There are strange things that happen when your mother dies when you are in your late 20′s aside from the usual grief, paperwork, awkward travel and writing large checks for seriously morbid shit. Your mind is a whirl of fear of being alone and losing your anchor of mother as well as anger for her leaving knowing it wasn’t something she necessarily chose. Your late 20′s are a heady time of self-absorption and exploration. Travel, clothes, dieting, saving money for grown-up purchases and learning to work out your life-partner love thing is pretty centric to the universe. You feel that tug of your childhood holding on like fear of something you know is irrational but it begins to stretch and give more like a rubber band propelling your forward recklessly and with a force you can not control.
For me, I never thought of having children. Children of my own. My own body was a constant war ground of embarrassed fat thighs, weird dry skin bumpy arms, flabby stomach, too small eyes, weird teeth and too loud talking nonstop voice. Having a baby I knew would mean giving up control over something I felt I would never master-my body and the thing it could totally do without me really even thinking about it except for when I was having the sex that made the baby. To be frank, it seemed slightly ridiculous. SEX to make a person? Really? That seems like being able to take a shit in the toilet and that’s how you get a new car? Totally disconnected and silly. Not for me. I could adopt. My awesome cousin is adopted and it always made me feel like your family could be anywhere-you just have to find them. I likened it to adopting our cats we had when I was little. Sassafras could not have been closer to me and felt like we were meant to be together and he was adopted. So to make a family, maybe you just had to look around a little and find them.
When my mother Jeanne died all of that started to change. Over the next 18 months after she died it became apparent that I must have a baby. I felt helpless in this choice and didn’t really understand where it came from. I am sure my husband was also confused. His selfish necessary business of art making was all-consuming and still is but he was cooperative with the person making endeavor as it led to having sex every other day for many months because, let me remind you again, you make people by HAVING SEX! So weird.
So we made this person and I knew it was a boy. As my belly grew and my pregnancy went along nothing really seemed typical. I didn’t look super pregnant, I was never sick, always hungry, had to drink orange Gatorade in the middle of the night, had strange spotting, my hormones were never right in the beginning and I feared in a small corner of my mind that I tried to ignore that we might lose the baby. That was my huge fear. That we would lose him and that it would make me question if I really wanted him or I was trying to establish a destiny for my own mortality because my mom died when I was 27? I would waffle back and forth from everyone does this have a baby thing when they get married to there are more than enough people on the planet and what the hell kind of selfish weirdo do I think I am?
Well, I was pregnant and wanted to do it all naturally, without drugs and to breastfeed. My bff since drivers ed had her babies at home and nursed them all till toddlerhood and she was my only friend with kids so I figured that is the way you do it. As the pregnancy progressed things just were weird. I was having contractions that I know now were real contractions but thought they were just Braxton Hicks. At 28 weeks the labor would wake me up and send me to the L&D unit for bolus’ of fluid to dilute the hormones kick starting my labor and rest at home. 4 weeks later my water would break in the middle of the night feeling like that familiar rubber band snap hurtling me into space.
As I lay in the hospital trying to cook my man a bit longer, reading everything on premature birth and babies (much to the horror and frustration of nurses and doctors to come), trying to eat laying down and counting his kicks everyday. During a routine ultrasound to check my AFI level (amniotic fluid interval) I asked the tech to check the kiddos weight. Measuring his little wee bones it was decided he had only grown 5 ounces in 4 weeks and was very small for his gestation. It was pretty well confirmed that he had not really grown, for reasons unknown, during my last 4 weeks on bed rest.
A barrage of doctors came in to talk to me while I cried and they looked confused that I was crying and told me they thought they would induce my labor the next day on March 2 2001. Our son’s due date was April 17th-21st and this was way too early. Especially for a boy. Boys, I had read, were weak, sleepy, lazy little preemies who often had more complications at earlier birth than girls did. Our son had IUGR (interuterine growth retardation) with low blood flow from the placenta via the umbilical cord. For reasons unknown. All we knew is that it was happening. Jokingly one of my midwives offered that if I were on crack they could pinpoint that to the reason but outside of something like that they usually had no idea why something like this happens.
So I cried all night, holding my belly and talking to him. Asking, well begging him, to be strong and healthy and patient and together we could do it. I promised to nurse him if he promised to nurse. I promised to kiss him and hold him if he promised to be well enough. I cried for the thought of losing him inside me so soon. We forged ahead the next day and he came out. Screaming. Screaming like mad and I was so relieved. I begged and begged the pediatrician to hold him because it was obvious to everyone he was breathing screaming like that and finally they wrapped him up and let me have him.
