My mother and father married in a simple civil service at the courthouse in January, I was born in May, and my mother died in July; three weeks shy of turning 20. It was a warm summer's eve, and my father and his friends had been working on one of their motorcycles, when they decided to take the bike for a test drive. So on the bikes they all hopped, including my mom on the back of the bike my dad rode. They took the road that ran along the lake and came around a bend to a "T" intersection with a STOP sign. My parents went through the unexpected STOP sign, crossed the intersection, and went down the embankment on the opposite side of the road. Both of my parents sustained extensive injuries, but my mother's cost her, her life. She held on for 5 days and finally left this world 6 days after my father's 22nd birthday. He once told me that on the night of the accident they had just made up from their first and only fight, and that on the night she passed away she came to him in his drug induced sleep and told him she was gone.
Tragic? For my father and those that knew and loved my mother, absolutely. For me? I was only 2 months old, how could it be?
Growing up I didn't know much about my mom. My dad stopped bringing me to see her family when I was about 2, and when I asked him questions about her I got vague, glorified answers. He held her on a pedestal. For me, she was never a real person, just a ghost in someone else's memory.
When I was 6 years old, my mother's chest of drawers was in my bedroom. It was filled with miscellaneous things, most of which I didn't know about. But out of the blue, I one day decided to look through the bottom drawer. This is when I saw the first picture of my mother, and learned her whole name and birthday. I had found her driver's license.
For me, the hardest part of losing my mother has been that I don't have any memories of her that are my own. I have second hand recollections that I try to fit together to flesh out my mother and make her real for me. The biggest problem is that everyone thought she was wonderful. That maybe true, but what else? And how was she wonderful?
My dad told me one other story, about how some girl came to their house or apartment one time and was basically trying to make a play for him. He said my mother chased that girl down the hall or street, or wherever. So this tells me she fought for what was hers. Okay. It gives me the sense that she was a bit feisty. Okay. He also told me she used to bite her lip. Okay.
After many, many years I finally got in touch with some of my mother's siblings. Their recollections of her are of the strong and wonderful big sister. They confirmed that she was a bit of a hellraiser, but not overly so. Okay. But what was her favorite color, or her favorite song? What about me is from her? Besides the similarities others see in our appearance, how am I like my mother, if at all? This is what I long to know, and sadly never will. The little things...the tiny details that define who we are...who I am.
Would I go back in time and change that fateful night? No. I am who I am today because of what happened, and who knows who I would have ended up marrying or where my life would have taken me. I'm happy where I am, and with who I am. But I do wonder sometimes, Mom, are you proud of me?
Then there are the mothers who raise us:
After my mom died, my dad was still in the hospital recovering from his injuries. My grandmother, my father's mother, flew in from Guam where she had been living with her husband who served in the Navy. She cared for me until I was 2 or 3 years old, and my dad was fully (physically) healed and ready to take charge of me. He and I chugged along for a bit, got a step mom for me, and eventually ended up back with my grandma when I was 8. Personally, I feel I should have never left, but then again, I wouldn't be who I am today,yada, yada, yada...
One time I had seen a record at the local music shop and decided that I wanted it. The next time that I knew my grandma was going to that store, I asked her if she would buy it for me. When she came home she gave me the album and told me it was X amount of dollars. Well, the price she had told me was more than what I had seen it for, so I told her I didn't want it. She told me I could take it back and I replied in a very snotty tone, "YOU take it back." Big mistake. Grandma was in hot pursuit of me all around the house, hitting me over the head with the very same album that caused this whole mess: "Don't YOU talk to me that way!"
Another time, when I was in high school, I had a verbal altercation with a teacher. I immediately called my grandmother from the pay phone on campus and let her know she might be getting a call from my school. You should know that I was a very good student; never in trouble, good grades, actively involved on campus, etc. That doesn't excuse my lack of decorum in dealing with my science teacher who was ignoring all of my attempts to speak with her, but it does give some perspective as to how things were dealt with. My grandma wrote a letter to my counselor explaining that with age I would gain the maturity and experience needed to deal properly with the sort of situation that had occurred, but that the teacher should have already possessed that maturity and experience and should not have ignored me in the first place. My grandma even went on to quote Newton's law of relativity in that every action has an equal and opposite reaction. My counselor brought the teacher in for a face to face with me, and it was determined that I could return to class or I could make the class up in summer school. Like that teacher was going to grade me fairly after that? Yeah, right! Summer school it was, where I earned an "A", thank you very much!
In my 8th grade year, my grandmother's father passed. When this happened, she inherited his all coveted 1966, powder blue Mustang. Damn I wanted that car so badly! Well guess what? Yeah right... NO I didn't get it! As a matter of fact, my grandma only let me drive it once on the way to my godmother's house, and only because she needed someone to follow her in a separate vehicle. But thanks Grandma, that was a good memory!
I got pregnant with my first child when I was young. I had her right out of high school. I can only imagine the disappointment my grandma must have felt when she finally tracked me down and I broke the news to her. But after our initial short lived conversation, and me living at a friend's for a few months, I came home and my grandma took care of me. A couple of months after my daughter was born I flew the coop, eventually married her dad, and eventually divorced him, thus leaving me as a single parent. Again, my grandma was there. She took my daughter on Friday nights so that I could work, or play, or just have a night off. Thanks, Grandma.
I brought my daughter over for a Friday night sleepover at Grandma's, but stayed this time, as I sometimes did, and we watched TV. My daughter, then 4 years old, mouthed off to me. My grandma jumped up off the couch, hand flying as she told my daughter, "Don't you talk to your mother that way!"(Sound familiar?) Now my grandma's touch was much softer than mine, but let me tell you how scary it was to have your loving grandmother snap and come flying unexpectedly at you: It's not something you forget easily! And I should know, as it happened to me!
My grandma has bailed me out when money's been tight, she's held me while I've cried, she's rubbed the cramps out of my legs, changed mine and my children's diapers, shared a million dirty jokes with me, and loved me as only a mother could. Over the years I have had several very real and scary dreams about losing her, so much so that I woke up already sobbing. And I know that everyday is a day closer to when I have to say goodbye. 20 years from now is still too soon, but it is imminent and I don't know what I will do when that time comes. But I hope that when it does, my grandmother goes knowing just how deeply I love her and how cherished she is.
I love you Grandma. Thanks for everything, always.