline but the print (leopard) of my underwear is extremely visible. Given that I only wear leggings to do pilates and almost all of my underwear is dark or printed, do I really want the person on the reformer behind me to see that?

Trying to decide, I put on my new lipstick. I don’t like it; it’s too dark, not the color of my lips at all. I think about going back to Sephora, claiming I was given the wrong shade, but the lie feels halfhearted even though I think there’s a decent chance they’d let me swap it. I’m the one who made the decision to buy the lipstick without putting it on my mouth first. I’m the one who thought it would make me feel better.

I leave, feeling deflated, unsure why. Is it that I think it is my body’s fault that my underwear shows through, the visible underwear the tipping point in my sneaking, body-negative feeling that if I buy and wear these leggings I’ll be showing the world something it doesn’t need to see? Or is it that I think a younger me wouldn’t have cared about whether her underwear was visible through her leggings? I used to have a white tiered skirt, bought at a street fair, that people were always telling me they could see my underwear through, like I cared. I didn’t. But now I do.

I haven’t been talking to my mom in my head while I shop. I try to keep it up, but in the stores I quickly enter the pure present, engaging in person in a self-soothing habit I have mostly experienced on my phone for many years now. For a while I kept a sober tracker running, read shopping addiction Reddits, tried to conceptualize my desire to make myself feel special, loved, pretty as a compulsion. But that frame did little for me. No architecture of recovery will recover my mother for me.

Shopping is a way to be both in my body, adorning it, and to flee it. Shopping is a way of saying that I am deserving of time and energy just for myself, and also of spending my reserves of that time and energy. Shopping is how my mother taught me to celebrate, to feel luxurious, to make myself worthy of the attention and regard of others. I preach and believe in the repudiation of capitalism, its toxic curse, and I feel so guilty for still loving shopping, for needing this space to dream that wonderful occasions will occur and within them I will be beautiful.

It occurs to me, writing this, that other people probably took their kids on hikes or something. My mom took me on hikes, too. We just always had so much fun at the mall.

Ultimately, although I’ve bought products I will use—the lipstick grows on me, a little, by the end of the day—the trip to The Grove is a bust. Pointless. The store I wanted to return my pants to doesn’t exist there anymore.


Your picture out of time

left aching in my mind

shadows kept alive

My mother’s mother, Elizabeth, lived alone in a nine-room apartment in United Nations Plaza. She died alone there the weekend of Halloween, 1998. On November 2, her building manager found her and called my mother. She kept the message he left on our answering machine that day on our machine for years, an older man with an accent muttering “Hello? Hello? I am calling for Anne Locascio…I need to speak to someone…” My mom skipped by it every time it came up in her review of the messages, but she did not delete it.

On that day, November 2, 1998, I walked home from school with Moira, who was coming over to hang out. I remember it as an unusually fun and giggly walk through the vivid foliage of my neighborhood. I always loved that Halloween weather, crisp heading towards cold, steel gray sky, sometimes rain. At the door to my house, we were greeted by my father, strangely home in midafternoon. Even stranger, he asked Moira to go home in the stiffly formal diction he always turns to in moments of crisis. “Lisa needs to be with her family now. This is a private family matter.”

Inside, my mother was in disarray, pacing back and forth, falling into a slouching posture on the living room couch. “Your grandmother Elizabeth has passed away,” my father told me.

There was a memorial service at our parish in Oak Park, St. Giles, where I played “Danny Boy” on the flute and my sister sang Sarah McLachlan’s “Angel.” We buried her in Conway, South Carolina, in the ancestral plot of the family she had married into. It was my mother’s choice, all of it; Grandmother Elizabeth was never a churchgoer at St. Giles, she wasn’t even a Catholic, and in burying her in Conway my mother was able to begin the process of reuniting her family for good. On Easter weekend of this year, just a few months ago, we buried my mom there, too, between her mother and father, per the wishes she left behind in a letter written in Sharpie in a notebook.

In the elevator of the Myrtle Beach hotel where we stayed during Grandmother Elizabeth’s interment, my mom was crying and a woman asked her what was wrong. “My mama died,” my mom said in a South Carolina patois. She had a habit of taking on the coloration of the place she found herself, or the person to whom she was speaking. The woman hugged her. She took my mother in her arms.

I had found her trying to apply eyeliner in our hotel room bathroom that morning, weeping. “I don’t know why I keep putting this makeup on when I can’t stop crying,” she said.

Washing my face before bed, I had the cliche wish to discuss my experience of my mother’s death with my mother. I’m tired of living in time.


But for the grace of love

I'd will the meaning of

heaven from above

“For Martha” is the rare Pumpkins song with a clear interpretation. It’s a tribute to Billy Corgan’s mother, Martha Louise Maes Corgan Lutz, who like my mother was born in 1947 and died in 1996, at the height of the Pumpkins’ fame. A photograph of her as a child at the now-defunct Chicago amusement park Riverview Park is immortalized inside the liner notes for Siamese Dream. Corgan named his music label Martha’s Music.

