I will likely revisit this but my last entry and the timing got me thinking about my mom. She was largely absent from my life, as I’ve said before, but she was this… buzz in the background, but blinding whenever she was in sight. She flitted in and out of my life throughout most of my childhood like a pixie just in the peripheral.
When I was little, my mother ran around barefoot, her soles blackened and flat from the years she refused shoes, in short shorts and a strawberry blonde ponytail. She spent more time under the hood of her ugly brown car than she ever spent behind the wheel of it. She loved animals, all animals, and she was equally allergic to most of them. She could get a wild squirrel and other random animals to eat out of her hand in little time. I used to refer to her as the tomboy version of Snow White.
She was an especially good cook but her trademark was spaghetti, which I had many times, and the most elaborate lasagnas (twelve cheese minimum) which I had only twice. She was a smartass, she turned into a big child when the holidays came around and adored each and every one of them. She got into them to a level I have never been able to compete with, even at my youngest and most caffeine-induced. Even me hammering all the bells flat that she would pin to her clothes and shoes during Christmas did not daunt her in the slightest, she would simply pull out a bag of them she kept hidden and replace every single one.
She taught me how to play pool, ride a mechanical bull, play backgammon, fish, play poker and spite & malice all before the age of ten. She worked at bars, in construction, laying asphalt at the highway department, did taxes and software testing. She taught me how to drive and shoot when I was fourteen. I don’t think she ever once checked a movie rating before letting me watch something on tape. Our bonding moments, especially from age ten on, were over coffee and Bugs Bunny on Saturday mornings. We would do the same when Star Trek and X-Files came on. We played deathmatch Quake together on more than one occasion, first person shooters were definitely her preferred genre.
She could always brush out tangles without ever hurting, splinters too. She was very pretty and always smelled nice. She had cool hands and long fingers she cracked often, roughened from all the stuff she did in a day. The way she ran her fingers through the hair on my head at bedtime always put me at such ease. She enjoyed playing the piano, her favorite piece being Moonlight Sonata. I could listen to her play for hours. I still have trouble listening to that song these days.
I used to wish I looked anything like her and often doubted my parentage. In my mind, she was more wisp and I was more troll in appearance. It was the seventies, so my only advantage was the ability to tan while my highly fair-skinned mother could not. The one time she ever successfully got to a color she was proud of, they tried to admit her to the hospital for jaundice.
I spent much of my early childhood standing at a screen door for hours waiting for her to come like she promised, disappointed more often then not. I spent most of my preteen and teen years hating and avoiding her. It wasn’t until sometime in high school that I realized the only one that hate hurts is the hater (me), it was a tough lesson to embrace, but I felt so much better once I did it. I let the hate go, learned to forgive and we managed to build a pseudo parent/sibling/friend relationship.
She was always in motion and moved often, never seeming able to settle in any one place or any one job. When I got married and moved out west, she followed two weeks later. I only secretly admitted how happy that made my heart.
After a few years, my marriage fell apart just as my mother was finding her roots in this new terrain so full of wildlife and outdoor joys. I was glad she was there to lean on while I put my life back together. We ended up living less than fourteen blocks apart. She bought her first house, of which she was so proud. I got to watch her nest for the very first time and helped her do whatever I could. I found I had a knack for removing wallpaper and creatively altering beat up furniture to be presentable.
Deep down, my mother was always the girl who wanted the small dream. She wanted the husband, the white picket fence, the 2.4 kids, 2 dogs, and 2 cats. In her pursuit of this, she made every awful choice in dating partner a person could make: married, drunk, losers, cheaters and abusers. She was a great example in what not to do for me.
But here in the west, I also got to see her finally date someone worthy of her affections. He was nice, but I was always bothered by the fact I could hear the pitch in her voice increase whenever he was around and she seemed to behave more wifely and girly than usual. I couldn’t understand why she felt the need to put on a front when I knew her to be so awesome just as she was, he would surely see that too. I usually opted to stay away when he was around just because she would act weird.
