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Mothers and daughters are closest, when daughters become mothers.

7 May

I was 25 and unwieldy my first mother’s day, pregnant but not showing, being fat and squishy in all the places skinny girls start to get taut and glowy around 6 months. I was browsing in the bookstore with my then husband, bemused, fingering the childbirth books, fantasizing about my perfect birth.

Feeling the echoes of my mother, where she should be. A year before this, I had dreamt of her with me as I birthed. I did not give a child, but in hindsight, I gave myself over, releasing her spirit and splinters of her memory from me, bursting forth in light and ache. Perhaps I am a prophet. But that day, I felt only the loss, the emptiness of new life without the guidance of an elder, of a mother, of my mother.

I will never feel as alone as I did that day, surrounded on all sides by mother daughter duos giggling, bonding, drinking latte’s and tea, eating scones and generally, absorbing the air I could no longer breathe.

I made a conscious decision that day, to finally accept my pregnancy, to finally come to grips with my transition into adulthood, to the mother, to the person I would become. I wasn’t just bringing new life into the world. I was healing my own, finding it with groping paws and empty promises.

I picked up a pregnancy journal, and decided it was ok to become someone’s mother.

***

I said I was going to ignore Mother’s Day. And, it’s very likely that I will, knowing there will be no cards or flowers or well wishes, just like every other year-difference being is that this year I don’t have to be mad at anyone about it. It just is.

But it feels off to not acknowledge it.

It’s not razor sharp anymore, that pain. I don’t walk dazed through my days, like I’d fallen down a set of stairs and hit my head and could only see the stars before me. The pain lessens, nearly disappears, leaving me only a reminder of who I’m not, what I could have been, how it all could have been so different.

If I look at the clearly, my mother never dying would have likely meant me never wasting my teen years embroiled in drugs and drinking and confusion. My mother never becoming sick would have meant I would have never moved to Northern Ontario. Never bought a magazine. Never met the father of my children.

Never had my children. My mother’s death directly created my daughters.

As I tell Vivian, frequently-light and dark are only two sides of a thin coin. So it seems, are life and death.

I cannot curse her death any longer. I cannot curse my loss without acknowledging what I have gained. Who I have become. The lessons writ large on my heart, in my skin, by losing her all those years ago. I am a mother because I have no mother.

Ten years ago, when asked, I would have said I would give up anything, and everything to have her back.

No longer.

Becoming a mother has given this to me-a love broad enough to hold my pain, the ability to understand her sacrifice, her pain, her ache, while watching my own recede in the distance like the sun setting in August. Becoming a mother has allowed me to let go in my own way, sitting late at night with a daughter under my child, curled into my body, secure in the knowledge that Mummy loves her, and will never let anything harm her.

I miss my mother. But I’m proud of the mother she has helped me become.

****

Sometimes I stare at the sky as I walk home, and marvel at how big it seems in this province, how spacious and grand. The wind pushes the clouds around, musses my hair and I’ll feel, briefly, like I’m 17 and impossible and wrinkled with pain. The sky smells of tomorrow and I feel my heart pause, sure of her breath on my neck, her perfume on the breeze. Her voice whispers around me, just past hearing, and the world rights itself.

I’m solid again, and grown.

She’s with me everyday, as she’s part of me. I have become her. My daughter’s hold her attitude in their eyes, her bravery in their hearts. My mother’s humour infuses my days, dry and startled.

We are our mother’s daughters.

21 Years

26 Apr

I’m not there but I can trace the streets with my fingers. Technology gives me tentacles, allows me to walk the streets of my home town yet again, stare at the front door I open and closed so many times, the curb I drove my brother’s bike off one dewy spring morning, into the side of a passing car. The steps I sat with friends on fiery summer nights, or with my mother on cooler fall afternoons.

The shutters are falling. The siding is grimy and stained. If houses are metaphors, this one matches my life. Full of memory, dingy at the sides, but still standing.

***

She’s there.

