Over a dozen years ago today I was working a double shift at a telecommunications center that was trying to ramp up for holiday volume. My mom and I were instant messaging back and forth about plans for the upcoming holiday well into midnight. We said our “I love you’s” and “good night’s,” her very last message being how her boyfriend would be coming down.
I didn’t like how my mother behaved around the men she was dating, and this one was no different. This was the first one that wasn’t married, a junkie, a drunk, a loser, or some variation thereof and I could tell she was pretty serious about him. I didn’t dislike him either. I truly felt my mom deserved someone good for a change.
However, I hated how she spoke higher and more sing-songy when he was around. How her very quick and sharp wit was dulled and muted in order to keep the spotlight on her man. My mom was the type of person you’d want to have your back in a beer brawl. Her Mrs. Cleaver act around guys just pissed me off.
I sent a final message opting out of spending the holiday with her, using work as an excuse, and wishing her a good time with the boyfriend.
I cannot express enough the relief when I found that message unread two days later.
When my message arrived, my mom had dozed off in front of the TV, and in less than an hour a blood clot traveled to her lungs and suffocated her in her sleep. She never reached fifty years of age.
A little over a day later, her boyfriend would be the one to find her still on the couch.
I’m sitting at work, on a Saturday, working another double shift with a hundred pairs of eyes on me while a coroner calls me to tell me casually my mother is dead and how by the decomposition and smell of the body, how he managed to estimate the time of death.
I’m also pissed that this man dares to fuck with me over such a thing. There is no way my hiking, fishing, outdoorsy loving mother would be dead.
I put the call on hold and walk to a back office. I have no clue what my face shows at this point, only that all one hundred sets of those eyes are watching me in shock.
When I pick up this call, I start tearing into this man for the shitty human being he is, how my mother would kick his ass if she knew what he was trying to pull. He never responded, except to give me his number and I hang up on him.
It wasn’t until my friend Cris calls me on my cellphone and tells me that she is with my mom’s boyfriend and they are there to pick me up that the weight of it hits me as truth.
Cris was close to my mom, but she’d never met the boyfriend. If she was with him, it was because she is one of those on a short list of emergency numbers my mom keeps of people who know how to find me.
I feel like a building just fell on my chest, I don’t really remember breathing. It gets worse when I see Cris, the boyfriend standing behind and off to the side with downcast eyes as though he somehow doesn’t have the right to be there.
This puzzles me.
I suddenly feel very sorry for him when I realize he has to be one who found her. I also realize I don’t… I don’t want to see her at all.
I also realize this is one of the few people who might actually be hurting as much as I am.
I realize that if I don’t make any other calls, I do need to call Grand and tell them their baby is dead. I’m still at work when I find an empty office and give them the news. It galls me the first response Grand has is “are you ok?”
Cris deals with most of it. I don’t remember much of anything except that it isn’t long later when Cris and another one of my close friends are with me at home. I’ve not cried, I doubt I’ve expressed much of anything. They intermittently ask me if I want anything. I finally tell my friends I love them and appreciate what they are trying to do but I really need them to get the fuck out.
I stared in the dark in my quiet little house for only a little while before I got in the car and headed to my mom’s.
I had my own set of keys to her house, as she did to mine.
I suddenly remember my last text message blowing her off for the holiday. GUILT. It’s blinking unread in her notifications. *SIGH*
I read an email she sent to her boyfriend where she mentioned being just a little disappointed that there had not been any grandchildren from my failed marriage. GUILT.
I curled up into a ball on the couch she died in and for a long time… I cried.
I cried over the fact that the only thing my mom ever wanted from life was the whole marriage and happy home bit. The closest she ever got was the engagement she hadn’t told me about yet to the current boyfriend. He let it slip in the chaos and I’d yet to process it.
I cried over the fact that in all of my almost thirty years on earth, if you took the years that were robbed by Grand, my former spouse and my own stubborn anger… my mom and I had only have seven years of time together. SEVEN.
I was an orphan. I’d long been abandoned by one parent and had spent most of my life feeling like the other one was just half-assing the same. It would be a few more weeks before I would find out just how much of a lie that was, and I would grieve even more.
I stayed on that couch for days.
Then I buried myself in work, and when it came time to leave work, I hit the bars. I had a precarious balance between burying myself in work and inebriation.
I volunteered to train classes at other centers when I couldn’t deal with the fact my co-workers knew about it. When I had to have paperwork notarized, it was a branch manager at another center who did it. They just asked “Why are you even here?”
Grand and my closest cousin came to help clear out paperwork and see if we could find a will. I opted to cremate her, requested a lock of her hair. I’d never done funeral things and we weren’t members of a church. We were outsiders to the area we lived really. I drug my cousin along on my alcohol binges when we had decided to cease and desist in the evening. To this day, we don’t talk about it. He took on the mantra Nevada did… “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” kind of thing. For me that kind of wildness was pretty normal, for him the family man, it was very eye-opening.
By the time I could tolerate other people and could host a wake, only her boyfriend and a few of my friends had come. I had just waited too long for people to keep an eye out for it. I just did everything wrong. MORE GUILT.
I know deep down my mom would never stress about that kind of shit and she would likely make fun of me for doing so. Unfortunately, logic doesn’t seem to have a lot of pull over emotions. It’s sucks like that.
I know my mom would feel bad to know that the holiday season is very bittersweet for me. She was such a massive kid about the holidays, she loved them all and was excited about them and ran at them with wide open arms. It would kill her to know that losing her makes me want to curl back up on that couch every holiday season until its over.
So I don’t.
I try to channel my mom in spite of the scroogy spirit that I have. I realize now I started doing it for Grand’s benefit right after losing my mom and I’ve been doing it for someone’s benefit ever since. Thank goodness it only took a couple years before Spawn came along, since now I don’t have to work to find a focal point.
I try my best to give my kid the kind of holiday environment that would make the grandmother they never knew proud. It’s the least I can do.