Mothers and Daughters

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                                                                                                                           For Lida


“I’ve learned that I need to love my mother and father in all their flawed, outrageous humanity,
and that in families, there are no crimes beyond forgiveness.”
                                                                                                                           From
                                                                                                                           The Prince of Tides

Sitting in a hospital room, 2009...
Flashbacks...

Winter, 1982, Washington, D.C.  My mom sitting with my dad when he was dying, when we weren’t ready.  When he was asleep and when he was awake, she sat. They said the rosary together, didn’t she say that?  Or maybe she said it alone eventually. I don’t remember him saying anything at all after the first week.  But I never went to the hospital drunk. Only had a hangover for the funeral…

 

Mom, at dinner.  We’re little. Dad comes home.  Exuberant, lively Dad. He throws his arms around her and holds her tight, all of us kids there watching.   She stands still, as still as stone, arms tight at her side… I remember being embarrassed. I remember wishing she would hug him back…

 

Were they at peace when he died?  He decided to make peace, didn’t he?  I think he decided we weren’t worth fighting for after all, for after all, look where we (me) all ended up.  Daddy, I don’t blame you, if you only knew… You know now though. I know you do. I’m sorry.

 

Mom wakes up.  She wants to know about my hair.  Did I change it? She thinks I was here this morning, but that was Betsy, and so then yes, my hair is different.  I found a picture of my sister and me, it’s on my wall in Ohio now. Maybe I was 7, she was 17 or 18. I think, “I was cute in that picture.”  But I didn’t know that. I think, “If I had a little girl like that, I would love her. How could anyone not love her? She’s beautiful, and she has warm, intelligent eyes…”  Maybe I was always cute, at least as cute as she, but not so “Mona Lisa” as she. But I wasn’t a nothing. I didn’t pale completely in comparison, so how did it turn out that way?  And now what to say to my sister….

 

Mom drifts off again.  She looks exactly like Aunt Bobby did a month ago.  But she’s not dying. She drifts in and out mid-sentence…  She asks about my hair again. She thinks I was here this morning and changed my dress.  “Mom, that was Betsy. I was driving from Ohio.”

 

She says she likes my hair.  She’ll ask again before the day is through.  Like Aunt Elsie. Aunt Bobby always blamed Aunt Elsie for taking Uncle Walter away.  But they are different when they get old. Before Aunt Bobby died, when she talked about Aunt Elsie, she was sad, and said Aunt Elsie had had such a hard life.  Aunt Elsie helped me. When I decided to get a divorce, and Mom wouldn’t speak to me. Out of the blue, Aunt Elsie sent me a check every month, for a long time. Later, I see Aunt Elsie at the rehab facility before she goes to Katherine’s.  Aunt Elsie doesn’t remember doing this. She says, “You’re pretty.” She never said things like that when we were little. But she remembers me. She doesn’t remember I just told her 10 minutes ago that I live in Ohio. She asks again…

 

A shadow flickers… The divorce…  I want to tell my kids, once upon a time, when we got married, your Dad was funny and fun.  He laughed, he danced, we loved great music and eccentric books. But then he was gone, he became someone else.  Did I do that to him? Probably. He didn’t have the strength it took to be a dad, because he never really had one when he was little, or a mother either.  Does that excuse? No. But still…

 

My own father, gone too soon.  At Aunt Bobby’s funeral, I cry when they sing the “Ave Maria”.  But I’m not crying for my aunt. I’m crying for my dad, gone too soon.  For my aunt, it was time.

 

The nurse comes in, tells Mom where her button for her pain meds is.  Mom insists she won’t take any. The meter reads, “Morphine dispensed, zero.”  She breathes with her mouth hanging open with the breathing tube in her nose. Just like she said she didn’t want us to let her do, when we were with Aunt Bobby that last day a month ago.  “Don’t let me look like that,” she’d said, just a month ago. Thankfully, Mom doesn’t know.

 

I could doze, too, pray for healing, for self-inflicted wounds, and for others, too.  A refrain from a song drifts slowly by. “I’m 15 for a moment… I’m 22 for a moment… I’m 33, 45, 67, 99 for a moment… when you only have a hundred years to live.”  I’m 50, I’ve just turned 50. Am I on the downhill side now? Are the years ahead summer, winter, or fall?

