>All, or at least all who follow my blog, it should go without saying, but I wanted to make clear that the following is a work of fiction, employing first person narrative. Yes, I write what I know, but it’s not autobiography. There are a couple of words in it that I don’t use in my personal life; they are not my words, but rather the words recollected by Colin as he’s thinking back over his life. And, yes, I see this as a sequel of sorts to “Cotton Candy,” although a lifetime has passed since then. Without further ado: “Sharing with Mother”:
Sharing with Mother
I’m meeting mom for brunch. It’s a little place–The Cracked Egg–near where she lives. Everything there is just so–crisp white linens appear ironed onto the tables, royal blue cloth napkins are folded neatly into tents, silverware meticulously placed on either side. Neat, and in order–probably why mom likes it so much. Though it’s a Saturday, and I’d rather be home with my family, I’m here because mom asked. She wants to talk about possibly gifting us her timeshare in Boca.
I enter through the glass double doors, introduce myself to the hostess, and seat myself on an exquisite blue couch on my right. There are some other folks sitting there waiting for their tables, but I don’t really notice. I’m a little lost in thought. I’m thinking about mom, and how long it’s been since we’ve gotten together like this.
Mom’s a little older now, 65, but then again that’s really not old these days. I’m edging into middle-age myself, 37, a little soft around the middle, but fairly fit. Just the first few strands of gray starting to peak through my mop of brown hair. Mom retired from her private practice a few years ago, but has never been busier. She, with her husband, has become quite the jet-setter. They’re always heading off somewhere–the wine country of California, the Alaskan coast. I’m somewhat envious, but content with my lot in life. I’ve got a good job–in marketing–a happy marriage, two great kids. Yes, I’m content. They say that “cleanliness is next to godliness,” but I think it’s contentment.
If pressed, Mom would say that she believes in God, but she has no use for organized religion. She’s content in this belief. It’s the sort of belief that makes no practical difference in the living of one’s day-to-day life. Call it practical agnosticism, if you will, but she’s no atheist. No, she’s definitely a Protestant, and she made sure that we knew it while we–my brother and I–were growing up. Thing is, we must’ve been protesting the whole thing, ’cause the only time we ever darkened the doors of a church was when we went to visit grandma back east. Other than that, I can’t say that God had much of a presence in my young life. I gather that mom’s upbringing had included much more than churchgoing, as I’d discovered a tattered family Bible with purple ribbons and silver stars in it–awards she’d won for Scripture memorization. This I never knew until I was an adult.
There’s so much about both my folks that I still don’t know to this day. I think in mom’s case, she being of the baby boom generation, was that there was religion in the home–religion, and regular church attendance, but it never took root. That, and a sort of tension between the way her folks lived and the way they acted. Granddad was of old German stock, and stoical by nature. His dad had been a preacher, but granddad didn’t figure he’d ever measure up–so why try? Granddad was given to the drink, usually in binges. He’d be sober for a long while, then up and disappear for days on end. This drove grandma to distraction, but I think it’s what also drove her back to her knees.
I gather grandma’d been raised in a “Christian home,” but one that was marred by discord and divorce. Grandma married young–at 17, I believe–had a child, and then divorced that man when she found out he was cheating. She’d known granddad as a youth, but maybe they hadn’t hit it off. In any case, they found each other again when both were near 30. They only married after grandma was pregnant with mom. They had another child–my uncle, Dale, who was almost stillborn–the following year, then no more after that. Grandma’s first boy, Cleopas, my other uncle, was 13 years older than mom. I imagine that grandma and granddad had their hands full trying to work their farm, and raise a teenager and two toddlers. This, plus granddad’s drinking binges, are what I surmise turned grandma back into a praying woman.
In mom’s case, I suppose that she saw grandma praying–maybe even joined her, but I don’t know if her heart was in it. I think maybe grandma may have been given to outbursts of one sort or another, and mom, probably subconsciously, identified more with granddad, and his stoical nature. (I don’t base this on firsthand knowledge–how could I? But on my own unease with regard to emotions. I have trouble to this day allowing myself, giving myself permission, to feel things). In any case, there was certainly a tension between the way grandma and granddad lived, and their respective approaches to life and faith. I figure mom watched, waited, played along, and when she finally went off to college, found a much wider world than she’d ever known. And thus cast off the trappings of whatever childhood faith she may’ve had. I can’t say as I blame her, but I think I may pity her a little: she seems to have traded the pearl of great price for all that the world has to offer. Thing is, I don’t think she’s even aware of this is as a loss. And all that’s left of her Protestantism is the work ethic–which in and of itself is not a bad thing, but it’s not the whole thing.
