Sometimes I’m inspired to blog about something that doesn’t necessarily directly link to my long distance relationship. However, I’ve been reconsidering having some of these slightly off topic entries because, if it relates to me, inevitably it relates to my relationship.
I’ve never been that good at math
Also, by denying myself writing about another topic, I’ve found I stymie myself from writing at all, and that does a disservice to me and my readers. So this begins my “Slightly Off Topic” category that will pop up from time to time, and begins with this discussion, about my mother, me, and the last ten years, especially the last few weeks/months.
It’s Wednesday, August 15th as I write this, but a week ago today it was August 8th, and the 10 year anniversary since my mom died. Interestingly enough, I didn’t cry that day. I guess I expected to, but if I’ve learned anything in the past 10 years, is that my emotional reaction to her absence is arbitrary, triggered by interesting, mostly unexpected things. Such as the time I went to visit Scott in Iowa one summer, and, looking down at a receipt I noticed the date of August 8th and burst into tears in a liquor store. Or last spring, when I went for a fitting of a bridesmaid dress and lost it as I saw a mother and her daughter bride-to-be embrace with joy, an option my mother and I no longer have. I can admit – with conviction – that once a year since I will cry the way I did, not on August 8, 2002, but 3 weeks later, driving through the cemetery, when everything was said and done. The casket and gravestone had been picked, the viewing, the wake, the mass, the funeral. The mass the Sunday after funeral. It was a random Saturday, when the dust to dust had settled, and I went to see my mother, without anyone beside me to comfort me, without the fanfare of flowers and grieving family and friends. When I finally felt the weight of her loss in the silence. I called my older sister Lory who begged me to get off the phone and stop driving but I couldn’t, running the windshield wipers because I was sure it was raining but it may have only been my tears. I calmed down enough to get safely to a friend’s house to collapse, enveloped in myself like Niobe, inconsolable and ever wet.
This year, 2012, I cried like that on Saturday, August 4th.
just another day, or so i thought
I had been running errands all morning and realized I was close enough to the cemetery that I should visit. I had intentions to visit on the 8th – and I did – but I knew I could see her – and talk to her - on my own that day, so I made the segue over and sat in the grass, regaling my mom with stories, pouring my heart about some concerns, having a lively one-sided conversation that I believe she heard and enjoyed. I spoke in Spanish as much as I could, and reverted to English, as I did when I would get stuck, in real life. She always understood, whichever language.
As I did when she was alive, and before I would leave – either the house, or the hospital room – I stood up and kissed, not her cheek anymore, but my hand, placing it on her tombstone delicately. That tombstone is etched with her name and five roses that symbolize her five daughters, inscribed with a message from our father translating to say “With you a thousand lifetimes would not be enough.” And when I place my hand my voice drops to a whisper and I say as I always did: “I love you Mami”. And I walk away.
I did the same the last time I saw her alive – except for one thing: I didn’t kiss her. I had a cold, and she was due to come home that week, to be discharged to our care. We were both worried, because she had been from hospital to hospice and back for a year and a half. We weren’t sure the house would be clean enough for her to stay and not get sick again. Her immune system had been compromised so much. And that day, I had a slight cold. My concern prevented me from kissing her goodbye. Only I didn’t know it would be the last time I’d say goodbye. It was the only regret I had when it came to us – that I didn’t kiss her. I know I’m lucky to have that be my only regret. It is, still, small solace.
I didn’t cry, not yet. My eyes collected tears, like now, as I write, but none fell. Instead, I realized I was hungry and decided to stop for a slice of pizza. And I wound up at the pizzeria that, 10 years ago, we ordered pizza from that whole week after she passed, because they had a chicken parmigiana pizza all of us sisters had become obsessed with, and that was our comfort food at the time.
I ordered a plain slice, a Sicilian, and a soda. I then sat, alone, in the small dining area and fired up my Kindle Fire to read the latest book I had downloaded.
I am a little addicted to advice columns. Good or bad, I read them like some people pop tic tacs. From all the Dears: Abby, Wendy, Margo, Prudence, to Ask Amy and Miss Information, I often find insight into myself. I have a little folder in my Favorites called “Advice” so I can jump right in for Carolyn Hax to tell me about it, or to scratch my itch for some Savage Love. I even had a letter published once last year, asking about my LDR, in fact, though I felt embarrassed re-reading it for all to see (and knowing what I omitted).
