It was one of those things where I saw her for the first time in a very long time, my mother. Not visually, though that too, but I saw her.
The glaucoma creeping slowly inward, laying a casual siege to her bright and energetic eyes. The crinkles of laughter around them, in the cheeks and the eyelids. The way her eyes seemed to actually dance and sparkle. The way her face lit up like a firework every time she smiled that big smile of hers. A tooth missing in the back of her mouth, the rest casually coloring with age, with half of one front tooth a false white. The moles that dot her face like an inverted night sky viewed from an open field in the countryside. Her face seemed to quiver with this loving energy and that did all kinds of things to me.
She had come to pick me up, talking all the way as she does. About my brother staying in the living room, tidbits about our family history, bills to pay and things to worry about. I listened quietly as I do. She likes to talk and she needs someone to listen. I’m afraid she’s grown so very lonely and that’s all my fault, but that’s also a story for a different time.
It was one of those nights where her soul cracked through all the mortar and crud that’s been her life. Cracked through and shined, I gotta say. Man, looking at her and listening to her talk and joke when we got in, I got a glimpse of how she must have been way back when, when she was makin’ the fellas go around the block for her. She was young at heart that night and there was nothing any poverty or weary years could do to stop her! I was so proud to call her my mother, and I thought warmly of all the great things I inherited from her.
Tinging all of these thoughts, though, was the renewed fear of losing her, this vibrant treasure, this heart of mine, this well of love the likes of which I’ve only seen one other person come close to. My god, I was afraid, and as we sat on her bed talking, I hugged her twice, and she stroked my head while I told her not to leave me.
I saw my mother that night and she was terrible in her beauty as all beautiful things are because they are eventually lost. I’ve never been more terrified than in that moment, loving my mother and being loved in return.
What soon followed was a stroke of either bad luck or hard living. Or rather three strokes in the space of one week, if I heard the doctor correctly. Nothing quite prepares you for going to visit your mother in the hospital, eager to provide love and support, only to have her inquire, innocently, “Who are you, again?” but the dizziness of it wears off quickly enough. Instead of sending flowers, my somewhat estranged siblings were there. That particular dizziness took some getting used to. All of us in the same room for the first time in more than a decade. What a time! We were all so different and so alike. The somewhat vulgar garrulousness of my brother, the ribbing nature of my eldest sister, and the patience of my second eldest sister – familiar traits looking back at me from almost unfamiliar faces. There was an almost innate chemistry that we all fell into and, for those hours we spent at mom’s bedside, it was like we’d grown up together all along.
Eventually her memory returned. She jokes that she always knew who I was and that she was giving me a hard time. Part of me believes her. She has that kind of humor. She returned to her usual self, minus the whole walking thing. We talked about the things she had missed in the months of her being “away”, including the death of her father a week after she was sent to the hospital. His was a heart attack. Quick, they said. “Quick,” I told her, but no matter how quickly someone leaves you, they still leave.
Things spun on. She hung in there. So did we. In hopes of giving my mom good news, I had told her that I was in love and we were living together. Ever since she would ask about my then girlfriend. “When do I get to meet her?” moms always ask, as though it’s a treat, a fun game. “Soon,” I would reply, but a part of me was nervous about appearances and vulnerability. After I swallowed that down and brought her, I realized I needn’t have worried. They got along so well, how surprising. They took turns knocking me down a few notches in good humored fun. My mom kept making pointed comments about not having “grandbabies” which was both heartwarming and terrible. We were in the middle of breaking up but my mom didn’t need to know that.
When we finally did and when I could no longer stand the, “I miss her, how is she” lines, I told her that we split. “Not gonna lie, mom, I feel like shit. Like, I really feel fuckin’ bad and it’s all my fault.” “You loved her, huh?” “Obviously.” “That’s too bad. It’s gonna hurt for a while, there’s no getting around that. But you’ll be alright. There’s always someone else to love.” Some real chicken soup for the soul shit, but that was my mom sometimes: brief and honest.
That woman has led a wonderful and wretched life, as many have. It’s easy to forget all that, though, because she still smiles like a high school girl when Sam Cooke comes on.