In my mind, in my frosty memory, it’s April 1989 again, and she’s laying in the front room, her blue room, on the hospital bed my parents procured from somewhere, her body wasted and yet bloated. She had come home the week before, her doctors forcing her hand, blunt with words “We can’t help you. You are dying. Give up.”

It was not in my mother’s nature to give up on anything. And so her last wish was not denied, to die at home, to spend her last days in the home she built with her lover, her husband, the one she brought her children home to, my first home. Her beautiful sitting room, strewn with the chaos of death-the drugs, the gauze, the tiny cans of near food in vanilla. The pale sky of carpet she laboured over choosing became compressed and dirtier by feet, vomit, life.

I watched her final days there, much as her sister and my father tried to shield me. I saw my mother naked for the first and only time there, flailing and seizing on her bed as her, the woman I knew, finally left me. Some of me expired with her, sailing towards a sky, cloudy.  A crack in a lifetime, the line in the sand of before and after.

I stare at the house I grew up in. The house she died in. The house I ran away from, feet pounding on distance and action-had I the ability to sprout wings I would have, and flown straight into the sun. Even my dreams rarely brought the solace of her, and slowly I have forgotten her voice, her touch, what it meant to be her, to be my mother.

But her ghost still echoes, across these years. Sunlight around her like a halo, possesses my memory. Her distant smile, haunted somehow, wistful.  The heft of her, the sense of solidity, security, like a vault I could land in. Years I never got to know, stories she never told me-all hover like fireflies over a night field in that house, beautiful and untouchable.

It’s been 21 years. I am not a small girl any longer, rigid in my strength, weak behind those doors. I have been alive for longer than she was with me, only pieces of her left to remind me, whisper gently that I have a mother, that she loves me, and she misses me more dearly than I can imagine.

I love her still, and that house, and that yard, all the places our hands and feet touched, even silent on that burgundy couch lazy Saturdays, watching movies as the rain poured. She’s in that house, her breath trapped in the corners, behind the blue wallpaper, inside the steel stairs.

And she’s in me, forever.

She’s home.

Letters from the Dead

30 Jan

I’m cleaning out the “laundry room”, an awkwardly named room full of dirty clothes, cat litter, summer stuff for kids and all the crap I don’t know where else to put. In the middle of empty boxes, dryer fluff and dried herbs, there’s a box.

Letters.

Mostly, the letters between Mogo and I, the written documentation of the person, long ago, I fell in love with. The good person who listened and cared, who was funny and ballsy and pretty damn awesome.

Fuck me it hurt to read those, to hear that voice again, that voice I haven’t heard in so long, lost behind who we became, grew into. I loved him.

I stopped reading after one. It wasn’t worth the hurt. But I couldn’t quite bring myself to dump them into the garbage. Not today. Maybe never. In those envelopes are my daughter’s parents, before everything else, when a faint lust flowered in ink, an understanding, a camaraderie.  He was so beautiful to me then. I remember that, how excited I would become when a letter would arrive, how I would read each letter over and over, how good it felt to have one certain person in my world, someone who would always tell me hey, it IS ok.

It’s not ok.

I tucked them back into the old box, slogans from my misspent youth scrawled across it, when a letter fell out.

Andrea.

Red hair, huge grin, lively porcelain skin. Perfectly wonderful and yet blandly un-entertaining. She would write me the odd letter when I moved from her town to “the big city”, and I never wrote back, having nothing to say to someone I rarely spoke with, someone I was only tenuously connected to via her boyfriend who liked to play Asshole and sit quietly staring at everyone. Normal in every way, destined to teach, become a mother perhaps, live a full life and die. I never wrote her back that I remember, or maybe once I did. I was pretty high most of the time then, and she didn’t fit in to where I sat, her beauty and the stunning normality of her life a brick wall that breathed heavily on me as it sat, hostile between us.

I didn’t think of her for years. Until Facebook, and I thought, wow, I never wrote her back. I felt bad, a hollow ache I felt about most things from that time, a manic period like no other in my life, when I scorned all that which didn’t burn like magnesium in front of my very eyes. Many a common friendship, lost then, because I couldn’t handle the mundane.

