Five years ago tomorrow, in the blue-grey dawn of March 27, 2001, I watched my mother die. Some days it feels like it never happened, other days I feel like I’ve lived an entire lifetime since she left us.
I wrote a eulogy for her, and delivering it is still the most difficult thing I’ve ever had to do. Talking in halting tones, clinging to my sister, not fully comprehending what was going on.
I’m still not fully prepared to write about that night, but I find myself five years later a lot better equipped to deal with a world without her. I’ve been reading Orson Scott Card’s Speaker For The Dead. Ironically, I picked it up just a week ago, and I agree with him when he says that we tend to recreate the person’s life to suit ourselves after the person has gone. I can see that. I probably didn’t have as great a relationship with Momma as I would like to believe. Hell, that’s what I held onto to deal with my grief. I’ve probably ascribed attributes to her that she didn’t necessarily have. Or maybe she had them, but just not as strongly as I remember.
Memory is a squirrley thing. It changes all the time, you can’t ever pin it down. Things that I will never, ever forget my sister can’t recall ever happening. Things she insists Momma did I just won’t ever believe. She could NEVER, in my mind been that stiff, that unyielding, that judgemental. But in my more honest moments I realize she probably was. Most mothers have those moments. Some only have those moments.
I want to paint her life as her “Speaker” in rose-colored sunset colors, but she had her dark side too. She could be extremely unyielding and judgemental, particularly about the choices I made with my early adulthood. We fought, screaming insults at each other, even throwing things. She also had her own demons, something we tend to forget when “speaking” of and about a person we love so much after they’re gone.
But God, I miss her. I find myself imagining the relationship we could have had as two adult women, because we did and do enjoy so many of the same things. We have a relationship now, but it’s ethereal. I talk and she listens. I hear that judgemental voice sometimes too, but these days it doesn’t bother me. I’m grateful she’s listening.
I still think we fought so much because we were so much alike. I imagine her in heaven sitting in a beach chair sipping on a huge margarita, eating chips and salsa, and howling with laughter down at me as I try to control a class of 30 over-hormoned 8th graders. She always told me she couldn’t wait until I had children of my own. Now I have 100. Touché Momma. Touché.
She ran marathons. She loved the beach and working on her tan. She loved to cook exotic foods, and if she’d had the money she would have traveled the world. Momma loved dancing, drinking, partying, and music. The Allman Brothers, The Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, Bob Dylan, Cream, Deep Purple, Stevie Wonder, Al Green, Teddy Pendergrass, Barry White and Jerry Butler and Tammy Terrell are just some of her favorites. Rod Stewart was a god to her. Her album collection stretched from one end of the dining room to the other, taking up four huge bookcases.
To this day if I ever hear “You Wear It Well” or “Maggie Mae” by Rod Stewart I think of how she used to dance around the kitchen in her Dr. Scholl sandals, halter top, with her black hair piled in a floppy bun on top of her head and her huge Cher-style gold hoops swinging. Or maybe she never did this. But in my mind she does. She was always cooking, always singing, always dancing. In my best memories she is.
These days I try to believe that in everything I do, I act as a vessel for her. She is spirit now, but I’m still body and spirit. If I can live my life without regret, to the fullest, if I can live my life vigorously, then maybe she can hitch a ride along with me. So when I’m singing at the top of my lungs in the car to “Blue Sky” by the Allman Brothers, she’s right there in the backseat smiling, or she’s in me, in my heart, and she can feel the singing, the hope, the joy. I want to be that for her. A way for her to keep living. If not through memories, then through me and the memories I continue to make.
My husband and I are going to see Kris Kristofferson tomorrow night at the Rex Theater. He was another of her favorites, and I know as I sip my whiskey and listen to him sing, she’ll be there, somewhere in the crowd. And I hope that I can continue to act as her “Speaker” and not only pay tribute, but be honest, because I would want the same.
And one day a long time from now, I can join her in that margarita and chips, and we’ll howl together at all the funny fights we had, all the silly things we used to do that seemed so important. All those times we wouldn’t give an inch because it was so damn important to be “right” rather than just giving each other a big hug. And maybe someone will be down here “speaking” for me. Until then, I’ll do my damndest to speak right, and speak well. She deserves that. Big Love Momma.