Okay, so it's time for me to write about the one person in my life who opened me up and blocked me out. My Mom. Where do I begin?
No journal will ever have enough pages to hold all my feelings, thoughts...memories of her. She was something else. Complicated...that basically describes her. She was a walking, talking contradiction in many ways. And maybe that's why I've never been able to write a poem about her. God knows I've tried--for years--to express my innermost heartsong for Mom. It's just too complicated. I can't. At least, not yet. But I feel the day coming...
In the beginning she was a very beautiful person, radiating with life, love and hope. My childhood memories of her are always tender. I can remember how she could wipe away my tears and fears with just the simple stroke of her finger across my cheek. Whenever I was feeling low, she would tell me the story of the trip her and Dad made from Idaho to California before I was born. She was about three months pregnant with me at the time. Their car ran out of gas, and they were pushing it up a small hill, Dad in back, and Mom at the driver's side, steering. Somehow she lost her footing, slipped and rolled down the hill, head over heels. When she came to a stop, she was cussin' because her knees and hands were skinned up. That night she started bleeding so Dad took her to the hospital, where she was told she had miscarried, yet six months later I was born. She had been carrying twins, the doctor told her, but I survived the fall. "You are a survivor," she'd tell me in a tender voice. "You fought to stay alive inside me. You were meant to be. Don't ever give up. God has something very special planned for you." "What?" I would ask. She'd wrap her arms around me and rest her head on mine. "I don't know, honey. That's for you to find out when you grow up." Then she'd pull away from me, cup my chin in her hand and say,"And when it happens, you'll know." That moment lives forever in my heart.
And so the years rolled by, and time, as it often does, changed everything. Including Mom. Too many things went wrong...terribly wrong...for her. To isolate the change in her and contribute it to any one thing would be a a fruitless effort. The cause and effect of time on my mother's life is like the crafting of a raw chunk of rock into a precious gem. She was a diamond in the rough waiting to shine. But somehow in the process of shaping and polishing her, the grip loosened, the gem shifted and the crafter's tool struck too deep, shattering everything. The pieces flew in many directions, scattered and fragmented, never to be whole again.
How do I tell the story of the person who inspired hope in my life, who always told me to never give up, no matter what, when that same person lost all hope, and just gave up? It saddens me when I think of how love and hope wasn't enough to keep her going. So many times Mom thought she found love in a man, and through some strange twist of fate, she lost it. Twice in violence, once in frustration, and the last time, in death. Maybe she lost too much, too many times. And the last time was just that...the last time. It's like she was dancing on a cliff, so enthralled with the music she didn't notice how her movements were bringing her closer to the edge. But there was still love in her life...family love...her children's love. Never ending love, given unconditionally. I was there, pulling her away from the edge, doing everything in my power to get her attention, to bring her focus back to her family. But she just pushed me away...from the edge...and she let go. That's what hurt the most, was the feeling that her family's love wasn't enough to keep her holding on.
She always had so much fight in her...a quality I admired and feared. God help the poor soul who crossed my mother, she could be hell on wheels. If you sparked her anger, your best defense was to turn and run, cos if she got a hold of you, you were going down!
One particular incident tells it all. I can't recall what year it happened, mid-70s I think. Mom was dating a traveling salesman (yeah, I know...) and one day she was telling her sister, Joan, about him. They compared notes, and the conversation revealed that they were both dating the same guy. Of course, he had told each of them they were the only one he was seeing when he came to town. So, Mom devised a plan to teach him a lesson. The next time he came to town, he called and she invited him over for dinner. He arrived on time, and Mom put the plan into action. They were relaxing with a cocktail while waiting for dinner to cook (lasagne, I think) and he was settling in for a good time. There was a knock at the back door, and a few moments later my aunt Joan casually walked into the dining room. The guy froze, his jaw dropped and his face turned a shocking hue of white. "I believe you know my sister, Joan," Mom said, as she turned to him, her blue eyes flaming. He studdered something, dropped his drink, and ran for the front door, never to be seen again. I don't know who got the most satisfaction from it, but both Mom and Aunt Joan sniggered about it for weeks after. They both delighted in retelling the story of their sweet revenge on the lying, two-timing, luckless SOB who made the mistake of dating two women in the same town, who just happened to be sisters. I think they both made a significant impact on his life, or at the very least, his dating philosophy.
In conversations with my two younger sister's, who were 14 and 12 when Mom died 26 years ago, I have learned they remember very little about her. To fill the void in their memory, I have shared my stories, like the ones above, about our mother. The good stuff, the laughter, and all the fun we used to have together. The only thing they remember is that she was either always working, tired, asleep or angry. They don't remember those magical times we shared...those defining moments that bond a child to a parent. All they remember is that I was always there for them. I was the one who wiped away their tears, calmed their fears, and spoke the soothing words of love and hope. Many times Chris (the oldest) has told me "To us, you were Mom." Those are bittersweet words to hear, a double edged sword that just cuts through me...but it is the truth. Hearing her speak those words fills my heart with joy and sadness, at the same time. Yet, it is the joy that rings the loudest and lingers deep inside; and gently reminds me that I made a positive impression on them. All those times I got frustrated with their endless bickering and fighting, when I felt like I was talking to a "brick wall," my words and actions really did sink in...in time. Like all good things, it just took time. They remember the love I gave. And they held on to it through all those years, carrying it in their hearts and in turn, passing it on to their children.
There is a saying "A hundred years from now it will not matter how much money I made, what kind of car I drove, or the size of the house I lived in. The only thing that will matter is that I was important in the life of a child." Okay, maybe that's not the exact wording, but you know the one. As we go through our lives, whether we walk with grace, even if we stumble sometimes, the only thing that really matters is how we treat each other, and ourselves.
For years I have carried the burden of despair because I felt that I should have done more for my mother, and if I had, maybe she would have lived longer. Now, through this entry I realize I did everything I could, but it was out of my hands. All this time I've been unable to see that all my love was not in vain, my direction and my focus was true, set on the course of two young children who needed me...to just be there. With my heart, I gave them all I had to give. I see it now, in their eyes, and in their children's eyes, I see the truth. All is not lost, for I was important in the life of two children. And those two children have lived on, and grown up to become mother's themselves, who fill their children's hearts with warmth, hope, and love. What more could I ask than to have the love I put out there so long ago, returned to me in the heart another child, knowing that the source of that love, was after all, my mother's love for her child.