 

Are the years ahead summer, winter, or fall?  

 

The tears roll down…

 

Mom’s so old.  I see her young, pretty, a movie star.  Where did she go? For whatever she did, for whatever she was, she was always my mother.  No one else remembers, no one else cares. But she does. She remembers how I used to be, oh so long ago.  She remembers and she cherishes me. At my aunt’s funeral, my mom tells David this about me, she tells him how bad it used to be.  Then she tells David, “And then she quit drinking, and she tried to be a good mother.” David tells me about this. He has a tender, quizzical look on his face when he tells me this.  No one else other than I has ever talked to him about it, it never seemed real to him before, I don’t think he really believed it…

 

I’m writing on scraps of paper – I didn’t think to bring a journal – a dry cleaning receipt, the back of an old post-it-note, a credit card receipt or two or three…  Mom sleeps. The tears roll down. “‘Cause it’s the world I know…” David, where did you go? Does it all come undone, or do I get to keep the things you gave me? I guess only time will tell…

 

I could say the same about all the David’s, every single one.  There was the day David called to wish me a Happy Valentine’s Day, to tell me he had thought about me all day.  But that David was gay… He went away. They all did…

 

Ah, the nurse brings me paper… Mom sleeps.  When she wakes, she’ll ask me about my hair again.

 

Pat isn’t here.  He didn’t come. I should say, he didn’t want to.  He was at his friend’s house and he didn’t want to leave.  He tells me, “Grandmommy was never nice to me.” I can’t argue with him.  I just tell him that I hope he doesn’t regret it someday. My brother posted on Dominic’s Facebook wall about Grandmommy.  Does he think he’s close to my son? Closer than me? ‘Cause that makes me angry. Why do men always get together and shake their heads and say women are crazy?

 

Peace.  Remember when Daddy said that?  “Please heal the wounds You’ve left me, the ones before, the ones after, and the ones in-between.”  That was a prayer for someone named Ken. It’s a good prayer, it has served me well. It still does.

 

Is there someone out there for me?  Should it have been like Mommy and Daddy?  They weathered the storm in the end. Like those four paintings I saw with Paul Nagy in high school – I’ll have to look them up on the internet.  Weathering the storm…

 

Paul Nagy.  I saw him at our 30th class reunion.  I think he’s a counselor.  When I see him, I want to tell him that the only important thing I’ve done in life is to stay sober, and learn some things, and try to pass them on.  You could count the kids, too, but I didn’t do such a great job of that. But I don’t tell him any of that. I can’t. The words sound all so inadequate, or maybe like I’m bragging.  I say nothing, I make small talk and move on…

 

Mom wakes up, sees the time, she thinks it’s morning, she asks about my hair again.  Did I cut it? Did I wash it? And drifts away again…

 

My kids would be mad at me about this.  I’m sorry, child, but I was a person before you, and I am a person after you.  And you will be a person after me. I can only hope that in my waning years, you will judge me kindly.  Because I wasn’t crazy. And because of what Grandmommy said. “And then she quit drinking, and she tried to be a good mother”, even if sometimes I did not succeed.  I should probably put a disclaimer on this if I were ever to publish this somewhere, “Should not be read by children, particularly my own.” I won’t change who I am, not even for you.  Because it’s real in here, and that took so long to do, even if you don’t understand…

 

She stirs.  She holds her hand over her face.  It’s swollen a little, and just a little bruised.  Did she do that in the fall, or is it because of the IV and the pressure cuff?  Maybe both. Funny, it makes her hand look young, smooth, unwrinkled. Like Aunt Bobby in that picture in her memorial pictures.  Damn, where did she go? Where did that exquisite young Great Gatsby debutante in that picture go? She was my aunt, but I never knew her.  At least not that one. When did it become what it was? Did Mom do that to her? Yes, probably, but then again, my aunt let her… And they loved each other madly, in a way only they will ever understand.