But when I looked for her, when I typed in her name and saw in my mind her lovely face, the hair I envied, I found the one thing I didn’t want to, didn’t dream of seeing for anyone my age, just starting on their life, when you’re honest.

There was an accident one night, on the cold highway linking much of Ontario to the rest of Canada, a twisting road I’ve driven, terrified. A sudden, horrid accident, taking her sister and brother as well. I found she had been a student near me, maybe even at the same time, and I never knew, same school, same town. She grew into a profession she loved.

She had died, and I had never bothered to say hello, or goodbye. She was gone, and I had never really known her.

***

Mortality has always been part of me, more so than most people I meet. I have a keen, if not outsized sense of how close we are, how easily we can fall from this world and into whatever waits. I know we are mortal beings, more likely to float away into dust than meet a maker or live forever in a heaven made of gumdrops and cream cheese. But there is something about a 27 year old woman, just beginning her life, her career, maybe waiting until it’s right to meet her children, dying in a car crash coming home from a movie, that just isn’t right, or fair.

Or easy to swallow. I expected to be well into my thirties before my friends started to die, but then also thought how lucky I am that none of my friends HAD died. Some had been sick, and recovered. Some lost, then found. But none gone, torn from life like this. A page ripped out that I would never be able to read.

I don’t much like regret. I feel it’s wasted. But I regret this-that I never took the time to be a better friend, to be a good person. And that the words she wrote, the thoughts she gave, I never returned.

I thought there’d be more time.

Oft expectation fails, and most oft where most it promises; and oft it hits where hope is coldest; and despair most sits.

11 Feb

In an attempt to soothe my aching head over my impending unemployment, I did some shopping on the weekend. (Most was needed stuff, and not for me. Sigh)

I picked up some cheap books-the bookstore having a 4 for 10$ sale, which makes it a “who cares if it sucks” sale.

One book in particular caught my eye, “A Year and a Day“, by Leslie Pietrzyk. It’s the story of a 15 year old girl whose mother kills herself, parking her car in the path of an oncoming train.

And oh, it makes me cry on the bus almost every morning so far.

I’ve searched for books on motherloss that would really hit the right tone, and for the most part, they don’t. They try to hard, they don’t understand the little missing pieces, or the fact that the larger hurt is underscored by the silences death brings. This book…it brings us to them. Tearing the house apart searching for recipes-I’ve done that myself, searching high and low for that crumbling Five Roses cookbook my mother had when first married, marked by flour and grease and her fingers. I never found it.

The anger. The lashing out in strange ways, at friends, at those who profess to care but have problems (seemingly) less than your own. The repentance. The confusion. The utter inability to process something as simple as Christmas. Having to be the adult. Having to not say what you want to say, wanting to scream at the top of your lungs,

“She’s DEAD! Not lost, not passed away. GONE.”

The vestiges of my former self, my younger, more fragile doppelganger, they live in this book. My memories came alive reading this, tears spring unbidden at the repeated “I’m fine.” through the book, the mirror of my adolescence, the constant refrain of “I’m ok, I’m fine” when all I wanted to do was fall into the arms of the speaker.

Alice, the girl in this book, she can’t fall either, the hurt in her heart far stronger than the need for comfort. The dry distance between her needs and wants, and the crippling prison grief becomes, especially at so young an age. Her need to comfort, and almost protect the pregnant 16 year old Paula, her helplessness. Her scorn for the one person she lets in, the one person who allows her to mimic her mother, Joe Fry. Her sweet pleasure in his gift of an acorn for her pocket, as she fiddles.

I could have been Alice. Well, except for the part where her dead mother speaks to her.

There’s a part where her brother has ran to Boston, and returned, and he’s talking about how he thought he saw her in a crowd, but realized it wasn’t her, and that this, THIS was when he knew she really wasn’t coming home.

I’ve seen my mother, in faces, side profiles, coats. And realized that despite not remembering her, not much at all, her face was imprinted on me, her movements. She’s never coming back either.

Seeing this written, truly seeing it as I have, it’s a blessing. It’s recognition.

