My mother is back in my thoughts these days, missing her, wanting to go visit, feeling I am hurting her by staying away, but I am afraid to step back into that world where obligation will fall over me like a cloak.
I think about her.
She lives about an hour and a half from here in a small white clapboard house with a nice unfenced yard, woods, and a lake beyond the woods. I found her the house about 12 years ago. I knew it was perfect. I want her to be happy. The thought of her tears at my heart. It always has. I think of the first time I felt it.
I was 11 years old. I was in boarding school and I was in bed, a single bed, curtained off in a long corridor of identical curtained off cubicles. You had to cry as quietly, as silently, as if you were in a dorm. I was crying that night for 3 major reasons. It was the biggest, longest cry of my 3 years in boarding school. I was crying because our new puppy had died back at home. I was also crying because I had told 2 girls that evening that yes, I would move into a dorm with them and now I didn’t want to and I didn’t know how to get out of it. But the image that kept flooding my brain and fueling the tears like gasoline were of my mother and how I had hurt her.
I kept seeing her in her black and white houndstooth suit, her brown hair swept up and back and pinned, her arms holding the new baby tightly, one hand clutching the bar of the tin capsule we were all seated in, part of a circus ride I had insisted on. I had begged when my mother had visited that weekend to go to the little country amusement park that had been set up. My mother hadn’t wanted to go, but she’d given in. The place was muddy. I was happy to be there, a fairyland of rides and tents. My mother wasn’t dressed for mud. Not that my mother was ever a fashion plate. In fact, she’s usually dressed for mud. Not in a bad way, but just ready for it. But that day she had on the suit and the shoes and she didn’t enjoy the jolting ride in the tin capsule that I had dragged her into. Her face as we sung back and forth showed only concern that the baby not be hurt.
But the worst part was afterwards when she couldn’t find one of the combs from her hair. My father had brought her those combs from his last business trip in Morocco. That’s what my father did. He went on business trips and brought back presents. I loved that about him. I knew he didn’t like my mother much and that she didn’t like him much – the friction of their conflict was always in the air – but after the jolting swinging ride when my mother couldn’t find one of her combs it felt like my fault and as I lay in bed that night I couldn’t stop feeling that I had been mean to my mother.
I don’t want to live a certain way to prove that I mean my mother no harm. I do love her. She is dear to me. I even want to be with her at times. But I step cautiously. Right now I don’t know where to step.
I dreamed last night of my father, coming to visit me at work with a proposal for some project that he wants my bosses to embrace. He wants me to advocate on his behalf and begins to cry in the dream when he senses it’s not going to work. He’s been counting on this. It’s his last chance.
It’s this sadness that seeps through my family on both sides, mother and father. Sadness that somehow they were born into, and born me into. It is hard to think of either of them without feeling sad, and that the best way to honor them is to be sad too. This clutches at me and pulls me down. It is hard not to be a member of this family. My father’s singing in the car when I was little was defiant. It wasn’t real joy, I don’t think. It was his desperate effort to keep that sadness at bay. His voice was buoyant, his gold wedding ring rapping on the roof in time. He did not like sad faces. If you looked sad he would say, “Cheer up!” My mother too. They believed in stoicism. I have learned something different in my life with Fred. I am learning something different. Something.
Any time these days when I notice fear I think of Sarv, he and me driving the other day, our mini road trip to Albany and back, packed with conversation – Sarv saying fiercely how it’s fear that stops everything and I felt as he talked that yes, I could conquer fear, by noticing it and marching toward it instead of away from it, like Philippe Petit walking in the space between the two twin towers.