I recently started reading Dear Sugar, and enjoyed her poetic responses, though they didn’t responate with me in the way I had read her column had affected others. I did, regardless, follow the fervor of her reveal as author Cheryl Strayed, enjoyed the reviews of her memoir Wild, intending to download it, when I then read about Tiny, Beautiful Things. Unbeknownst to anyone but my subconscious, I downloaded the sample and, on August 4th, began to read.
I enjoyed the forward, the blossom of who Dear Sugar would become as a voice of not so much reason, but kindness to those who are lost. And I felt a force inside me when I read about the column that awoke that same life in others. I felt myself sit up straighter as she said “The fuck is your life. Answer it.” I couldn’t wait to see what I had somehow been missing in reading her on my computer, maybe somewhat flippantly. Whatever had kept giving me clues to keep her in my peripheral vision finally knew I was ready to see.
I came to the first full chapter, the first column to begin the book, a letter from “Johnny” asking about what love was, and the fear wrapped up in that word. And Sugar’s response began:
“The last word my mother ever said to me was ‘love’”.
That sentence physically affected me, every bit of oxygen knocked out by an invisible force that punched my gut and heart. And there they were, those tears, the ones that always came as that reminder that my mother was gone and, as Sugar shares later “You Will Never Be Okay”. And yet…
The last words I told my mother were that I loved her.
In these last ten years, the emotional struggle I had about not kissing her goodbye, and I had forgotten what I had told her. I knew it, logically, but I had dismissed it emotionally, until that moment, in that pizzeria, Strayed’s words staring at me, daring me to remember how it really went down.
For much of this year I have been beating myself up for my failures, the hard knocks of life pushing and pulling me. I wallow in the things she didn’t get to see me do, and it will stunt me from continuing to do. As this anniversary of her death approached, I became increasingly aware of the parallels of my life then and now, the major difference being that my mother wasn’t a part of this recent trajectory. It makes me even more aware of how alone I am.
Don’t get me wrong - I have my sisters, my father, my friends, and Scott, so many wonderful avenues of love I can walk towards and feel embraced and warmed by.
But it is hard to turn to people who haven’t lost a parent; as sympathetic as they are, there is a hollowness the ones who have can hear, which makes us feel worse. And even though my sisters and I all lost our mother, we each grieve so differently, remember selectively, forget even more so, that it becomes too painful to turn to them.
Instead, these last few months I have peeled the layers of myself off, painfully stripping down to the core of who I am and what I need to do, what I should have been doing, beating myself up for the things I let fester, chiding myself for unrealized dreams, and stubbornly refusing to invite anyone in, adamant and alone. I wasn’t sure why until this week:
I wanted to tap into the reserve of the strength I saw in my mother, what she gifted to me, a present I had left unwrapped until now.
My younger sisters and I at first glance look like our father and his family – dark hair and eyes, olive features. Our mother was fair, dirty blonde, with sparkling green eyes. But as we get older our faces show her features more sharply, the angle of our cheeks, prominent with age. What we also got was her spirit, her feist, and to make up for not looking much like her, I subconsciously sought out boys and men I fell in love with green or hazel eyes, an invisible way to connect to her, somehow.
She has always been inside me, and with everything that has happened this year, the greatest struggle was with myself, and allowing myself to be like my mother, in her best, strongest way. And until I could allow that, I could never be the things I regretted not being. No matter what, inspiration is empty without pure desire, and strength.
I allowed skepticism to ruin some of the magic I used to believe in, and while I am still wary of some things, I have always believed in signs. I know my mother guided me to Sugar and her book, and even though I am less than a third of the way through, it is changing my life. I am reading it slowly, savoring, taking the time with it as it has taken me time to finally be able to understand the things I couldn’t – or wouldn’t – for ten years.
I’m still peeling, but it is less like an onion and more like sunburnt skin, healing itself with time and the salve of self – forgiveness. And resolve of self, to do the things I need to do.
I began this off-topic post by explaining that I no longer wanted to stop from expressing myself in writing, and that is true. To stop, to silence, is to die in a different way, and in a more painfully acute one. If I am to honor my mother, existing isn’t enough. Living must be done. And doing what I’ve always wanted to do, however big or small those accomplishments are. I’m afraid, but I’m not gonna let my fear dictate anymore. I’m going to, as Sugar says, get in the dirt and do the work. And…