Wednesday, May 9, 2012
Mama froze. She was holding something, a towel I think it was, and her hand stopped in mid air. Her incessant motion on pause for a moment, she looked at me in disbelief, her brown eyes sad and soft.
"Oh, Ronni," she said, her voice dropping to nearly a whisper, her head almost imperceptibly moving from side to side, the unconscious motion adding what she didn't say aloud: "Oh, no."
We'd been talking about nothing important, how our days had passed since the last time we spoke, what my sisters were up to, what my father was teaching now, her plans for remodeling the house to modernize the old kitchen where she never had enough room. I had my back to the stove.
In that small, cramped space, I was, as usual, the only still spot among her waves of dramatic, agitated movement.
Mama and I had been in business together, and we grew the company until we a nice office, two partners, a dozen employees and major, nationally known clients. But my temperament and the stresses of running a small business didn't match well, and one day, the partners voted me out after a particularly nasty fight.
My mother just went along with it, sitting silent mostly, looking at the floor. I knew I deserved some of what the partners said, but that day, I felt ground to dust.
It wasn't the first time that I felt my mother betrayed me, and it wouldn't be the last. But I thought I meant it when I hissed a curse at her through clenched teeth.
"I'll never forgive you for this."
I punctuated my overly dramatic exit with nearly two years of estrangement, nursing my pain until I was flat worn out from scratching that ugly, scabby scar.
I eventually forgave her just like I'd done with each of her betrayals, small and large, as she always forgave mine. Life's not fair, and people don't always do the right thing. We hurt one another badly. It wouldn't be so painful if we didn't love each other. But true love, once bestowed, can't disappear. I came back to Mama when I remembered that.
Still, I was being careful that day in the kitchen, keeping things light. I didn't want to revisit that dark chapter or its ugly aftermath. I had told her a little about my life since then, but I was still skittish and overprotective of my heart.
My announcement came from nowhere, apropos of nothing. I don't remember planning to tell her.
"I'm back with John," I said softly, stopping her in her tracks.
He and I had just started seeing each other when I found myself jobless, and seemingly friendless and sucker-punched. I turned to him and, instead of recoiling, John poured Scotch as I blubbered and squeaked.
We had a stormy relationship. He gave me a job but never lost an opportunity to fill my head with thoughts of revenge. I went along with it to please him, afraid of losing what I thought was my last thread to another human being. John turned out to be abusive and manipulative, always ready to take advantage of the smallest opening. He was a mean, clever drunk. He said I was weak to forgive my mother and my partners.
Standing in Mama's kitchen that day, I watched as she weighed her next words, something she didn't often do.
"Why?" she asked, simply.
I couldn't tell her how scared I was of him by then, but I think she knew. I felt my throat tighten and my eyes fill. I just shrugged and shook my head and let her hug me. She changed the subject.
Mama never asked again, even as I struggled to end that violent relationship many times over. She was just there, a rock. When I finally left John for the last time, she still didn't ask. Instead, she went to work helping me find a new job. She gave me money when I needed it and wrote cover letters to send with resumes on fine, creamy paper. She paid to have copies made.
Every night for weeks, she fed me home-cooked meals while I circled help-wanted ads. We talked, and I began to heal. Each day she typed and mailed while I interviewed or worked at temporary jobs. Her atonement was to make sure I could care for myself again. And little by little, as I leaned into her and took the strength she offered, I let myself trust again.
Mama's dead now. Sometimes I don't speak kindly of her. She was a mess, as are we all. She was inconsistent and haughty. She drank too much and found fault too quickly. She didn't praise much, and she frequently embarrassed me with her half-baked opinions. She didn't listen well, and often, we didn't like each other much. We fought.
I cared for her as best I could toward the end of her life. Feeble, nearly blind and unable to care for my father, she tried to commit suicide and failed, so I took over managing her and my father's household. I cleaned and sold their house after moving them into a nursing home when I couldn't provide the round-the-clock care they both needed toward the end.
I watched as the undertaker took her body away under a crimson velvet blanket after she died of a massive stroke and, against all odds, I wished she was still alive to comfort me.
I kept her ashes in a walnut box on a bookshelf, joined eventually by my father's until I could return them to their beloved Vienna, where my sisters and I buried them together. Officials wouldn't let us fulfill Mama's final wish--to scatter her ashes in the Danube. I believe she'd forgive me for that, too, although undoubtedly, she'd have a sharp word about incompetent bureaucrats and offer useless yet definitive ways to get around them.
She loved me, even when it was hard to recognize, and I loved her, even when I was furious with her. We loved each other despite our many and major flaws. And isn't that, in the end, the unconditional, unfailing nature of our imperfect, human love?
My mother is still a part of me; half of every molecule in my body is her body. Half of every breath I take is her breathing me into life. This is no superficial love. It's as deep as my bones and blood, and I can't deny it.
It is, after all, my redemption.
"My mother is still a part of me; half of every molecule in my body is her body. Half of every breath I take is her breathing me into life. This is no superficial love. It's as deep as my bones and blood, and I can't deny it." I love this, Ronni! I have a soaked shirt and face to proove it. The last paragraph is being noted and I will reach deep within me to embrace that each time I find myself lost over my mother's earthly absence. Thank you!
Thanks, Queen. I appreciate that.