You Thought You’d Have Your Mom Forever. And You Do.
by Martha Holmes
Martha Holmes, who lives in Gallatin, NY, worked on Madison Avenue for 30 years. Upon retirement, she and her husband moved to their weekend home full time. This essay, which she read on NPR’s 51% in 2005, elicited more requests than any other. Holmes has graciously allowed us to share it with our readers.
Mothers are supposed to live forever, but they don’t. Like bedtime stories and softball games, mothers have endings, and when yours comes to that end, no matter how or why or when, your heart falls splat to the floor and you look down at it through flooded eyes and yell FOR CRYING OUT LOUD and then you notice that the voice wailing in your ear is your own and you wonder how you’ll ever get your heart back into that chasm in your chest where it was supposed to remain for the whole of your lifetime, beating non-stop from your first wahhhhh to your last oh my. Your mommy’s gone, just like she said she’d be one day and you cry your babybawl until the awe wears off and then you bury her as best you can, accepting that life has an end and even she told you so. For a moment you’re at rest. But then up she comes with a Mother’s Day, or a photograph, or a sewing needle you remember in her hand, or a lipstick just her color, or on the lyrics of a song heard from a room away –-let me call you sweetheart by the light of the silvery moon when you were sweet sixteen—and you’re awash in the whole of her as you never were when you could have called her up. So you look upward, not to see her in God’s lap but to keep the tears from hopping off your lower lid and onto your shirt, where everybody would see them.
As she told you SO many times, she’ll be right back. And she is; among the fireflies just after dusk when mothers’ voices arch over the trees and right past the screech of swings and the barking of dogs, calling your name. To come home. For dinner. Something she made that you liked or didn’t, ate or didn’t, thanked her for or probably didn’t. And now it’s so many years later and, still, she’ll be right back. When you think of her hand, how dry it had become where the blue vein moved through the brown-spotted crepe of skin, where the knuckles had swelled with time, and still you thought you’d have her forever.
And you realize you will never see your mother again, except anyplace you put her—in her chair by the TV, or next to you in the car, or walking ahead of you in the wind, her hand reaching back for yours. And there she sits at the family dinner table again, in her seat nearest the kitchen, leaning forward to pass you a bowl of something she thinks you’ll like. You can almost hear the clank of dishes, the ping of forks, the laughter, the arguments, the songs. Or there, waving through your window as you drive away, as she did when you last saw her, looking at you, her child, keeper of her future.
And when you hear yourself in the night, waking with a squawk from a dark dream, you blink into the black and remember that’s it’s okay, there there, just a dream. And you almost wish those arms could reach down from the ceiling and give you a hug like you used to get in exchange for these nightmares, a snug hug with a scratch on the back, a rumple of your pajama top, a kiss on the forehead and goodnight. Instead, you punchfluff your pillow and turn on your side and pull up the blanket around your shoulders, tucking yourself in again.
One day you open a box and something she owned is inside, something you didn’t care enough about to use but didn’t throw out, and up she comes, her fragrance arriving like a fine howdy-doo, and you ask her to please come closer, maybe touch your hair again, or else to please go away so you don’t have to long so hopelessly for more of her.
And then you hear, in your brother’s laughter, hers. Or you see, there on your sister’s face, her smile.
Hold her down if you can but don’t be surprised if she’s everywhere. You are, after all, her hereafter. And where you once came from deep inside her body, she now comes from you.