What happened on your trip to see your mother?!
It was many things. It was a bit scary, intriguing, made me feel sick to my stomach and potentially want to punch myself in the face because I KNEW BETTER. Or did I? Eternal optimism has never been my strongest wheelhouse but I am addicted to trying to grow like a moth to a flame. The reality was that it had never ended well between us.
This would be my fourth time seeing her since I was eleven years old. This was not your typical visit to your mother’s house. It was, in any case, not MY typical visit to my mother’s house. In all honesty, I really didn’t want to do it. But despite the ebbing nausea and fatigue which hung on me that morning like a heavy wool coat three sizes too big, I was determined. I’d made a commitment to myself to see this through. No “wouldda, shouldda, couldda” and so I would do it.
In her small flat of three little rooms in Arnhem, Holland we sat, we talked, we laughed nervously, we side stepped emotional minefields and stayed in the no-fly zone of our strange and complex history together. I’d made a pact with myself the night before that I would do everything I could to make this work and have it be as palatable as possible. No pushing, no throwing up mirrors for reflection, no trick questions or outright confrontations of any kind and I delivered. And for that reason we didn’t die or kill each other. Physical is very different than on the phone. And no, I don’t mean “kill each other” literally. Instead, we drank tea and ate spoonfuls of her homemade banana pudding with the warm sun shining through the chiffon curtains and the breezy day blowing the big Willow trees outside her windows. It was a lovely time. It was THE lovely time. The first lovely time that I recall ever having between us. I followed her lead. I learned bits and pieces of new and cryptic stories about a raging fever I never knew I had at two years old soaking in a cool tub of water, of my father’s late night vanishings that left her literally in the dark. I apologized for that and meant it. We floated around the reasons behind her leaving, skirted around her own family history which I knew nothing about (including my grandfather’s name) and zoomed passed the moment, as we sat there, when she spoke to God aloud to exhibit His response to her through His rustling of the trees because she is “anointed” by Him then cursing the birds sitting on branches as demons that needed to go straight back to hell. She assured me that she would be the one to take care of that! Then back to tea and the lightness of our time together. The swing was dizzying but familiar. The visit was like biting into the light flakiness of a sweet cream puff only to discover at its center there sat a tablespoon of hot sauce or some other “wrong” and incongruous ingredient.
I have bread crumbs, photos, some stories. some articles and my feelings about her to make sense of it all. It is like a kind of giant puzzle or family mystery to gather together to help heal my own sanity and understand the woman who brought me into this world but whom I know less about than my neighborhood Starbucks barista. But I say to you again that it was a lovely time. We embraced again when I left. She wanted me to perhaps linger a bit longer but I was emotionally disoriented and needed mooring again soon. Despite the lovely, I still felt that familiar sensation of being adrift.
I left the flat, inhaled and exhaled the sunshine, reminded myself that I’d done it, the we survived and after several days was back state side in my suburban American home. I basked in the partial glow of success about our time spent together but only partially. Could I trust it? Because of my history with my mother, I’ve spent a lifetime pushing back against the always persistent inevitability of that other show dropping.
But I trusted.
I wanted more information on her family history. My family history. If only she might be willing to help just a little. I called to ask. The short story? I began with thanking her for inviting me to visit with her and shared what a nice time I’d had.
She hung up on me within five minutes.
Despite all of the Holland “lovely”, she’d almost instantly reverted back to her standard response to me with every phone conversation we’d had since I was ten years old. I’d been to Holland and back but felt Id never left. Initially I felt I’d arrived at the same place she’d always dropped me so carelessly into. And yet we did have that nearly two hour oasis that I could hold in a special place of treasuring although we’d never had it before and which I might never experience again. Above all else I am left with two thoughts: what will I do with it all and there’s work to be done. Attempting to grow and evolve is never the easy way out but rigorously imperative.