Mom died at a little after 4:00 a.m. on December 21st, 1998.
I loved her.
I’ll always love her.
Even though it’s been 13 years, I still find myself thinking about my mother almost daily. Sometimes, it’s flitting— Mom would have liked that. Sometimes, it’s an unexpected insight.
Like, for instance, one day it hit me. My mother was an opinionated woman. Growing up, I’d just thought Katie liked to talk. Usually over tea. Yes, sometimes she voiced her criticism over things and people, but she always finished her occasionally scathing commentary with her own benediction– “Well, to each their own.” It took the sting out of anything negative she ever said.
I don’t know why it took me so long to see that her benediction was a smokescreen for her true opinion. Possibly it was because I was only half-listening to her, the way you do when you think that your life will always include that voice in the background. Possibly because I stood too close to her. I needed to take a step backwards to see the bigger picture.
Whatever. Like all kids, I absorbed a lot of true sentiments unconsciously.
Thus, I can rhyme off, with very little effort, a short list of things my mother liked: french perfume, a pretty scarf, elegant shoes, a library card, bone-china, a good laugh, an airline ticket, dogs (and later, to her surprise–cats), a handful of peanuts, a bank account in the black, and a visits from her kids.
Just as easily, I can give you the top of the barrel of the things she didn’t like: poor manners, a lack of kindness, any person who bragged about their children more than she did, nose-pickers, any perceived slight to the family, violence (particularly if it was levelled at children or animals), tax forms and boredom.
And here’s another thing I silently ingested: It was Katie’s opinion that one day. I. Would. Make. Something. Of. Myself.
True, Mom voiced that prophecy less often as the years passed, and I didn’t do anything particularly noteworthy. A stupid person might have thought that indicated she’d given up on her vision of my destiny. To that I say, hah! Katie was a hard-core day dreamer. She wasn’t going to give up on the hope that I would one day write a book. Right to the end, she both damned and gifted me with her silent expectations. It used to make me uncomfortable. Every time she’d pat my hand and assure me that I was “a late bloomer,” I’d feel like the bud that didn’t have the wits to unfurl.
Still, Mom always wanted her kids to be happy, and confident. One day, toward the end, she gave me a look, neither condemning nor hopeful, and then smiled, the way Moms do when they’re loving and giving, and said, “I know you’ll be okay, just the way you are.” I nodded back, my own smile bittersweet.
I wasn’t so sure. I wasn’t ready for her to go.
Her mind wandered during those dark days. Sometimes, she had one-sided conversations with a little girl who was invisible to us, but very patently three dimensional to her. There were times she was happy to see her– she’d smile as if she’d just seen a dearly-loved friend—and there were evenings, she’d just observe in a dry voice, “She’s back.”
Quite frankly, any visits by the girl in the blue dress always made the hair rise at my nape.
Too freaking bad. As the need for comfort grew in pace with my Mom’s suffering, the little girl’s visits increased. I learned to think of her as my mother’s pacifier, because I wasn’t so sure I wanted to sign on to the ‘angel’ possibility.
One evening, we were alone. Just me and my Mom, and the machines that kept feeding her the drugs. She hadn’t spoken for a bit. Then, suddenly her eyes lit up , and she said with absolute delight, “Oh! Oh!”
I looked around.
We were still alone, as far as I could see.
Mom’s gaze was on something only she could see. Then she said to her friend, “I just saw Leigh! She was walking across her office.” A Mom-smug smile transformed her face. “I told them she’d make something of herself one day.”
That’s when I decided that I believe in angels. That imaginary kid—that pacifier—that friend had given my Mother a glimpse of something this tight bud was never going to produce. I said a silent and profound thank you.
Because in 1998, I wasn’t a writer.
Things have changed. In a year’s time, my book, THE TROUBLE WITH FATE will be out. This should delight me, but quite frankly, it scares the shit out of me. People will read it. They will have opinions. Perhaps negative ones. Oh, dear. Oh dear. All this work. All this effort. All this skinning of myself to get down to the core. And you know what? I know someone’s going to hate it. That’s just the way the odds work out.
I’ve been doing a lot of
worrying thinking about that.
Until the flight back home yesterday. I looked at my ticket and realized that it was the 21st of December. And instead of being swept into that usual moment of melancholy, I smiled.
It took me a helluva a long time to do it, but I did it, Mom.