Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Frozen Moments

I thought of my mom today. I often do. In the still chilly spring sunshine I took a feed bucket to Betty after grooming and working her. Feeding her in this personal way seems to be the thing that is helping me to bridge her skittishness most, to make her consider trusting. I think it was the springness of today that reminded me so viscerally of the day just ten years ago when I saw it all unfold in one moment: all the sorrow, all the decline, all the helplessness, all the isolation, all in one moment.

I had only two kids at the time, one four, the other not quite one. I remember the outfit the baby had on. I had driven over to spend time with my mom, to let her spend time with her grandkids, something I tried to do at least a couple times a month. It was “lunch with the girls” day for her. She was going to run out there, to Imogene’s house, but before she left she went up a set of steps to speak with her husband. Coming back down them she fell.

She’d been diagnosed with Parkinson’s for a couple of years but the biggest symptom was just some shaking of her left hand. But when she fell, I knew it was an unsteadiness that went with the Parkinson’s that was behind it. She fell hard and looked distressed. It would not have been like my mother to cry, but she let us know she was hurt. She thought she’d broken her ankle. Her face was shiny with the sweat of pain.

We helped her into the back seat of her car. Her husband took her to the hospital. But just like my mother, oh, if you could only know how exactly like my mother this was, the last thing she said to me was, “The dish I was going to take to lunch with the girls is in the refrigerator -- get it and run it out to Imogene’s. And go on in. They’ll want to see you and the kids.” I had always been rather a fashion accessory for her, and her grandchildren were all the more so and only real if the girls saw them too.

But I had already seen it by then, the smallness that she had always hidden. When she fell it was there, and when she was lonely in the back of that big car. She was alone, and she had always been alone. She had lived for 33 years with my father and never been or had a partner, and no less so with her second husband. She had loved an architect but not consummated that, just about a year before I was born. I think she regretted not having married the Nicewonder boy who became so rich because she always thought rich would equal loved. But at the core of her being she was alone and small and scared.

I got the dish and my children and went to Imogene’s. I cried most of the way. I couldn’t explain it, that feeling that I had seen all that would be coming with her decline, her illness, but I felt it. And it scared me. My mom who was always so strong they named Steel Magnolias for her. She could stand in any storm.

At the top of the mountain I made myself stop crying. I turned into the drive, delivered the dish, explained what had happened, visited with “the girls”, had our picture taken which is around here somewhere, that photo made that day, and went back to the house to wait. I didn’t want to leave until I knew she was back home and ok. I knew her husband was helpless and hopeless.

And when they finally got home, I learned how helpless and hopeless and what a miserable human being he was. Her ankle wasn’t broken but badly sprained. And she hadn’t eaten since breakfast. And she was trying to make her way from the carport to the porch and she was about to faint. She said, “Joe, I need that chair right now.”

He said, “Well Carol, it is right there, go sit in it.” I swear. It was just because he was blind to her need, and he was blind because he never saw outside his own ego, not ever. But still, it was another moment frozen in time for me. I grabbed the chair, took it behind her, and she sat. I got her water, something to eat. She was ok.

All those times I visited my mom in that house, all those times I took my children to see her, I almost always left crying. Usually because of something she had said to me, some way me or my children didn’t measure up to her expectations for fashion accessories. As best as she could tell, it was all said out of love, always. When I left that day, however, I cried for the loss of her, knowing that there would never be a meeting of the minds between us, an understanding, a respect. We loved each other mightily but we were soon to come to the end of the road together -- we could not travel each other’s roads.

When I visit my father’s stone, I do not feel so sad. I miss him, I talk to him, but he is dead. My mother will soon turn 76 years old, and without a child she bore with her, and by her own choice.

By the Gods I swear I will not make that choice.


Parrothead said...

The first time I met her, she was with the girls. She looked me over then said "I only 3 questions for you." Then she asked me...after I answered she looked at me, had that dramatic pause, then said, "Well, 2 out of 3 isn't bad. Welcome to the family." And all the girls laughed of course.

I have that moment in my mind when I saw her in a similar way "But at the core of her being she was alone and small and scared."

You're right, it was her choice. "By the Gods I swear I will not make that choice." Again, you're right. But then, you know that already. I love you SIL.

the Contrary Goddess said...

It has been a recent epiphany for me that perhaps she never really felt loved, that perhaps for all her social-ness, she felt alone. As a child I'd been condescending of her very surface kinds of relationships -- what husband calls her 200 close personal friends.

Ah, but no matter, I do know we love each other, Mother and I, even when we don't really know how to. I do know that while there is much of her life and example that I have rejected for my life choices, there is much I do emulate.

clairesgarden said...

perhaps there's regret that my mothers generation felt it was important'what other people thought' she still sees it that way, her family too. I see a lot of people now only concerned that they have eveything in the adverts, that their children have everything in the adverts. what the hell are the next lot going to be like?

LadyBir34 said...

This story made me cry. Your writing is so personal, insightful and talented. Wow! I love this.