Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Strong Measures

My mother is an old woman who I think has just returned from a week in California visiting her two other daughters who decided about a year ago not to talk to me, which actually suits me quite well. I just wish they all didn’t want to talk to me.

I typed a note on the computer at work, just practicing the note I am thinking of sending her.

I bought a pretty card during lunchtime, the kind of card all her daughters buy her – two chickadees. You always get my mother an animal or a flower, something related to nature.

I looked at the racks of cards. All of them had pretentious sayings on them, sayings I’d been seeing for years on cards. I got scared that maybe this incense-drenched bookstore only sold cards with inspirational words on the front, but then I found an Oriental-looking one with just a frog – no words – but still a little more sophisticated than is my mother’s style. It might have to do. I pulled it off the rack, flipped it over to check the price. $3.95. Pretty steep. Kept looking. Two chickadees. Only $2.50. I’d found the card.

I was in the bookstore with my new friend Eleanor. She’s English. “Here, Eleanor,” I say, “for your new office.” I show her a hefty table-top statue of some kind of Hindu god, seated cross-legged with a naked woman facing him on his lap, legs wrapped around his waist. The statue is semi-hidden. It totally does not fit with the rest of this store with its thousands of books and CDs about how to become pure and its little gold earrings with Om signs, and its expensive stretch-cotton yoga clothes.

Eleanor gives a good guffaw. It’s one of the things I like about her. She’s good for a laugh.

Then she points to a drum up high on a shelf, says how much she wishes she could have it. She says it with real longing. I know she has a $25 gift certificate to this store in her pocket, something her husband gave her years ago that she hasn’t used.

I reach up high high high and coax the drum off the shelf. It’s stretched leather with a picture of a palm and a spiral painted onto it. The price tag is $200 more than Eleanor’s gift certificate, and as we are looking, heads bent, another drum crashes to the floor. “Eleanor did it,” I say to the store in general and Michael, alone on the other side of the lofty room, catches my eye and laughs. He’s an aloof person and this is rare contact.

I don’t tell Eleanor the card is for my mother and that I want to write a note that tells my mother to leave me alone – don’t call me, don’t make surprise visits.

For awhile. The note comes out gentler than I feel, on the computer screen. It might buy me two weeks. That would be something. Because right now I have no time at all because it was her birthday last week plus she’s just returned from a trip and because when we spoke on the phone last time she mentioned that my father and my aunt in Hungary were wondering about me, why I hadn’t been in touch. I am supposed to respond to this and call them.

I would never be friends with these people if I met them under other circumstances.

I google from my office phrases like “adult children” and “guilt” and “parents”, and of course I don’t find anything helpful – just conventional bits about how to manage guilt, by drawing boundaries, and deciding how much responsibility to take. “You can’t do it all,” they say. But I don’t want to do any of it. I realize I am just looking for someone to say – an anonymous stranger way out in cyberspace – “You don’t owe them anything. They used you for all you were worth.”

The card isn’t written yet. I didn’t get to it this afternoon. It got covered with a white flurry of emails printed out so I wouldn’t forget them, a scramble of tasks involving typing and phone numbers – I imagine I will do it as I sit with tea in the early morning.

I am working on divorcing my family. I think it’s possible. A process. But possible. This card like a medicine I must take, for myself.

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