[The Sandoval Signpost (Web edition) is pleased a punch (diet punch that is) to bring you the humor and insightful human observations of Daniel Will Harris, author of My Wife and Times. We continue this entertaining series with Daniel’s poignant remembrance of his mother. —Ed].
One Mother’s Love
By Daniel Will Harris
My mother died a few months ago. At least physically. Her children, of which I am one of course, know that she really died almost 30 years ago.
As a child she always told me that when I turned 18 she was going to kill herself. I know that sounds bad, but I grew up with it, so to me it seemed normal, as if this is what all parents told their children. It didn't scare me or even bother me, because when your mother tells you something, you just think that's the way it is.
What I didn't know is that she'd said the same thing to my older brother and sister, too. And each time she failed to make good on her promise—I guess because I still hadn't hit 18.
She was a really good mother when I was young. She never made me to go school if I didn't want to and took me to museums and art galleries. So I know a lot about art, even if my multiplication skills are weak and my ability to do long division is non-existent.
I will always be grateful to her for telling me that I could do whatever I set my mind to, despite the fact that for many years I believed it to excess. She was positive and she was loving.
And then I turned 18. She made good on her promise—at least psychologically. She killed herself, inside. Somehow, maybe because I was young, I couldn't recognize what she'd done. I didn't realize it because her body was still around as was her uncanny ability to make four times more for dinner than anyone could eat.
My sister and brother didn't notice, either. We had our own lives and she had hers, or so we thought. My mother moved to a new city, and opened an ice cream parlor, then a bakery. This life-long diabetic was making cookies and candy and treats all based on sugar, which of course she was eating herself.
We started to notice changes, but they didn't seem significant. But she seemed to have her own reality, where an acquaintance would become her best friend for up to 48 hours, after which they would turn on her (unprovoked, of course) and she would be the victim. People would insult her, even people who couldn't speak English. The waitress at a Chinese restaurant, who didn't speak of word of English, supposedly told her, "You have big ears," and we heard about it for years.
She'd call each of us kids (now adults, but still always kids to her) in turn, and tell us something terrible about the other. Maybe we are slow, or maybe it was because she told us to keep these things secret, but it took a few years before we compared notes, figured out what she was doing, and realized that nothing she said was true. From then on we just ignored what she said, something our spouses never quite understood, much less accepted.
And that was the point, really. Our spouses had taken us away from her. They were the enemy. Her work was never done—we must be separated from them. It was her mission of mercy for us, her way of saving us from other people so we would return to her. It's very sad when I think about it now, but there was no logic to it at the time—her saying horrible, hurtful things to us, thinking it would bring us closer.
After one particularly mean call, on my birthday, I went for several years without talking to her. A friend of mine, Molli, became my surrogate mom—it was nice to have a mother without all the baggage. I think there should be a "rent-a-parent" service where people can hire the parents they always wanted. Then my mother and I finally made peace with each other, or so I thought.
Her outrageous stories continued, and we continued to listen politely then forget them—except for one in particular that we all loved. One day she called with a "terrible secret." She was very big on secrets and this one was her masterpiece. She whispered that she'd met an African American woman with the same maiden name as hers. This woman's family lived in the same city her own father did. From this, it became clear to her that we were related—and the reason why? She "explained" that her father was actually a very light-skinned black man who passed for white.
Reality rarely figured into her stories. It didn't matter that her father had been born in Russia, had worked his way across Europe to the United States by himself when he was just 12, and had a strong, life-long accent.
"He made all that up so he could pass," she told us.
Needless to say, my sister and I were thrilled that we were part African American! At last we knew why "the man" had been keeping us down! This disappointed Mom, as she seemed to have wanted us to be upset, but what was there to be upset about? When we continually said how pleased we were, she said she'd made it all up—something she never did before, or since.
This remains our favorite story and I still like to believe I'm part black, which proves there's a part of her inside me (for better for worse).
If the stories had remained fantasy it would have been OK, but then she started to attack her grandchildren the way she'd attacked us. With her angst not aimed at us, we could see it clearly, and we drew the line. We sided with our spouses and children, nieces and nephews. Not her. She never forgave us for that.
It was only in her last few weeks I started to realize she'd been undead for 30 years. She'd become something of an emotional vampire, only feeling alive when she was upsetting other people. I don't think she planned it consciously, I think she'd just fallen into such bad patterns of behavior in her endless quest for attention and love. Her actions pushed away the very people she wanted to love her. And finally, when she didn't even get attention for her bad behavior, she had nothing left to "live" for.Everyone had stopped playing her game. When there was no one else left to play, she went from the hospital to hospice. Mom woke up at 3 am, called everyone in the hospice to her side and said she was dying. They finally figured out her blood sugar was just low. I think she was just dying for a piece of candy. They gave her some and she felt better. In a few days she fell into a coma, then died.
Usually when someone dies I don't feel sorry for them—it's a release, a relief, and their energy moves on and lives on. In my mother's case, she was finally free from the dark prison she'd built up around herself. I do feel sorry for the living who are left behind—those who feel the loss. But we had lost her so long ago, that now there was just a kind of peace in knowing she was free, at last.
I believe this quote: "Life is eternal and love is immortal; and death is only a horizon, and a horizon is nothing save the limit of our sight." —Rossiter W. Raymond.
Now that she's finally at peace, I will remember all the good things she did when I was young. I will be thankful for the sister and brother she gave me—people made up of the same stardust, so we recognize each other's light.
And I'll remember that love never dies—even after 30 years of neglect. We always have each other, and we always have love.
So give your mom a call if she's among the living. If not, speak to her in your heart.