I call my mother, never sure. I call her in the moments when it’s been not only at least a couple weeks since we’ve spoken, but also moments when I am pretty convinced the obligation quotient is fairly low and I am doing this pretty much because I want to. If you asked me why I wanted to I’d have a vague answer – I want to be in touch, there is a definite sense that having my mother on this earth and available to call is an option I will only have for a little more time. Maybe ten more years. Maybe much less. Who knows when a person is 85? Even if she still drives and works and does all the things she has always done, more or less, in smaller doses.
Sometimes she refers to the future, just a little. We never talk about it for more than a sentence or two. This time she mentions how she doesn’t see well and how she probably won’t be able to renew her drivers license come the Spring her current one expires.
“How do you feel about that?” I asked. This was take the conversation down a non-family road. The normal thing would have been to say something that didn’t rock the boat or try to change its course.
I guess recently I’ve been wondering if maybe I’m too shut down when it comes to my mother. Maybe she attempts a little more contact, maybe I rebuff her.
“So how does that make you feel?” was a little tentative experiment.
“Well, you know,” my mother said matter of factly, “I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it,” and case was closed.
All the doors in my family are closed. We do not open them and we do not look behind them. We are unknowns to each other.
In this last conversation with my mother on the phone a few days ago I noticed myself not asking about my two sisters nor my father. When I talk to my mother it’s a matter of coming up with questions for her to answer. I have taken to asking about the neighbors as if they were family members, which for a few years – that at the time felt permanent – they almost were. I could tell that since these neighbors are fading out of my mother’s life and long ago faded from mine I won’t be able to use them much longer.
Until recently I asked about my sisters though we haven’t spoken to each other for a couple of years. I have idle curiosity. To ask about them feels like leafing through a People magazine. But they too are floating farther and farther from view and now if my mother doesn’t mention them we leave it out.
And my father, always slightly present for me, a dim figure in a dark apartment in Budapest. I have no idea how he spends his days but I know what I will get if I try to find out – simply more of the man I have always had, a person whose presence does not help me stay connected to who I am.
When he dies will I go to Budapest? I wonder things like this. That’s what people do. Their parent dies, they’re not expected at work the next morning. They go to where the action is. But will I? My sisters will be all over that stuff. They love that stuff. They do what they are supposed to do – when my mother can no longer live in her house they will organize the next step, I’m sure they’ve already done some research and it will probably involve my mother going out to them, to northern California.
I imagined the moment of the funeral. Why would I go, I wondered. I could not think of a reason. These things will be their show and I don’t want to be in their show. They love taking care of business and being adults.
I did make one inquiry. A good friend of mine had let drop something about a really cool community she had found – or her daughter had found actually – where she planned to go when her time was up, a place where older people were welcomed. It was in New Jersey and I got the website from her. It felt strange to be doing what I’ve heard and read about so many of my contemporaries doing.
But I knew right away it was no place for my mother. It just wasn’t. It made no sense.
And so I let it all be. Let my mother’s life run its course. Let my father’s life run its. Feel like a bad girl sometimes, but just keep trying to have the fullest life I can have.