If I said that I loved my mother you would probably nod, knowing that of course I did. Everybody loves their mother, from athletes to inmates and sailors at sea. To say I love my mother is what I am supposed to say, and then you may want to add that you love yours, too, because it would only be polite, and after a pause for a moment, perhaps we could talk about the season.
But suppose the day is sunny like it always is, and I am weathered like a rainstorm. My face is wet, my hair gray and blown, and my voice lingers low like thunder growing restless in the distance.
Suppose that I look exactly as I feel and rather than let the conversation drift toward springtime and the ebb and flow of what we pass as fancies I decide to tell you again that I love my mother and that now, a year after the accident I can think of nothing but her and how bittersweet loneliness makes hard, stiff drinks and an ironic travel companion.
Do you want to know that I am often a dime away from dialing, from expecting her to answer, and the way she said hello? Should I say that everything reminds me of her, and that sometimes I buy things I know she would like if only to take them home and put them in boxes that no one will ever open?
Is it okay if I stare off in silence and only need the comfort of knowing you are near me?
These are the spaces in my day, stashed around moments of productivity, tucked away between meetings and handshakes and the smiles that I share. They are the seconds torn from lopsided minutes, leaving time uneven and always fleeting, leaving my mind to wander down dark roads littered with loss. I am chasing memories, and I do not have a net.
And yet, in some ways, we are even closer now, my mother and I, because death has granted her access that life would never have allowed. All thoughts lead to her, at all times, even when I am far away and do not want for company.
I no longer have the solace of knowing that she is safe, surrounded by friends and the sounds of their joy. I do not have the luxury of forgetting that her life goes on just as mine must, too. Instead I see flamingos in a cloud and wonder if she had anything to do with it. I hear a song with her name dancing through the chorus and my smile slides sideways like a seesaw, teetering beneath the weight of melancholy and a happy place from long ago. I look at the faces of my children and I try to recall the last time that she kissed them.
It would have been Thanksgiving 2013. The day felt old and worn, full of ghosts and football, just as it does every year, with an aroma of pie and family, and stories told that were told before. It stretched into a weekend of leftovers and wine and more love than a house could hold. My mother was always in the middle of it, a smile on her face and a grandson on her lap, her arms animated, her eyes wide, and a room warm with lazy fondness. She would have kissed them then, as often as they would let her, and she would have stood in the drive, waving goodbye as we turned well past the bend and faded through forests and mountainsides and straight on till morning.
Then it was two days before Christmas and the boys were wrapped in excitement. My mother driving out for the holiday, coasting somewhere along a strip of interstate in the middle of goddamned nowhere, then weaving, spinning, and flipping through air. She had died instantly, her husband scratched and slightly shaken, and nothing else in the car even close to broken. Then came the phone call, tears, and hours that I spent pacing while the boys stood at the window, eyes past the horizon, eager for hugs and gifts and the love that was Nana. They waited with nothing close to patience until I walked in the front door, shoulders weak and heavy, and took a seat by the fire.
Change changes everything and I changed immediately. The act of pulling one’s soul out with a cruel, unexpected yank, leaves you damaged beyond repair. It happens in an instant, and it leaves you alone in a room full of people. It makes you think about things you never thought to think about—the memories that now mean everything. These are the ways we hold on to each other when we have nothing left to hold on to.
Plans are loose and wander on forever. We had things to do, years of hope I had written bold in pen, but now those pages are lost beneath the constant crossing of thick lines over stagnant letters, the trips to take and the milestones we had left to drink to. There were no words of what if nor the downright downer of contingency. Life was in the now and the things still to be, and I reminisce daily in reflections of tomorrow. Such are the plans we will never meet and the roads that will never rise to greet us. The days will drift or pass as they are prone to do, and the plans will go ignored or sadly acknowledged, and then they will be gone whether we lived them or not, forgotten like a postcard.
There are times that I care less about the things we will never do and dwell instead upon the things that we have done. Who cares about sights unseen, a card undelivered, or this hole in my heart? They are all but shadows from wherever we stand as the lights strike and hit us—the meaningless goal posts against which we measure things like progress and the distance we have traveled—they are time standing still made from the moments we spent moving. We have lines on our faces that hold tight the echoes of our laughter.
There are stages to everything, and all the world knows it—the linger of grief becomes the constant comfort of it, then it, too, leaves you lost and lonely. The seasons move forward, and they flaunt their wares like trinkets in the marketplace. I spend days looking out the window at something bright and shining there upon the morrow, only to find myself knee-deep in today and fumbling for my wallet. Everything could have been a souvenir had the wind been slower, the hour earlier, or the car slightly stronger. Everything could be different, like my mother softly sleeping.
The thing about memories is that they gain value in a moment, and most everything we valued prior becomes as useless as a paperweight, existing only to hold us down.
Nothing is fair, but it is done, and there are lessons there. If you have something to say, you should say it. If you have something to do, you should do it. And if you love someone then by all means let them know that you will love them always. These are the duties we entrust in each other and the wishes granted that we all owe the world. These are the things that I learned in the smile of my mother and a life by her side, and I have learned them through both joy and sorrow. We need the one to balance the other, and I am always the saddest that I have ever been, but perhaps I will know happiness all the faster should it take the time to find me.
You may feel a shift in your seat, a need to speak and steer me from the brink. You might ask for a glass of water or excuse yourself for commitments you never made but could not possibly dream of breaking. Or you might just sit there and watch me slowly unravel. There are worse ways to spend the day.
The trick of course is on you and everyone, because I am long past falling apart and what you see is not a man broken, but rather the beginning of a coil, wound hard and tight just below the surface. I have found the end of my rope, and I have tethered lifelines upon it of friends and family and those I would hold dear. We keep each other afloat when we are sinking and grounded when the wind tries to carry us away. These are the bonds of a lifetime, a legacy such as my mother built, and I plan to share every thing I can every chance I get. I will start by saying something that everyone can agree upon, I will start by saying that I love my mother, and then we shall see where it goes from there.
Today would have been my mother’s 65th birthday, and she most likely would have hated that; however, it is just a year after her passing and I long for that bonfire of candles and the laughs we would have roasted upon it. I wrote this piece at the behest of my very kind and talented friend Stacy Morrison, who also acted as my incredibly patient editor. I thank her for that, and I thank all of you for your reading and support.
Happy birthday, Mom.