 

Mom wakes.  She asks about my hair again, she says she thinks my hair looks nice.  She asks me if I’m reading. She always looked young. When she was my age, she still had a 13-yr-old, a 10-yr-old, and a 6-yr-old.   68 then, in that picture with Dad in Michigan? Couldn’t be, he was dead by then. I took that picture. I was 18. 58 then… My mother was still beautiful.

 

Funny she can’t find that picture that sat on Dad’s dresser when I was growing up.  She doesn’t even remember it, didn’t even remember it when she still remembered things.  It was a picture of Mom and Dad and Betsy, when she was maybe 7 or 8. None of the rest of us around yet.  That other life. That different life. How many times in my life did I dust that picture? Probably thousands.  I looked at it each time, I tried to understand, I wondered what that life was like before the rest of us, before the trouble, why there wasn’t one like that of all of us…   And one day I dusted the picture, but forgot to vacuum under the head of her bed… I never forgot again after that, Mom made sure of that…

 

Why do we remember the things we do?  A lifetime, a panorama, and all we remember are snippets…  And in comparison to others, that memory, the one about the vacuuming, is a relatively harmless one.  But still, there it is…

 

I could sleep now.  I’ll stay til 8. Just to be here.  She doesn’t need to talk to me, she can sleep, it’s quiet here.  It’s nice to see her sleeping peacefully. Makes me sleepy, too…

 

I lean back on the pillow, I see a painting… “Her paintings and her poetry…”  Well, one for her, and one for me. I remember Mom’s paintings… The willow tree…  It’s up in the attic, waiting to be re-framed, one of those things you’re always going to get around to doing someday, but somehow never do.  The frame got broken in the bad years. I loved that painting. So beautiful, so graceful, so whimsical. I think Mom had places in her that no one ever knew, not even her.

 

I’m glad no one else is here.  It’s quiet, so very quiet, only the whispers of the memories…  But it’s peaceful here…

 

I remember that other picture, it’s at home in Ohio in a case on my dresser.  The one with my brothers and I and my mother. We kids were smiling, at least a little bit.  I was beautiful, but I didn’t know that. Mine was a wistful smile, I think. My mother was sitting in front of the sewing machine with the three of us around her.  She wasn’t smiling. My sister said it looked like a tenement picture. My mother looked so enormously tired and unhappy. Good God, who knew it was like that? Didn’t anyone see? But what could anyone have done about it?

 

Stark contrast.  The pictures of stark contrast.  The opposite lives in the same house in the same family.  My sister, my mother, and my father in a movie star picture.  My mother, my brothers and I in a tenement picture. No wonder things were different.  They were.

 

But in 1982, she sat in a hospital room like this with my dad, when he was dying, when he was sleeping.  She sat with him in the peaceful quiet, just like this. For hours at a time, days at a time. I’m sorry, Daddy.  I’m sorry we were the way we were…

 

She stirs again.  She says I look fine.  I’m glad. I’m happy to be here.  I tell her I’m happy to be here. She says, “You’re nice to wake up to.  You found a niche.” I’m not sure what she means by that. A scene from a monastery, a grotto in the Franciscan Monastery, flashes by.  My aunt would take us there when we were young. She lived right by the zoo. For awhile, Uncle Erv lived across the street from her. He was somewhat mythical, wasn’t he?  I remember when he came up from Florida for my father’s funeral. We happened to arrive at the funeral parlor for the wake at the same time. He rushed over and held me. It felt good.  He was a “still” person. He was a “large” person. He was very tall, but that was not what made him large, larger than life. I loved him, but really, I barely knew him. His apartment across the street from my aunt was full of mysterious dusty scientific gadgets, they were all eccentric like that…

 

I wanted to ask him, was that it?  Was that story a metaphor for the Catholic church, where the “savages” outside turn out to be real, turn out to be kind?  Turn out to be normal? His story, that story, was published in the Anthology of World’s Best Science Fiction one year, 1969.  But he was dead before I realized I should have asked him that…

 

A nice young black man, Teko, comes in to check on Mom.  He says I can stay, he shows me the kitchen. Later I go into the bathroom and realize there is black all over the side of my face, mascara run all down my cheeks from quiet tears.  I spend a moment hoping he didn’t see it, but then I think, he’s probably used to it…

 

Funny the things we cry for.  I wasn’t crying for her. I was crying for me.  Or maybe I was crying for all of it.