I was working a double shift one Thursday night and my mom and I were instant messaging back and forth about the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday and what we would be doing. She said that he would be there for the holidays and was also due to arrive that weekend. I grimaced. She got tired, we said goodnight and agreed to meet up the following Tuesday when we watched our shows together. An hour or so later, I sent her a text politely bowing out of the holidays and telling her to have fun with boyfriend. I felt like an ass.
Saturday morning at work, with a hundred sets of eyes on me, I got a call from the coroner’s office that my mother had been found dead not an hour before. I was pissed. My mom would kick his ass for pulling this kind of prank on me. There was no way my mother, the invincible pixie, could be dead.
I held it together long enough to find a back office to go in and argued with the man on the phone. He had the wrong person. He didn’t know what he was talking about, we chatted barely two days ago and she was fine. Then one of my friends got there, one of my friends whose number my mom had for emergencies, with my mom’s boyfriend. The look on his face told me everything I needed to know but didn’t want to.
My next call was to tell my grandparent that their youngest was gone. I don’t remember much of the rest, but I only ended up able to sleep that night by heading over to her house and curling up on the couch where she’d been found. I spent a large number of days there not moving much and not taking calls. I checked her email. The email I sent bowing out of the holidays sat unread, I cried from the relief alone.
We had her cremated. I completely fucked up the whole final services thing, most of our family was on the other side of the states so barely anyone came. She should have had a street party, Weekend at Bernie’s style. She should have had more fucking people in massive pain just from the huge void she left behind. Everything happened in a whirlwind, and when I fulfilled all of my daily obligations, I went out to drink. A lot.
One of my uncles called, her eldest brother, barely able to contain the tears and just started apologizing. I told him there really wasn’t anything to apologize for, but he said there was. I was raised my entire life believing my mom had given birth to me and left me behind. He told me that when I was still a baby, I was still with my mom and it was my grandparent who had convinced him that his baby sister was unfit to take care of me and he simply didn’t have any reason to not believe it. So he did take me, and my grandparent promptly put a restraining order on my mother. My grandparent was a pillar of the community with a lot of high ranking friends, my mom just a powerless teen of nineteen.
I think the sum of my emotional output at that moment was… “huh.” I simply did not have enough with which to give the slightest shit. My uncle was going into his list of regrets about what he didn’t get to tell her. It wasn’t long before I interrupted him.
me: “Was she talking to you?”
me:”Were you on speaking terms when she died?”
uncle:”Well yeah, we chatted and emailed every so often”
me:”Then she already forgave you.”
uncle:”What do you mean?”
me:”If she hadn’t forgiven you, she would never have had anything to do with you again. You know that.”
me:”Then you have your answer, it went unsaid but she did forgive you and she probably knew how you felt about it. She was well aware of the mastermind behind it.”
uncle:”I…. true… but, can you forgive me?:
me:”There is nothing for me to forgive. I don’t regret the person I turned out to be and the fact that my mom never trashed her parent for this or told me about it just made her jump several levels in my book. I’m in awe of her. Had it been me instead of my mom, I would have cut up your body in tiny pieces and no one would have ever found any trace of the body or of me and my kid, but I’m not my mom and this wasn’t my fight.”
I hope he felt a little better about what I said, death threat aside, but it made me sit down and do math. In the almost thirty years I had been alive, my mom and I only had seven functional years together, much of it based on unfounded hate on my part. I think that hurt me more than anything else. I found out she was engaged but hadn’t told me yet. She was just about to touch that tiny dream with that tiny white fence, only to have it snatched away from her. Life, fate… whatever you want to call it, it was one fucking unfair piece of shit.
The anniversary of her death is in exactly one week. I’m not sure what my kid and I will do to honor her that day. My kid never met her grandmother, they came along later, but I always find it so… beautiful when I see the mark of my mom on my kid, from the shade of their eyes, the freckles that speckle their cheeks, the fair skin, the love of all animals and ability to bring even the shyest forth, the desire to run around like a mad person until breathless, the smartass comebacks….She is still there, even if just a little bit.