The following essay has just been published in the beautiful new anthology filled with courageous women’s words and stories:
Writing Fire: An Anthology Celebrating the Power of Women’s Words
You see, some mothers are meant to die. Other peoples’ mothers. But not mine.
When we were young, my mother gave my sister and me a book. It was called ‘My Mother is the Most Beautiful Woman in the World.’ It was Yugoslavian, I think. The mother in the book was ruddy-faced and plumpish in colorful gypsy garb as was her round-cheeked daughter. My mom and I bear no similarities to the women in the book, but the title has swum in my mind all these years.
My mother is not meant to die. She is not supposed to become an idea, a character in a book. This is my fifth draft of this piece of writing, and with every draft I have gotten closer to this statement
Because, my mother is real. She is alive; she is flesh and blood. She is here, now, at the end of the phone, answering with her particular and ready ‘Hello.’ She is helping me make plum jam in my kitchen, shocking me with how much sugar is required.
She is showing up at my house with a dozen eggs from her chickens, some daffodils, an article clipped from the New York Times. We chat in an as-long-as-I-can-remember-it rhythm – ‘catching up’ – a kind of half-trot, clipping over this and that. I slow us down, wanting to plunge. She moves us forward, towards something ahead. Sometimes, we hit our stride, and it is as it has always been – like running parallel, because we are so similar, and diverging again, because we are so different – and this too is as real as anything I know. I know her dread of boredom, her need for an agenda, her fear of storms, her weakness with numbers. We laugh about these things, despair sometimes – about the numbers thing – because I’m the same, and why do some things just refuse to stay in our minds? I am awed, frustrated by, in love with her equanimity. I depend on it when I am sick and need reminding that I will not die from the flu, or when the prospect of global warming becomes too overwhelming, or when I have to ask if it is too early to plant cucumbers, or how, again, do I cook chicken Marbella? It is there in the taste of her apple sauce, the poof of her floral duvet, the veined back of her hands, her stooped figure in the garden, the valentines I find every February in my mailbox: “Secret Admirer” or ‘Will You be Mine?” they say.
You see, mom, your Valentine is supposed to come next year, and the year after, and every year forever more. You are supposed to be here as you have always been, forever listening as I complain about my cramps from riding horseback, from menstruation, from falling in love, from childbirth, from menopause, from old age.
Oh but I know. I know it does not work that way. I know in fact that you are meant to die, some day, as am I. And that this fear of losing you is mine to mother, to witness, and to calm – not yours. I must hold its hand, remind it that this is just the way of things, settle it softly in the place where the harder parts of love reside.
What do you think mom? Shall we take that drive up to the Clark, have lunch and discuss this draft, and the next, and the next? Or shall we look at paintings, exhale at the pinkness in the trees, fall into our old-as-my-life half-trot rhythm? Shall we stay in today, this day, in this easier part of love that is, still, not yet over.