Myself, I’m a Christian now, but I’m not always sure what that means (nor do I think that mom knows what it means, or what it means to me). The more I seek God, the more elusive He seems to be. I want for Him to be the center–the focus–of my life, but I always seem to have distractions of my own to contend with. There’s being a husband, a dad, an employee. These things all take time–more time than I ever seem to have. I try to cultivate some hobbies, but mostly always come back to reading and writing. I do marketing for a living, but secretly would like to be a writer. Heck, I don’t even know if I’m any good. I just can’t seem to stop! Maybe that’s what God put me here to do? I don’t know. Sometimes I scare myself with what comes forth from my fevered pen (I wonder if it’s really the pen that’s fevered, or my mind?). I think it scares my wife, Anita, too. What I do know is that I can’t seem to help the ideas that pop into my head, or they way they intersect. I’ve just gotta go with the flow, as the saying goes. I wonder if I’m as contented as I claim to be. I don’t like where this thought is leading me. I cut it off.
Today has lead me here, to the waiting area of the Cracked Egg. I’m still sitting on their comfortable blue couch, bright morning sunshine streaming in through the large windows. The restaurant’s logo–egg-shaped, split between the double glass doors–casts a warped shadow on the hostess’s podium. Mom’s always running late, always trying to do as much as she can around the house before heading out anywhere. There’s that work ethic again. We’d agreed upon 11:00, but chances are that mom won’t arrive ’til 11:30, or so. Which is alright, I guess–it’ll give me time to muse. I always feel bad whenever we get together like this, because Anita never comes. There’s bad blood between her and mom, going back to the time before we married. Before I started seeing Anita I hadn’t seen anybody. Had never dated. Was too shy, too bookish, too whatever. I remember being told that mom had asked my brother, Herbert, if I was gay. Gay! I couldn’t believe it! No, I definitely wasn’t. If it weren’t so cliche, I’d say I just hadn’t found the right girl yet.
It was at the local Just Rite Drug that, years later, I met Anita, and I was more than curious–I was stoked! She was the prettiest, sweetest, little brunette I’d ever laid eyes on. She had the brightest brown eyes! And she seemed to genuinely care about me, was interested in how I was doing. She even read the sappy doggerel I tried to pass off as poetry (most of it grim and depressing)! Yes, I was hooked! I didn’t bat an eye when she invited me to church–I just went along to be with her. Looking back, I figure the Lord knew just how to get through to my battered heart. Through a girl.
I think it was probably two things about Anita that just irked the snot out of mom: that she had somehow facilitated my “religious conversion,” and that I married her so young. Mom had hopes and dreams for me, dreams of an education, a steady career, then a marriage. Well, it was my life, and I was smitten hard! (I’d heard talk of someone hiring a deprogrammer, but as I was of legal age, nothing ever came of it). It seems that, somehow, by attending church, trying to live a moral life, and by loving a good woman, I’d become the black sheep of my family. And poor Anita bore the brunt of it. Unfortunately for her, I didn’t really know how to stick up for her. Thus the resentments festered and went deep on both sides. In some ways, I think mom gave up on me and pinned her hopes on brother Herb, who did in fact go to college, obtain a Bachelor of Science degree, and an M.B.A. And who just as promptly got a job caddying at a country club. I’ve taken to, in the presence of my wife, calling him “Uncle ‘erb.” Humor is one of the strategies I employ to cope with the fact that my brother has a particular affinity for a certain green leaf. No, it’s more than a fondness, it’s a problem.
To be fair, I know mom had it hard raising Herbie and me on her own. The end of her marriage to our father, Alex, couldn’t have been easy. Funny thing is, I don’t remember them ever fighting. One day he was there, the next he was gone. It literally went down almost exactly like that. By the time it was over, dad didn’t really have much of a presence in our home anyway. He was like a ghost. (I’ve since been told that he never dealt well with death, and he’d lost his mother, grandmother, and a favorite aunt in the span of about two years–all just as he was entering middle-age). I remember telling mom, after he was gone, “that things hadn’t changed at all.” I think I was thirteen, or fourteen, at the time.
Before their actual divorce, my brother–who was then nine–and I lived a strange, abandoned life. Mom, somehow thinking that giving dad his “space” would help him grow up, moved out of our house and in with friends. It then fell on dad to care for us. Which meant that everyday we came home to an empty house. Dad, who looked then much like I do now–soft around the middle (he was fond of his beer), would be there to feed us dinner, and see us off to bed. (I honestly don’t recall if he ever sat down to eat with us. He probably did–I just don’t remember). After we were safely in bed, he would leave, spend the night at his lover, Lydia’s, house, then return in the morning to wake us for school. Lather, rinse, repeat. Somehow this strategy of our mother’s didn’t quite pan out. Now that I think of it, I don’t remember actually seeing her at all during the six months we were under dad’s auspices (though I’m sure we must’ve spoken by telephone).