It’s like home.

*********************

Yes, I am losing my job.

Some of it’s performance. Some of it’s having a poor manager, some is the needs of the business are outstripping my abilities. There’s a lot to it, most of which I don’t wish to get into publicly. I will say that as someone who has been with a company for over 8 years, it hurts. It hurts how this company treats tenured employees, and seems to consider tenure and accomplishment meaningless unless you’re an ass kisser.

I was once passionate about my job-loved it, loved that I helped action change for millions of customers. But in the last few years, that was smothered, as my job became more about making things “look good” than about actual change for Joe customer on the street. Things changed, my manager changed, and I no longer felt part of any team. Just another sucker doing shit work for a paycheck.

It hurts. I’ve been so proud keeping a job for this long, many years of it unmedicated, and succeeding that way. It’s almost like things only went south once I started achieving some measure of stability. Go figure. But I’ll never be uber organized, I’ll never be perfect, especially under pressure. I recognize these things in me, and realize that now, this isn’t the place for me, and at least for the time being, I need a job where I can just enjoy helping someone, a job which doesn’t find me working on the weekend and after “work” on a regular basis.

I don’t want that, and I never really did.

So I’m kinda scared, but kinda excited as well. I’m getting a reasonable severance, so I can’t complain, and they’re keeping me on till the bonus payout so I can get whatever payout is owed. So they aren’t completely inhuman. Having to sit through conversations about helping report automation learn the reports I was producing-that sucks. Hard. It’s like everything you worked for is taken away so easily.

I never truly felt like I was my job, and I’m glad of that. I’m happy, sated almost, to be done with this job, the constant panic and rush, never feeling like I had time or opportunity to truly do what I felt my job was. Excuses maybe, perceptions. But only hearing the bad stuff from a boss for months does this to you. Wears you down until you ARE that bad employee.

So we’re moving on. I hope to find something simple for now, easy, no stress. I’d love to take a month or two off, but I’d rather have a laptop. If I have an easy job again, I might start writing again. Reading Piertrzyk’s book has made me realize that I really do want to write that memoir of my childhood, even if I never do a damn thing with it.

Losing my job is making me realize all the things I want to do, things that are so much bigger than pulling data for someone.

******

This morning, walking to school, Vivian tried in vain to climb a snow-hill I promised her she could climb the day before. She tried and tried, and I grew irritated, knowing I was missing my bus. Finally I had to drag her off the snow hill and push her forward.

“You NEVER keep your promises to me!” she screamed. “You promised!”

Promises are funny things. They change when you least expect it.

There

8 Feb

 

bebeme

In the air, this sweet break from the cold, rivulets down the road with winter dissolving, floats forever ago, a place disappeared, a land where the nights were long, crisp journey’s into another world, where time lasted and spun it’s magic around my ears. This air, reminds me of the warmth in our kitchen, the images of my mother’s hands across my back, on my head, in the sink, dishes clanging as I sat, underfoot, studying the patterns there. This air, it marries us across the years, the me then, the me now, handfasted, tied with thread and IV lines.

This air, it burns my eyes.

flowers

Taking advantage of a state of hypomania lasting more than 30 minutes (and explaining away my need for sleeping pills last night) I rip apart the bedroom, old clothes sorted out into a garbage bag, magazines on to the porch, to give away, to save for that day all trash is allowed, anything, maybe even the monkey’s on your back. I shift the bookshelves, notice the “unread” pile has grown to 20 or more books, smile. See my lonely photo album, the only evidence that I had a childhood, somehow tucked under the cat’s sofa, ragged and old.

Rosalyn, who has been “helping me” by laying on the futon and rolling around with Bride Barbie, sees the album and is drawn, as all children seem to be, by these frozen moments trapped. 

“That’s me!” she screams at the baby pictures. I find myself correcting her, but not really, so entwined we seem, so much the same, the air between us thin and enraptured, time meaningless. She sees me in full ballet regalia, the hated tutu, the flower hat my mother made that I wasn’t allowed to wear in the recital.

