I remember how surprised I was, looking at my baby pictures with you when I was pregnant with Sarah. I’d seen the pictures before, of course. But this time I wasn’t looking at that bald little baby. I looked at the beautiful young woman so happy to be holding me in her arms, laughing and cooing. I couldn’t believe that was you, a you I knew in the long bones of my arms, those bones that give and get hugs. But my eyes had forgotten your fresh face ringed by black shiny curls.
That secret life that came before, that vital, dangerous, struggling life you set out upon when you left your home in Germany, I’ve run across that too, in your snap judgments, reminders not to care too deeply or expect too much, and pushes out the door–past my “comfort zone” as we would call it today. You were so quick to move on to plan B, never mind even beginning to understand whatever happened to plan A, and never, never daring to cry over it. All those events in New York, in Hartford, with your family, with your work and the people you found made you the woman who stroked and pushed and shushed and worried me.
Early on I judged you, when your rules didn’t make sense to me. I was angry, resentful, and rebellious and I knew you were unreasonable. Most likely I was also unreasonable, but I liked the feel of bitchy and callous, selfish and superior. That behavior is only “supposed” to last from age 12 to 21. But I performed that tedious repertoire from about 10 to 45. I didn’t know about Mother-as-friend. You steadfastly opposed that recent American notion. Anyway, I was devoted to my habit of annoyance.
Now that you’re failing, flailing, I want to protect you from the horrible traps of gravity, memory and speed, the uncomfortable visitations made by curbs, glass and silence. I want to offer you places for an eye, an ear, a nod or a notion to land safely, comfortably. And I want to know, Mom.
I want to understand that young woman who became my mother, Mom. I want to know the situations that formed you. I need to know, how did it go for you? How did you do it? How did you negotiate all the unknowns? How did you discover and tame your feelings? How did you learn to live with sadness and fear? How did you take care of yourself? I want to know with all the intimacy we’ve never had, that I never knew was possible, that you never allowed maybe anyone. Make it fresh in this moment and take me inside back to the time each armor plate was forged, pounded, cooled, and hung along the perimeter. What soft moment did it defend? What strong barb of laughter did it unleash?
You are slipping away from life and I’m just finally appreciating what you have—your legacy of story and experience. Our legacy. Tell me. Tell me about your fears, your worries. I will carry this story to my daughter. They are our stories and we must have them.