“Tell me a story about when you were a kid. Please Mom?”
She loves to hear the sordid details of my mistakes this girl, suddenly all legs and arms, stretching to the sky before my eyes. She begs to hear of when I didn’t listen to my parents, of when I did something stupid but fun. She asks after my life, my childhood, as if it’s something meaningful and real.
I remember some things, little of others. Some tales she might never hear.
She loves the one about my father telling me not to take my favorite book in the entire world to school, my Strawberry Shortcake book, since I’ll likely misplace it. I had convinced him I wouldn’t, and took it with me anyway.
Yeah, I lost it.
She grins when I tell her how sad I was, how upsetting it was to not only lose it, but to know that my father was right all along! I remind her that this moment, when I was 5 or so, has stuck with me all these years, a lesson that sometimes, our elders do know what they’re talking about.
“Tell me about your Mommy.” she then asks, her eyes shining up at me as we lay on the floor, propped up by elbows as we absently play with wooden dolls and comic characters.
Tell me about your mother. Tell me something meaningful-remind me you have a Mother, that she was real, that she existed and loved you as you love me. It’s what’s she’s really saying, clearly glimpsing the void in my background that others don’t have. Tell me you aren’t missing something.
I always tell her she was beautiful, and show her the pictures to prove it, the infinite eyes, the surety in her face, the strength. The radiant joy on her wedding day.
I tell Viv her grandmother loved horses and plants, things that grew, and I ache with the echo of calling her “grandmother”, a title she never had the chance to wear. Vivian sees my blue rosary, given to me by my mother on my first communion. She asks of it again, fingering the beads in her hand. It’ s old, made in Italy, and I’m pretty sure my mother was given it on her first communion. I treasure it beyond almost anything else I own, despite never using it, and rarely touching it.
I tell Vivian her grandmother gave it to me on a special day, one she was proud of. My fingers remember the movements, but not the order of saying the rosary. I don’t keep it for that. I keep it for my daughters, but I keep it for my mother, in mute acceptance of who she was, and the knowledge that I’m exactly who I should be. I just tell Vivian it’s one of those special things I don’t want her touching, because her grandmother left me so little.
“She’s dead right? She died?” she asks, clearly, with no emotion. Most of my family think I’m morbid and insane for talking so easily about death with her, with both my daughters. But it’s frayed my life, it destroyed it, and at a time when no one was able to talk about it. I’ll never be in that position with mine.
“Yeah Viv, she’s dead. She’s been gone a long time now.”
“She was…sick?” That uncertainty. No matter how many times I try to explain fucking cancer, I know she secretly worries, my little panic attack of a daughter.
“Sometimes people get really sick, and they fight and they fight, but the soldiers in their body, they just can’t win, no matter how much medicine there is. Your grandmother fought and fought, but she just couldn’t do it forever. It happens Vivian. Everything dies. It’s normal.”
“But that’s sad.” she looks at me earnest. I nearly lose my shit looking into those brown eyes, those endless little pools.
“Oh yeah sugar-bear. It’s so sad. But it’s life. I miss my mom, but she’s still around. In me, in you, in my heart. She’s never truly gone.”
I say this a lot in the hopes that I’ll believe it too.
“Tell me another story about when you were a kid Mommy. Tell me something new.”