I am in the dark in bed against the wall. My parents are downstairs, far away. I lie here against the wall in the darkness.
In the afternoon I lie here with a story book my grandmother sent. I turn the pages. My mother is downstairs. She feels very close, not like when it’s night and my parents are all the way downstairs at the bottom of the house. She is just below in her bedroom and if I call she will say something back. I have to stay here though as long as I can bear it in the quiet of the afternoon, turning the pages of the book, telling myself the story by looking at the pictures.
My father brings home presents from his business trip. Toys. I like when my father comes home. It is exciting. There are presents. He is laughing. He gives my sister a wooden house, brightly colored. Hours later my sister makes me very angry, very very angry and I take the new wooden house in both my hands and I drop it from the window at the top of our house, the window that fits right into the V of the roof. I drop the toy house from the window where it falls all the way down to the ground and smashes, right below the big spreading maple.
My little sister is blonde with round cheeks. People say when they come to visit that she looks like my mother and they say I look like my father. I don’t see what they are seeing, but it happens every time. This is fine with me. I like my Dad best.
My mother on the phone two nights ago asks me about my life. She really does. And I hear myself telling her things, speaking for a few sentences at a time. It is unusual, her holding the door for me like this, and holding it still longer so that I really step through. It feels different. Most of the conversation is about what I am doing, and I feel her hand on the rudder gently keeping the direction of the conversation in place. This is brand new. And she tells me of a conversation she had years ago with someone who was describing me, something she remembered, and she told me what the person had said. I don’t remember receiving like this from my mother.
My mother made sure we ate three meals a day. She made sure our clothes were clean, our bed was made, that we had a warm sweater and enough blankets. And then when most of our contact became phone conversations – decades of them – I kept quiet. I let her talk. And when I got bored I said good-bye, and then I would miss her and call again.
When I miss my mother I miss her voice most of all. “You’re so private!” she said once, teasing. Her other kids, she said, tell her more than I do.
I didn’t feel room to talk. I didn’t want to talk. When I tried, the words felt like heavy stone blocks, not worth anyone’s effort.
But two nights ago it was different. I felt my mother’s fondness for me, as if she might really like me, miss me.
She lives now in a northern California town. It feels so alien, like not a place where my family tribe would live. My sisters put her there, she, the 88-year-old who grew up in the wilds of frontier British Columbia is in a one-bedroom apartment with an air conditioner and yes, it’s comfortable, and yes, she has made a new life there, but it will always feel like an uprooting to me.
Before she lived in a small house that I found for her that seemed perfect, and was, but not permanently so, and this is what took me by surprise.
When I visit my mother now I sit at the small round table in the kitchen half of the long room that is a living room in the other half. I sit while she stands, stooped, over the stove, stirring, peering. I take in her familiar gestures. They have become precious to me. There is that and there are also glimpses of other moments.
I sat, we were talking the last time I visited, disagreeing about something. I felt her rock-solid wall, an obstinancy that refused anything coming in from outside. That hardness I remembered and I knew my father knew that irrational closed door.
There’s little cause these days for seeing that part of my mother though she hinted at it the other night. Referring to the surgery she’s about to have she said “and I’ll take plenty of drugs because I get very crabby when I’m in pain,” and as she said the words I could feel the anger behind them, or maybe I imagined it, but I felt the ball of fear inside of me at the thought of my mother’s anger.