All I could see was his face and he was wrapped in blankets. His eyes were squeezed shut tight and his mouth gaping open yelling to call the cows home. I kissed his face and said his name, the name we had been calling him since I knew he was a boy well before the ultrasound and his eyes snapped open, his mouth closed to a tiny little O and he looked right at me, recognizing my voice, his name and his place in my life. Right there at that moment everything zoomed into focus, becoming clear and bright and perfect. He was mine and I was his and it was perfect and I knew at that moment, it would all be okay.
The relentless winter snows, sleets, is grey and windy bitter and bleak. The sunshine peeking out of the blue sky reflects down on the white icy grass making me squint against the glare. There is only warmth in my bed where I am alone under the weight of my quilts wishing my feet would stay warm. I will close my eyes and wish for spring knowing my wish will be fulfilled if I am patient with the passage of time. It will be warm, my bare shoulders will brown and freckle inviting skin cancer and more aging. My legs will be bare and shaved more regularly. Sweat will trickle down my neck and I will dip my feet into the water. For now, though, I will wait like the buds on the trees, waiting for the weather to change.
The shock of losing my mother never eases up. I like to say I lost because it feels like I could just find her and it is just a matter of time, hard work and luck I could find her again. She is dead and I don’t believe in zombies so it isn’t like I think she will come back to life but more a feeling that I could just bump into her, pick up where we left off. Often times I am really busy and preoccupied with my own bullshit to remember that I had a mother, miss my mother, loved my mother, need my mother and would love to tell her, well, everything. I want to tell her how amazing my children smell and did I smell so delicious and I understand now your regular morning comment on my rosy cheeks and soft skin. I want to ask you why you never talked to me about my menstrual cycle before it happened or talked to me about boobs and pubic hair. Why on earth did you make me eat spinach souffle when it was so disgusting. Why didn’t you question my extreme thinness in high school and never talk to me about sex?
You see, I just don’t have a point of reference for my own children as I am lacking those things from my memory. When you died you took everything with you. All my babyhood antics, my preteen exploits, my dangerous teenage years and finally my grown up life just begun when you died when I was 27. Dying right before my Saturn Return. Dying before I could think about having children, before I went back to school and got a grown-up like job. Without your memories I feel like nothing happened before you died. Life just started over and I didn’t get to keep anything from before.
It is truly bizarre to mother your own children without a mother of your own. So many times I feel so frustrated and tired of being the adult and since you are gone I am no longer anyone’s baby who would hug and kiss me and smooth my hair and tell me it will all be fine. I am just the grown up mother all the time. Or the grown up wife. Or the grown up nurse. Or the grown up friend.
Maybe I just need a nap?
At a certain point in your life the passage of time begins to warp back onto itself like a boomerang will spin out and away but then circle back around and if you aren’t watching it will wing you right in the head. The same karmic behaviors and reactions keep popping their weary heads up and like a whack-a-mole game (not the urban dictionary definition of whack-a-mole). My mallet is not the right size, shape or weight and I blame the instrument over and over for my missed timing, ineptitude and loss never considering the arm that swings, the brains that send the signal, the eyes that track the location nor the will to repeat my attempts over and over again not considering a new game.
Feel, Do, Act, repeat is all I have really got and the loop I feel stuck on is starting to sound like the needle bumping up against the paper label and not just the skip of the last hook as the scratch in the middle of the song repeats. I like to throw my medical acumen around and extol the virtues of medication and talk therapy behavior modification as a means to redirect one’s life toward a more forward goal. But sometimes I think it feels better to stand, with my feet in sinking sand, the water washing over and over them sucking me into the earth, the ocean the current pulling me back and forth with the wind on my face.
I can feel stuck or I can feel as though this is where I belong. It is an all a matter of perspective. I can see devils trying to tear my life away or if I can let go-see angels welcoming me to freedom. Looking on the bright side of the death of something is still pretty sad so my needle sticks, bumps into the paper label and I spin around and around remembering the sound of the song I use to sing so loud.
Empty bed, empty mind, empty thoughts, empty feelings, empty words, empty promises, empty love, empty heart, empty soul, empty day, empty night, empty.
Holy shit, I just read that out loud and it sounds like humpty-or maybe that’s just me
I hate skiing although I have never been but I must have really been into it in a past life somehow because I think of skiing metaphors all the time. Right now I feel like cross-country skiing. It’s cold and my nose is frozen, it’s beautiful out for the first 20 minutes-all white and sun reflecting on the trees blowing in the wind and just white pristine woodland for as far as the eye can see. My hair under my hat blowing in the wind, working up a sweat, muscles feeling strong and my heart beating steadily.