 

I talk to my sister.  Tell her I’m staying the night at the hospital.  Actually, I feel good here, better than there. Because I’m different from my sister.  She doesn’t know me, though it’s nobody’s fault. But for whatever it’s worth, Mom knows me.  She remembers. She remembers that I don’t drink anymore. Will I ever be able to say, “I love you, Mommy” without being afraid?  Heck, I’ve never even said it aloud with being afraid, much less without being afraid. One time I was there when Dominic said it.  He said, “I love you, Grandmommy.” She said, “Thank you.” He said, “Grandmommy, you’re supposed to say, ‘I love you’ back.” How did he get to be so brave?  I guess he was protected by a generation, it’s not the same...

 

My mother was fragile, too fragile for that, too fragile even for love.  I took her to the cemetery a few years ago, probably the only time she has been there other than for funerals in the whole time my grandparents, my father, my uncles, and my aunts have been buried there, and that’s over 40 years.  I try to pray. She talks the whole time. Pushes it all away, all the feelings, all the good, all the bad… She was a survivor. I don’t know what she was surviving, but she was.

 

Betsy said in later years, when she finally understood there was something wrong with my mother, that Grandmommy and Granddaddy knew there was something wrong with her.  My sister said she had always wondered why my grandparents didn’t help my mom when Dad was being the way he sometimes was, but then she said she finally figured out that my grandparents didn’t help because they knew my mom was the problem, not my dad.  People knew. But what could anyone do? Nothing. It couldn’t have been any other way. Divorce would have been no better. I just wanted a mother, and a divorce would not have fixed that.


 

I prepare for bed.  She sleeps. Tomorrow we shall wash her hair and paint her fingernails and pray the rosary.  The nail polish is a new thing, an indulgence of old age. Someone at Sunrise did them for her, and I think she liked it.  She never wore nail polish when I was little.

 

“I remember well my mother’s hands,

Constant, work-worn,

Plain, nails neatly trimmed.

My mother.  

Responsible for everything,

To blame for everything.”

 

         From an old poem of mine, “Just Because”

 

I remember that Christmas I cried, 5 years ago.  She said, “You miss your husband.” She said it just like a Mother would have, like a real mother.  And I did miss him, and I cried. Only one other time, for one other David, was she like that. She said, “My beautiful daughter.  No one should ever hurt my beautiful daughter.” I was 41.

 

When I was 15, my mother made me a ceramic Valentine heart.  It was the closest she ever came to telling me she loved me. Ironic that it was that year, 15, the most lost of my younger years.  But even in that gray haze, it meant something to me. Like a starving child, with years in-between, and then a crumb appears to be a feast.  But in the 2nd grade, I stood in a church, a motherless child, and prayed the Prayer of St. Francis, I earnestly prayed to seek not to be loved, but to love.  And I meant it with all my heart. In the 2nd grade, a motherless child, who prayed to not want to be loved…  

 

Morning comes.  Mom’s not doing so well this morning.  The nurse asks her if she remembers her name.  She doesn’t. Tears slide silently down, mine, not hers.  She doesn’t want to take her pills. So she doesn’t. The nurse tries to make her, her condescending “sweetie’s” and “honey’s” grating on me.  She goes away. I try. My mom tells me to go away. I leave her be.

 

The physical therapist comes.  I like her. She talks to my mom.  She tells my mom that she has beautiful daughters.  My mother’s face lights up at that, and she finally smiles for the first time this morning…  Because.

 

Because she has beautiful daughters…

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Alright, so we kinda differed on  the meaning of "Poetry" just a tiny bit this week. Mom claims this is an essay or a short story, I see more as a really long prose poem. Either way, Mommy really wanted to share this piece she wrote after her mother died last year with everyone, and if it means that much to her I'm most definitely not gonna be the one to tell her no. This one is a little hard on me, watching Grandmommy near the end as dementia took hold... This paints a very accurate portrait of it all. Well, I hope you guys enjoyed the extended edition of Mom's "Poetry" Monday!

Thanks, Mommy, cya next week!

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