Larger memorial image loading...

“For Martha” is a fan favorite.

The band revived it it on their 2018 Shiny and Oh So Bright tour, the first tour since 2000 with James. Billy had a special hat made for the occasion.

This hat encapsulates so much of the aggravation of late-period Pumpkins. Why, Billy, did you decide to perform one of the most vulnerable and emotionally intimate songs of your oeuvre in a silly hat? Did you want to hide from your loss?

If so, I get it.

Beyond his decision to immortalize her in this song—and, more broadly, on Adore—I know little about their relationship. In Billy lore, Martha Corgan seems like a less controversial figure than William Patrick Corgan Sr., the hard-living guitarist who performed “For Martha” with the band at the 2000 last concert. “This is for you, Dutch!” Billy’s dad called out before playing the song with the band that night. Was “Dutch” his nickname for his ex-wife because her mother was an immigrant from Belgium who, according to Billy’s sweet story about professional wrestling’s ability to unite diverse groups of people, didn’t speak English?

It’s easier to focus on a needly special-knowledge fan question than it is to say something meaningful about Billy’s evident, powerful, and long-lived grief for his mother, Adore’s most unifying thread. Knowing very little about the woman herself, I can only observe the shape of her loss in the way her son misses her.


If you have to go, don't say goodbye

If you have to go, don't you cry

If you have to go, I will get by

I will follow you and see you on the other side

When I was packing up my bedroom at my childhood house, I found the rare math test on which I received an A, from third grade, folded carefully into a special box. I had put it away in anticipation of a whole year of math triumphs, the proof of which I planned to present to my father at the end of the school year. If one A was good, I reasoned, a whole stack of them would be the triumph that would convince my father I was doing my best. But I never got another A in math—definitely not that year, and largely never again—and I guess he never saw the one test on which I did again.

I always wanted to delight my parents. I am still trying to learn how to delight myself.

Which was why, when I learned I had received free tickets to a private Smashing Pumpkins show held on a studio lot in Burbank on May 2, I knew I would go. My partner stayed home with our baby and I took my friend Isaac, my old college roommat, who I took to a 2005 Billy solo show in Chicago at which Billy cut his hand open on his guitar and bled everywhere.

It embarrassed me how nervous I was. Admission not guaranteed, the tickets warned. We had an early dinner at a Mexican restaurant that seemed, perfectly, transplanted out of our shared hometown, the Midwest, and received wristbands, which granted us entry to a tiny venue. There was a very long line for a Wild Turkey-branded bar issuing thimble-sized free cocktails. We waited, watching two awkward and unhappy men in careful dadcore outfits record promos for the radio show on which the band was appearing. The crowd was largely Gen X, with some Millennials and Zoomers and a surprisingly high number of babies and toddlers in construction headphones.

Then the Pumpkins came out and I was so close to the stage. Close as on the night of the December 2, 2000 concert, close at the times I met them at Navy Pier and Tower Records. Close as I’d ever been. They played the hits, songs they’d rehearsed for tour—they had just that morning returned from Australia—a set with no surprises. “Bullet With Butterfly Wings,” “Zero,” “Ava Adore,” “1979,” “Today,” and “Cherub Rock,” a few new songs, the closing performance of “Silverfuck.” It was almost identical to the show I saw at the Hollywood Bowl last November.

Watching them go through the set again, I wondered once more how the band feels about playing those songs. Are they tired of them, or glad to still be playing? They sounded good, tight and fluid. As much as they ever have, Billy and inscrutable James seemed happy. Next to me, a woman who looked nineteen was dancing herself into a trance, headbanging her blonde curly hair, thrashing her limbs. Why wasn’t I like her? Wasn’t I enjoying myself? It was a really great concert. Special enough that throughout I entertained the old fantasy that it would somehow end with me meeting the band and taking a picture with Billy, despite which I left the venue immediately after the last song.

A few weeks later, I asked Isaac what he thought of the show. “It was great,” he said. He loved their dark cover of “Once in a Lifetime.” He remarked on Billy’s evident joy in performing. “He’s just such a dad,” he said. Isaac told me he had played the “1979” video for his partner.

“What was it like for you to be there with me?” I asked.

“What was most intense for me was your pained grimace,” Isaac said. “Your stoicism.”

I do feel stoic at Pumpkins concerts. Ashamed of my love for them. Tentative, holding my breath, anxious, painfully self-aware. So deeply inside myself, feeling so many layers of experience, that I don’t know how to surface. Which memory to choose.

It’s a kind of bliss, to be with someone you love like that.

Thank you for reading! This is the fourteenth of sixteen installments of Adoration Revisited, which will be released every Friday between December 2, 2022 and whenever it’s done. If you enjoy my newsletter, I’d be honored if you share it with your friends. And I’m always interested to hear about your obsessions and memories.