“I want to look like that Mummy.” she mutters, staring intently, eyes boring through the photo. Her grandmother deserved this child, she who loves pink and Barbie and babies and ballet, everything my mother wanted and wished for in a daughter, none of which she got. My mother deserved this granddaughter, who would have made her so proud, so happy, so fulfilled in all the ways I never could. Rosalyn deserved my mother, deserves her still, to embrace her in the ways I cannot, and possibly never should.

meandmom

I turn, find the one lonely shot of my mother and I, the only picture I have of her holding me, the only one where she’s smiling, where her face isn’t forced for the camera’s or fighting back the pain I know she suffered. She’s gorgeous-my mother was beautiful and I try to show Rosalyn, try to make her understand how lovely and perfect my mother was when I was her age, how I must have crowed “You’re the bestest mumy EVER!” to her in the mornings but I just can’t find the words, all gummed up like marshmallows in my throat and it won’t make any sense, not now.

Possibly not ever. How do you explain an absence to someone who’s never felt it? What’s the point is deciphering that which will never be?

My mother was who she was, and all the things she wasn’t and never would be. She loved me. Maybe I only have one picture and it’s fading and cracking but she’s sitting as I sit now and holding me as I hold my girls and I know, without doubt, her heart glowed for me and shone in the darkness that were her last days.

She loved me. That I can tell Ros. That makes sense.

meorros

I point to another shot, curled up in that hideous chair from so long ago, pointed at the television. Shot taken while I was in the grip of the nightly news I imagine, legs pulled under, wearing only underpants, despite my hair being neatly pinned back.

“Ros, who is that?”

She knows it’s me, but waits, looking into my eyes.

“I hated them too, see? No pants. Hated pants.”

“Like me!” she sings, grinning.

“Like you Honey Bear. Just like you.”

The air shimmers, and I can taste the air in that room, liver and onions perhaps, my mother’s ribs, a Sunday dinner of hamburgers, chips and illicit soda. It’s warm and secure and snug around my shoulders like one of those granny square afghans you find in the thrift stores now and again, the work wasted on the receiver, or maybe dead. We’re there together, Ros and I, but it’s her little legs on that chair, my hands holding the warm milky tea and buffing my nails before bed. We’ve merged and danced into each other, my childhood, my memories becoming hers, settling in to a quiet corner where in 10 or 20 years she’ll find herself telling a story about a little girl in a room full of amber light and love and they’ll never be able to tell what’s mine and what’s hers or where it’s all gone.

They’ll never know for sure.

mom

It breaks my heart to never know my mother. I’ll stare at her eyes in photographs, thinking I’ll know the secret if I look at her long enough, that somehow, I’ll absorb enough of her to really know my mother, for her to mean something more than the sum of her loss.

But you can’t know the dead. You can’t know the people they were-you can only wave to the people you want them to be, the people you think they were once, before everything happened. I can stare at her face, the before face, the one before the chemo and the radiation and the pain, the pain of knowledge, the pain of leaving, the pain of facing your life ending, a plane crashing into so many lives. I can’t know that. I’ll never know that in the ways that kept her up at night or guarded her eyes as the days grew closer.

I will never know my mother. She will be that perfect garden in a picture, all beauty and tragedy, curves and angles, youth and hope. She will be annectodal memories for my daughters, the one we cannot hurt, the one who lives forever in our hearts and fingertips and the glittering spring leaves in the broad maple behind the house.

The one that got away.

momsick

She was happy once, that I can convince myself of, even when I stare at a face yellowed by treatment, frightened by what might come, and yet absolutely resolute in her ability to ignore what will be. Hope via ignorance. How very catholic of her.

momhappy

She was happy once. God fucking dammit, she was happy, and alive and beautiful and she was my mother. Sometimes the air arches back and around, like today, and I imagine her, young, like I am, newly blessed with children, just breathing in the air, glad to be alive, remembering when she was young, and all the stories she’d some day tell.

She was happy there.

Things are gonna change, my dear.

