I spoke with my mother this morning, me calling her back after she sent a card and left a voicemail. It was my turn. Our last conversation two weeks ago had been ragged and I wondered if I would feel I should apologize. That would be an easy way to move things back into smooth waters, but really I had nothing to apologize for.
“I’m sitting here trying to identify a leaf,” my mother said right off. “I think it’s a Live Oak. I have the tree book that you gave me – do you remember? You gave me a tree book when I moved to the Catskills.”
I didn’t remember.
My mother describes the tree – an evergreen, but not a fir – and I Google it on my phone as I talk to her. She describes the leaf she has brought in from outside and I Google “Live Oak images” and together we agree it is a Live Oak, except Live Oaks, Google says, have acorns and my mother doesn’t remember seeing acorns.
“I’ve asked people around here what that tree is,” she says. “But they don’t know.” She laughs. “They don’t even notice them.”
I picture my mother in her low-rent one-bedroom apartment in a small northern California college town. She doesn’t belong there, but she is there.
“When you first started that yoga,” my mother says as the conversation shifts, “Dad and I went to a therapist. We thought you were getting into a cult.”
“Oh,” I say. “What did the therapist say?”
“Not much,” my mother says. “Dad blamed it on me. He always blamed things on me. Like when Liz did her suicide attempt he blamed that on me.”
This is unusual material. I am listening.
“He was always down on you kids,” my mother continues. “We’d go out to dinner and we’d spend the whole time talking about the children and he’d be so worried you were becoming drug addicts. You know, he wasn’t American, he didn’t know. And I always thought you kids were doing all right. I mean, you all worked and made your own money right from high school on. But he’d always bring up some other kid who’d been sent to some high-priced college. Until one day I just said to him calmly – like they taught us in Al Anon – that I’d only eat dinner with him if we didn’t talk about the kids. And he looked at me in utter astonishment, and then he changed the subject and we never went through that again, and I thought, wow, this Al Anon stuff really works.”
I want my mother to keep talking. She is dipping back 30-40 years. But I can’t chat here. I feel my own discomfort. I can’t talk too close with my mother.
I change the subject.