Today would have been my mother’s 70th birthday, which means that give or take a few months, she has been dead for as long as she lived.
It’s strange how this is such a defining thing for me, such a huge part of who I am and how I approach the world, and yet it is suppressed, not really on the surface, a taboo subject for the outside world. I never talk about my mother with my friends. They never ask about that part of me. When I do bring it up, I can always tell right away that I’ve crossed a line. I don’t know if they can’t deal with it, it’s too emotional a thing for them to contemplate happening to themselves or their children, or perhaps they just don’t know what to say.
I do have one other friend who has lost her mother, Lyra, though Lyra’s mother passed away just before Lyra had her first child five years ago. I know this because Lyra told me once, when we were alone, and she was pretty drunk. I don’t even know if she knows I know what that’s like, kind of; I don’t remember my experience being a part of that conversation. And I have to say, that I have hesitated to bring it up to her, just as I hesitate to bring it up even to my own siblings, for fear of bringing them all down.
At the holiday gathering of my book club, we always do this sort of recap of the books we’ve read over the past year. We use a poll that we made up a few years ago, and then I compile the answers and share them at this gathering. One of the questions asks which character we felt we related to most. Usually there are as many answers as our club has members. My character this year was Elizabeth from Marisa De Los Santos’ Belong to Me, a young mother dying of cancer who leaves two small children behind. The women in the group gasped when I gave my answer, and they questioned why I had chosen her. I said that I felt De Los Santos had really captured what I always felt my mother had gone through.
And the subject was dropped, along with all their eyes.
It’s a weird and kind of lonely feeling. But today is her birthday, and I really would rather celebrate her than mourn her, though my current state of PMS weighs me toward the latter.
She was a wonderful mother, and an amazing wife. The woman ironed absolutely everything, including sheets, handkerchiefs, even my father’s boxer shorts. She was funny, and had a wide smile that lit up any room she was in. She liked chocolate Tastykakes. She used to get her hair done at the beauty salon, where they would spray it hard like a helmet (one could argue that it was that PVC-laden indulgence that killed her), and then, with her hair perfectly set, she could somehow swim in the summers without getting it wet.
She loved to tan. She loved the beach. She loved her kids and my father. She never went to college, though rumor has it that she wanted to. She was pretty heavily into Catholicism, and I was born nine months after she married my dad. She was always, always there for us kids, right up until she died.
They hid that from us. She was sick for two years before, and we never saw it coming. Sometimes I have wondered if that was the right thing (and my father has too). But you know, even though in a lot of ways, it seemed as though the rug was pulled out from under us suddenly, I am thankful that they gave us that much more of an almost normal childhood.
God, I miss my mom.
Today turned out to be a day of celebration. Clooney’s birthday is two days away, and we celebrated with a moonbouncing party attendend by about two dozen of his friends. I turned my focus on that fun. As my father has always said, I have to look at all the wonderful and beautiful things that I have, let the things I don’t have be part but not define me. Most days, that works.