27 Jan

I thought it was the cold weighing me down, the incessant, doesn’ t matter how many sweaters you wear or how high you crank the heat cold that’s clinging to my bones lately. I thought maybe it was sunlight, a lack thereof, a lack of sleep perhaps, sick children, sad children, not sleeping children. I thought perhaps the spectre of my job disappearing very soon was eating at me.

It’s all of those things. Maybe it’s none of those things. But I’ve got this low level depression building in my chest, and I can’t remove it, clingy like plastic wrap, stubborn in it’s whispers. I’m grateful it’s not the “jump in front of a bus” kind, that it’s more of the type of depression average people get, sadness, an inability to get excited or do anything. I feel like a little hamster stuck in the corner of the cage-I can see the wheel-it’s over there and pretty and WEEEE! it would be fun but damn, I just can’t work up the energy or will to care.

It’s emotional atrophy almost. Spend a few days not caring, a few days unable to work up the will to finish that bloody green blanket, unable to do more than the least amount possible, answering the phone becoming difficult. Then everything contracts. You’re fine on the outside, but smiling almost hurts, like your hair when you’re down with the flu. Finding a kind word takes a deep breath and thought. It’s just…a second more effort for everything.

I’m not complaining. I just realized on the bus this morning, I’m not just tired. I’m sad. Sure, I’m handling this whole losing my job thing with more grace and calmness than even I expected, but I’m numb almost. I worry that this sadness will morph into more, and I sing when I can to banish the darkness. I’m waiting for the shoe-I shouldn’t be this calm to a stressor so large as losing a job after 8 years.  I should be something more, right?

At least though, I’m still mostly ok. The 10% sad can be buried under everything else, made better by sweet touch and words, ignored while life is lived, and smiled at in mirrors. After so long, it’s so simple and pure, to just be sad, to just be touched by life and really feel it without the overlap of voices muttering.

Strange that sadness might be showing me the path where I get better.

*************************

Vivian has been having nightmares the last few nights, where she comes flying from her bedroom sobbing, reaching for me. She wouldn’t tell me what they were about. Last night I asked her to please tell me today, if she could, that I’d like to help her chase the bad things away.

This morning she tells me she’s afraid that her Daddy and I will die.

I’m not big on lying. But, I’m also not big on making a 5 year old cry. So I chose the middle ground, much as my parents did, long ago.

“No one is going to die until you’re all grown up, with kids maybe, and we’ve pooped on your carpet. No one is going to leave you.”

Do I believe this? No. I know full well that this can be a brutal lie, that parents can and do leave, or die. But, I think it matters when a parent says “I will never leave you.” Because none of us ever want to, even if circumstances change and force the hand.

I reminded her that what happened to my mother is rare, an odd freak occurance, and that it wouldn’t happen to us. But that also, my mother never really left, and lives in my heart, and in the air around us, forever. That she loves me, and even her. That parents don’t leave.

We ventured further down the path of what happens at death, what I believe, what others believe. I explained that some people, including her grandmother, believed in heaven, and hell, but that I didn’t believe it. Then from her mouth comes:

“Mommy, baby Jesus isn’t real is he?”

I tell her he’s a story some people believe in, that I was raised to believe in. But that I just don’t.

I talk a little more about life being a circle, that life, like seasons, follows a path of change. That death is change, and even though I miss my Mommy dearly somedays, she’s here, somewhere, with us, inside us.

“Does this make sense Vivian?”

“Sorta.” she mumbles, “Can I go to J’s after school today?”

She skips off ahead of me for awhile, processing I’d imagine, forming her world view, slowly, until it comes back to bite me in the ass in 2 months or 6 years.

So many people are horrified when I talk of speaking to my children of death, or sex-but these are two certainties in our lives, two changes, events, continums we cannot alter. We will all die, some sooner, some later. We will hurt-so why not begin the conversation young, when it’s relatively simple, and yet not so simple, because death, it’s never a quiet movement, it’s not as simple as the change I describe, it really is as a season, the color dropping from us, falling to only our bones in a silent concerto.

I believe we continue, and death is not so sad. And I never want my children to fear this one last act.