I don't think about her every day. And I don't cry for her anymore. Not often, anyway. Not the way I used to.
I can look at pictures of her young and I can smile. I can read what she wrote in my baby book and not fall apart. I can even listen to the record she made for my father when I was nine and she was 31, a 78 record that warbles and is scratched, but holds the sound of her voice. And my heart aches only a little.
“Mr. Wonderful” she sang for him on the record, a surprise gift. "Happy anniversary, Larry," she shouts at the end. I can hear this and not sob. And this is good because for many, many years, I couldn't do any of these things. My mother's voice, her handwriting, every black and white picture in which she is smiling, all the color slides that my father took, the scent of her cologne, all these things – so many things – hurt.
She always told me that I was enough for her. She always said that she had my father, she had me, and there was nothing else she needed.
But I’d hear her crying in her room sometimes and I’d hear my father say: "It's OK, Dot. We'll try again." And know that there was more that she wanted.
Her sister had baby after baby. My mother kept getting pregnant and losing babies. But when she was pregnant there was music in our house, the record player on, my mother singing along.
Hope, like her perfume, filled the air.
But then there’d be a trip to the hospital and I’d find my grandmother or my Aunt Lorraine or our neighbor, Mona, at the kitchen table, patting my father’s hands.
Ask and you shall receive, I was taught. So I wished on every first star, on every wishbone, on every birthday cake for a baby for my mother. I lit candles at church. Faith the size of a mustard seed could move mountains. I had faith but my mother never got her baby.
I had faith years later, too, when she fell down her cellar stairs. She was 46 and I was 24 and about to have my second child. I asked that my mother would live. And she did. And then I asked that she wake up and get better and be who she was. But she didn’t.
The first Mother’s Day after her fall, my mother was a patient at Lemuel Shattuck Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts. It was seven months after her accident. She couldn't sit up so she had to be tied in a wheelchair. She couldn't lift her head and had to wear a neck brace. She couldn't hold a spoon so she had to be fed. She couldn’t even speak.
I remember envying all the people whose mothers weren't broken, going to the mall and seeing girls my age with their mothers who were smiling, laughing, buying things for their grandchildren, and having a good time.
Time heals everything, the song says and it must because I can look back at these moments now.
Many years after her fall, I made a video for my father. My mother was living at home by then, not fixed, not who she was, but alive.
I’d found dozens of old pictures of her and my father when they were young and healthy and set them to the tune of "They Can't Take That Away From Me."
It was the dumbest thing I’ve ever done. Because hearing “The way you wear your hat? The way you sip your tea”? Life did take these things away. Because all the while, my mother was alive and struggling to get out of a chair, to get into bed, to walk more than a few feet, to do, to be, all the past good times were gone because they were simply too painful to look at.
My mother died 17 years after her accident. Finally, she was free. Now, finally, two decades after her death, I am free too.
I can look at old photographs, caress her handwriting, read her words, and think about all that she meant to me and all that I meant to her without sorrow muddying the memories. I can remember her without crying.
I listen to the song she made for my father (“Why this feeling? Why this glow? Why the thrill when you say hello?”) and I think about the day she made this record, about our trip into Boston, by bus and by train, her high heels clicking on cobblestone, me listening to her sing, and admiring how pretty she was.
And I think of my father’s face when he heard the record, how proud he looked.
And I don't cry anymore. I play the record for all of us now and turn up the volume and smile.
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