Why does it feel impossible to imagine your mother as anything but that, when up until you she was everything but that?
I remember when I was eight years old. The sun peeking in, cool dew blanketing the lawn, her voice a tether rope pulling me from sleep. Her voice rod-stout and firmly soiled. My world moved in motion circling hers, child keeping up. These mornings we’d rise early, chain our mutt to the leash and leave my sister sleeping, cross the street and walk the gravel backroads around a forgotten lake. The early morning was an allergist’s dream, fields strewn with sword grass and cockleburs. Power walking now, as if collecting all the dew and laying it on our bodies. Body-damp, this was our morning ritual.
One day, my mother’s exercise routine changed. One day she laced herself in gumption and began to run. The mutt and I kicking at her heels, scraggly, chipped in motion. I remember the shock, the betrayal at her running. How could she? She was not my mother then, she was a woman running, pitted in her needs and not mine. Was I so ego-swelled? I remember her, lifting sheer out of her motherskin, part animal.
Why does it feel impossible to imagine her as anything but that when up until now she was everything but that? I circled back, this is what I saw.
Before the mother was a divorcee searching for love in the form of a man. Before the mother was a woman working for the wage and for the dream, scraping a marriage like leftovers, hoping for seconds. Before the mother was a peasant-dressed hippie on Haight Street was a hope-drenched hair-ironed college student was a brooding adolescent. Before the mother was a sensitive child was a take-charge toddler was a babe longing for less formula and more breast. Before the mother was a babe simply wanting more from a curtain-drawn mother.
Illness changed everything. I divorced my child role, I committed to every other. (Infancy.) I remember chemo weeks, driving away from the hospital with her asleep in the front seat, watching the dash marks on the road. At home tucked in bed, she slept dreamlike. I’d check in periodically, bare silhouetted head covered in shelled light. All of the rooms in the house felt quiet with the presence of a newborn. (Childhood.) I remember the importance of the spreadmarks of peanut butter and banana sandwiches, the critical placement of pink sippy straws in gingerale, the devoutly watched movies of dogs as famed-heroes.
I remember senility too. (Senility I say.) When she fell face first in a bus station and my racing heart. Her declarations. ‘I’m never going to see my future grandchildren’ she’d bemoan, wrapped in a turban and facing the television. Or, ‘When you’re all at my funeral…’ I seized these moments urgent as opportunity. ‘I’m not having this conversation with you.’ I spoke to the whole room (the sleeping beagle; the stepfather, bifocaled and Sodoku-playing). Miraculously she conceded. Somehow my words secretly soothed her. Somehow she sensed my refusal to discuss her funeral plot was a rejection of her deterioration and a call out to live.
Who was she before mine?
Before the babe was a clot like a red comet arced in motion. Before the clot was nothing but sky, was a constellation punched into the shape of a woman’s body. Before we knew who we were we reached for each other high as constellations and motioned as comets would. Before we were joined we blanketed the sky, checkered in electric light. We weren’t always cut and jigsawed. We weren’t made for each other but here we are.
Who was I before hers?
I am still her child, but a juggler too, eyes skyward, each ball in flight.