Birds singing but wait, there is nothing but snow for as far as I can see. I ski and ski and ski and ski and realize I hate skiing, I don’t know how to ski and I don’t give a shit how beautiful it is outside. Shit. Now I have to pee and I have 10 layers of pants on and they are all sweaty and sticking to me and I will never get them down before hitting the toilet and will surely pee in my pants except, there is not bathroom, just snow.
I keep skiing, pee in my pants and search for somewhere to sit down but the only way forward is down this huge hill and I remember again that I can’t ski. At all. And then, zoom. Screaming, squirrels stare at me with pity because they know I have peed my pants and the rangers will find me dead, pants full of pee. No knowing how to ski, people shake their heads and TSKTSK.
Good intentions with poor planning and now I am stuck in too many pants, in the snow with only squirrels to save me.
My earliest memory is from christmas around 1973. Just before I woke up, the abominable snowman was holding me in his arms above my bed laughing deep malevolent guffaws, teeth glistening with ice and then he dropped me onto my bed. I fell, woke up and looked around my darkened bedroom, certain I must have cried out. The walk from my bed to the stairs is unmemorable but as I crept down the stairs lit with white lights, scratching my hand ont the tinsel, my feet covered in pajamas slipping on the wood stairs I spied my parents together on the floor in front of the tree. I don’t know if I spoke or they just say my legs but simultaneous shouts, “GO BACK TO BED!” and “NO!” are the only thing I remember. Feeling excited and confused, the memory ends.
That is the only memory I have of my parents together. I don’t remember one other thing about them even being in the same room together. I remember my mom giving me some actifed crushed on a spoonful of soda but for what I don’t remember other than asking her what I needed the medicine for. I don’t remember being sick so maybe she was dosing me to make me sleepy. Maybe she needed to go to the store for cigarettes and she didn’t want to take me to the store.
I remember finding a box turtle on the sidewalk and bringing him home. Riding my big wheel. Looking out at the courtyard filled with cars, covered in snow and feeling trapped inside my house. I remember catching the bus to sunday school by myself and getting my own breakfast, no one walking me to the bus. I remember my grandmother’s house and every breakfast she ever cooked for me. Learning to crochet, hammering nails into wood with bottle caps in kindergarten. Playing with my dolls and chalkboard. Swinging on my tire swing. Riding my bike into a cloud of gnats, the bugs sticking to my sweaty head and spitting out the ones that flew into my mouth. Playing cards with my grandfather. Watching him make a magical martini. Ironing handkerchiefs. Stacking the pennies my Poppy used to count the miles he biked on his stationary bike. Going with my Aunt to her cool apartment in Fells Point and going to the festival there. Art museums with my father, the zoo, hikes and finding snakes and deer antlers. Pony rides and sunday dinners. My mom’s chili and the way her purse smelled like tobacco, wrigleys spearmint gum and leather.
I remember feeling loved, feeling lost, feeling like I was always waiting for something that would never come. THe end of school. The start of the summer. Weekends with my Dad. Christmas. My birthday. For my mom to come home. To go home from a party with her, most likely drunk or stoned driving. For my itchy eyes to go away. To come home from school. The start of school. New shoes and coat.
The moment that felt like now. Singing in the car. Staring out the window at the trees a blur of green, then golden than barren. Skating circles on the road in front of the house I lived in. Laying down with my cat Sassafras, him dressed in my doll clothes, limp with love and devotion.
I think now of all the family I have lost. Lost is the best word because 1. I don’t know where to find them 2. I don’t remember losing them or where I left them last and 3. Because they feel gone. Maybe it was always supposed to be like this, this leaving and leftness. All those moments of waiting for the next thing only to wait again for the next thing. All the moments of waiting to be found. Waiting to be loved. Not understanding why I wasn’t or if I wasn’t.
I can see my life, all around me, I just can’t feel it. I can’t feel it except for my own children. They feel real. They feel like now. They feel like purpose. But as they get older I feel like I am still waiting for something to happen. For them to grow up, move away and be on their own away from me. This constant push and rush and pull back is like sitting in the wet sand, the waves of the ocean stretched out to their weakest point foaming over me briefly as the sea retreats into itself again. Waiting, for the next wave-not knowing if this will be the one that takes me under and away.