Sometimes, in the middle of the night, I awaken with a thought so crisp and clear that’s nearly impossible to push aside and go back to sleep. This is one of those thoughts.
My Mom was Irish/Native American, 5ft even, had a witch-like cackle of a laugh, and was one of the most interesting people I’ve ever experienced. She loved mysteries, I sometimes find myself thinking about all the shows and movies she’s missed since she passed 9 years ago that she would have loved. She loved meatball subs, and fast cars, and music, and singing.
When I was in 2nd grade, she had a stroke. I remember watching the paramedics loading her into the ambulance while I sat on the school bus outside our home. I remember questions, and nurses. I remember someone taking me to the hospital. I remember looking at her surrounded by cords and screens, tears streaming down her face, and wondered if she had forgotten me, who I was.
We lived in a home for children then for a few days or a week, maybe even two weeks- I’m not sure anymore. I remember looking through the windows at night and wondering, again, when she’d come back for us. Our Aunt came eventually, and took us in. She was sugary sweet for a bit until something shifted, or maybe it always had been there but she hid it well. My sister is a lighter hue of mixed than I, but me? I’m noticeably half-black. She wasn’t so keen on that. Sometimes she’d drop my cheese on the floor, coat it in cat hair before putting it on my sandwich (still can’t eat sliced orange cheese today). Or she’d serve us peas (my sister’s favorite but my most hated vegetable) every other day. I’d exact my revenge by flicking them into her crystal chandelier. When I did something- anything really, particularly naughty, she’d lock me in the bathroom for hours. She brought us a tent once and had us sleep outside, but I was too scared so I knocked and knocked but she never answered.
Then we stayed with an Uncle and his wife, who thought our dark skin was something that could be scrubbed away in scalding hot baths. But when the summer finally ended, we were able to go home. My Mom wasn’t the same. She was disabled now, couldn’t use her right arm, wasn’t as mentally capable as before. Life was different for us. Food wasn’t that abundant, nor were clothes. I remember the shame of buying groceries with food stamps, and being on welfare, housing. We went to the local food pantry. But my Mom was strong, she took care of us. She made us a home.
And then we moved to a better apartment across town. I taught the boy next door to ride a bike. I read stories to the younger kids– it was the librarian in me shining through. The darkness started then too. The drinking as a way to cope. I can’t imagine it was easy for my Mom, being disabled, looking after two girls. But things got worse when we were evicted by our new landlord who wanted the apartment for his mother. I remember sitting in court that day, holding my Star Wars: Episode 1 book, and thinking that it wasn’t fair. I remember my Mom’s distress, and the house she wanted to buy down the street but we just couldn’t afford a $5,000 deposit on.
We moved again. It wasn’t as nice. But we continued living. More money came in, somewhere, somehow. I got a job at the library too. I was in choir, I even traveled with the choir. Mom’s drinking worsened. Things were splitting apart. We moved again. My sister and I argued a lot; sometimes because of our night and day personalities, sometimes because even then, I think we were afraid of what would happen next. It was a pattern for us. I went to college. My sister and my Mom were close as if they could read each other’s minds. I was the breath of fresh air, she’d call me. The introvert, the serious one, the direct one. I’d come home and write terrible manuscripts some weekends. I’d pour liquor down the drain too. I judged her relentlessly because I thought I should or I could. I wish I hadn’t.
She came to see me graduate college, and she was so proud, I remember that. I also remember being nervous having her there, I still don’t know why. I remember feeling lackluster that day because I was on to my master’s degree at the end of the summer anyway. And I could tell it bothered her, but she kept on smiling. She made me laugh, she was the brightest spot of this day, this moment. Even now, I’m smiling thinking about her pride and tears and smiles all for me. I wish I had told her how happy she made me that day.
The summer was dramatic. I moved back home while I waited to find an apartment. The drinking worsened. She wasn’t the same, there was something different churning within her. We fought a lot. I judged her, and everything I did annoyed her. I found an apartment to move into at the end of the month. I remember walking into her room and sobbing on her shoulder. I remember telling her that I was scared that when I left, no one would be there anymore. I told her I worried about her drinking. She wiped my tears and said everything would be ok. But it wouldn’t, we both knew that. She was drunk the day I moved out, we argued again.
That night I refused to call her. I wish I had.
She died the next day.
And I’ve been trying to make sense of it for years. I blamed myself. A family member even blamed me, said I stressed her into having an aneurysm. I believed it. I’ve been carrying this thing around for so long that even now it stops me, debilitates me. And it’s hard too because when someone who meant the world to you passes, you remember all the good times. You gloss over the bad ones. But to do so would be doing a disservice to her.
This woman suffered through so much, never fully recovered and made a home and life for her daughters. She was tired and hurt. She struggled with things I never understood, maybe never will. She was strong and strength comes at a price. This was hers. I wish I had understood.
Nine years later, and I finally get it. I always imagined it to be a puzzle with missing pieces. But her life wasn’t a puzzle, it was art, and not all art makes practical sense; it’s all about interpretation, perspective. She was art. My sister and my Mom were best friends. She and I were something else entirely. I’ll never fully grasp what, but whatever it was, I hope I inspire as much love in my daughter as she did in me. I hope I’m worthy. I wish.
Thanks for reading this incredibly emotional post.