I glance at my watch: it’s now 11:30, and no sign of mom. The hostess, ever watchful, catches my eye, asks if I’d like to be seated. I reply, “Thanks, but no, I’d just as soon wait. My mom’ll be here soon.” She smiles, goes on about her business. She’s a pretty young thing, blond. But I truly only have eyes for my wife. Sure, she’s put on some weight, but she bore both of our children–Tyler and Taylor, a boy and a girl, the apples of our eyes. I figure I was either built for monogamy, or saw enough of the ugliness of infidelity up close and personal like, that I decided it was the only way for me. In any case, I love my wife, and wouldn’t trade her for anything in the world. It’s not always easy, but it’s good. And after watching what my folks went through, there’s no way I’d put my family through that.
Strangely enough, despite their painful nature, I’m enjoying my quiet musings. But there are some things I’d rather not remember. (But of course, in actively trying to forget, the memories are that much more crystalline). Like having dad take Herbie and I to see Return of the Jedi, only to have him tell us afterwards that he was divorcing our mother. It was exhilaration followed by a gut punch. Dad, perhaps riddled with latent guilt, perhaps not knowing how to even bring it up, figured that a movie wold somehow soften the blow. As if. Star Wars will forever be associated in my mind with divorce. Like mom telling me–not that she really had any business sharing such with a fourteen year-old–that, on the last day he was home, the two things dad said to her: “I fucked around on you for fourteen out of sixteen years,” and “I’m leaving now.” After the former, she knew the latter meant much more than just his going to work: he was leaving forever. Of the two, I believe it was the latter that was the far uglier phrase. It was a heavy trip for my young mind, one I’d just as soon forget, but that wasn’t for me the what I’d term my lowest point. Sure it was dark, but the relational dynamics didn’t resonate with me the same as they did with mom.
One of the lower points had to have been when, at one o’clock in the morning on a night some months later, mom bundled me into her car–a Datsun 280Z–and asked me to show her “where that bitch lives.” I don’t know if I felt worse for her, or for myself. In any case, I know I dropped the passenger seat as far back as it could go. It was embarrassment beyond the world, and I did not want to chance being seen.
In looking back, I think my absolute lowest point must’ve come around that same time, or shortly thereafter. I know it was after mom had moved back in, and dad had moved out for good. I don’t remember if Herb was nine, or ten (he still carried a lot of his baby fat, hadn’t started his mad growing rush towards the stratosphere yet, topping out at 6’5″), but we were over visiting with dad at Lydia’s house. Lydia had two kids of her own, Gillian and Terry. They were around our respective ages, and I suppose we got on alright. On this particular day, we were going to be picnicking at the park. I remember that Herb asked if he could use the phone. He was granted permission. He called our mom, let her know what we were up to, asked her if she’d like to come along. I felt so bad for mom, having to tell him that it probably wasn’t such a good idea, but to go ahead and have a good time anyway. This is when it all really hit me, when that note of finality rang out, when I knew that my life could never be the same again. All of this came down right before I started high school. I look up.
“Are you ok, sir?” asks the hostess, turning from the menus she’s stacking, noticing the tears that’ve begun to trickle from the corners of my eyes.
“Yes, I’m fine,” I reply, wiping at my eyes. “Kinda takin’ a walk down memory lane. Guess I stepped on some landmines.” By her expression, I see that she’s not sure what to make of this. I glance at my watch: 11:45. Mom’s really running late.
“Really, I’m ok,” I say.
“If you say so… Is this your party, sir?” she asks, looking at the door, relieved. And there she is, coming towards the door: mom. I get up, quickly smooth my trousers, adjust my tie. I don’t dress up often, and want to look nice for her. Still, this bib and tucker stuff isn’t for me. I move to my right, open the door, holding it for her. She walks through. She still looks good, but gravity is starting to take its toll. To my eyes she’s looking more and more like grandma everyday, but then again she is a grandma now. She’s fond of colorful clothes, and is wearing a teal sundress. In other parts of the country it’s heading on towards fall, but here it still feels like summer. She’s carrying a small clutch in her left hand. Her frosted hair is done just so. A strand of pearls adorns her neck. Her brown eyes are clear, almost hard. Ever the business woman.
“Hello, Colin,” she says.
“Hi, mom,” I reply, thinking that there’s a lot I’m going to be sharing with mother today.
Copyright 2010 Chad Jones