Monday, November 24, 2008


I imagine my father in that dark Budapest apartment where the sun shines in directly for a few minutes through one window at about 7 in the morning. I imagine him sitting in a chair, not moving. I don’t call.

Seven months or so ago I wrote a card to my mother and said that I’d like to take six months off. No calls, visits, notes. She assumed that included my father and let him know that I was checking out for awhile. It wasn’t what I had meant. How to deal with my father I hadn’t figured out. But I didn’t hear from him and later when I heard my mother had included him I felt relieved.

I saw my mother a couple of weeks ago finally. Very undramatic. I did two hours, letting Fred do most of the talking, and then I left. A week later she called and left a message. I answered with a pretty card, an expensive one even. I rarely buy cards. They feel like an extravagance so I was treating her special with a specially chosen card. I mailed the card.

Two days later in a consignment shop – a strange place of odds and ends where sometimes I buy and sometimes I just go for the simple pleasure of idle treasure hunting – I found a pretty pale blue cardigan with the tags still on. I thought it would be a good present for my mother. For Christmas maybe I thought, though I don’t usually buy Christmas presents til the last minute when it’s fun and not well-planned. Or I could just give it to her now. Or I could not spend money I didn’t really have.

I left the cardigan hanging, then returned four hours later and bought it, yielding to what felt like temptation.

My mother’s phone message had been about buying me a kitchen appliance. She’d seen it in Walmart, she wanted to get it for me, she was checking if I wanted it.

The card I had sent was supposed to gently stop the flow. My six-month absence had created a piece of land. Her phone call was like a little stream trickling into my land. I didn’t want it there.

But then there was the sweater which now I’d paid for, throwing out the money because I had just cashed a check that morning and felt rich.

My mother will be given an award this week. She has worked for about ten years as a homecare person and they are giving her an award. My two sisters are coming in from California to go to the dinner with her. I thought of the baby blue cardigan arriving in the mail, my sisters there to see it, my mother maybe even putting it on for the award ceremony.

Because by now I had made up my mind to just go with the flow and mail it now, not wait for Christmas. I bought a big puffy envelope, I wrapped the sweater in scraps of tissue paper that I would not have used for anyone else, but my mother doesn’t care about things like obviously used tissue paper. She is not someone who expects to be treated well.

I sealed the envelope yesterday, stuck my address label up in the corner and addressed it. It didn’t take much longer to realize I had to stop, not send it. I felt like the addict setting down the drink. No. It was too easy. To send this present. That’s what I would have done two years ago, always trying to get satisfaction by giving.

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