Mom is a pain in the ass. Mother was a pain in the ass: sometimes. I miss my mother more than I ever realized that I would. In truth, I never gave any thought to the issue of whether I would miss her. She was always there. When I was puzzled, I went to her. Maybe I didn’t always take her advice, but I always asked for it. She was there for me. She would magically appear to me at the other end of the phone, every time.
I wasn’t always there for her. Now, she isn’t there for me anymore, and I don’t know what to do. It’s one of those things I would have gone to her about.
They called it a myocardial infarction. I call it a heart attack. I don’t know what she would have called it, or what she did call it while it was happening, because she didn’t tell me it was happening. I’m guessing she called it the flu. She called a lot of things the flu, indeed, that was her term for most physical ailments. PMS? Flu. Hangover? Flu. Charley horse? Flu. I think she thought she had the flu, so she didn’t call me. She wouldn’t have wanted to bother me. She didn’t call the doctor either: same reason. I wonder if she would have said that I have the flu now.
I was with Harry when she died. It was the first time he’d seen me naked. It was maybe the last time as well. From now on, I fear I will connect the one with the other. I don’t actually believe the one had anything to do with the other. Really, I don’t, exactly.
I met Harry a while back, under sort of strange circumstances. We’ve been out a few times. He helped me celebrate my promotion. Considering that he sort of put me to bed that night, without any help from me, maybe he had seen me naked before, but he said not, and I believe him. I have sort of seen him naked before. Like I said, strange circumstances.
Anyway, the dates were nice; a few cups of coffee, a few lunches, a couple of movies, a couple of dinners, hand holding, a few kisses, a little fondling. It was evident to me that both of us were ready for more. I’m not sure that it was evident to him, at least that both of us were ready. I suppose my readiness did not stand out as much as his, but he had to have been sort of aware, by the nature of the fondling, if nothing else.
So, the big night came. Actually, it didn’t start out all that big. We went out walking, talking. We watched the sunset. We went back to my place for a light meal. A very light meal, as it turned out. We got distracted when he was chopping some carrots for the salad and feeding me carrot coins. That’s what he called them: carrot coins. I had been singing a song under my breath while we got things ready, and, when I stopped, he slipped a carrot slice into my mouth and said he was “putting a carrot coin in the jukebox.”
I told him he hadn’t punched in the song he wanted sung. He creased his brow like he was deep in thought, and then reached out and pressed my left nipple. I was somewhere between totally frozen and totally melted. I started singing, “I’ve got your number,” and I pressed his, well, his number. A few more carrot coins, a few more numbers punched, a few more lyrics, increasingly disjointed, and the next thing you know, we were naked.
The phone rang. We ignored it. The phone machine didn’t ignore it, and we soon heard the voice of Mrs. Marley, Mom’s next door neighbor, telling me to meet her at General Hospital. Mom was there. By the time I got there, Mom wasn’t there. But her body was.
Harry held me while I talked with the doctors and nurses and administrators. He was with me when I went to her place to look up answers to questions they had asked. He called the hospital to give them the answers we found. He called Amy and Maria, my best friends. He called the funeral home. He took me home and tried to make me eat something. When Amy and Maria arrived, he hugged me and he left.
The really strange thing was, that’s when I started crying. I mean, I was weeping, or whatever, before, but when he left I really started bawling. I’m not sure if I held off until then because I didn’t want him to see me crying that way, or if I realized, at some level, what I came to wonder about at a conscious level later, that it might be the last time I saw him, at least saw him naked.
It turned out to be almost true. I haven’t seen him since, naked or clothed. Except once, at the funeral. He was clothed. We both were. He hugged me, and I kissed his cheek. Then I pulled away from him and went to Amy and Maria. We’ve talked on the phone since then. I tried to explain about the connection, but I did even a worse job of it there than I’m doing here. He sounded patient: hurt, but patient. He said he would wait for me to call him, and then he hung up the phone. I don’t think I’ve ever hurt anyone like that before, except maybe Mom.
I loved Mom so much, but I know I didn’t love her half as much as she loved me. I can’t do anything about that except feel guilty. It’s just the way it is. Maybe it’s the way it always is with parent and child. My father died when I was young, after a long illness. I missed him and all, but I never really knew him, so it was different. I was everything to her, and she was everything to me. At least for years, she was everything to me, but not so much in the last ten years or so. Still, she was always there for me.
I wasn’t there for her when she died. I didn’t get to say good-bye or thank you. If I had been dressed when I got the call, maybe I would have been there for that. But I wasn’t dressed, and I wasn’t there. I was with Harry. I was with Harry, and I was naked. I wasn’t with my mother.
He was there for me when she died. He knew what needed doing, and he did it. It was magic. When someone else could do it better, he stepped aside, without a word, and let them do it. When I found out I was without my mother, he was with me. I loved having him with me. I loved the feel of him, the remembered sight of him, the smell of him. I don’t know if I can ever forgive him, I mean, myself.
This might seem like one of those things I’d talk with my mother about, but it isn’t. I didn’t really talk with her about men I’d been naked with. I assume that she knew I wasn’t a virgin. I also assume that she did not. And, no, that is not an impossibility. Both were true: probably. I knew my mother well. In any case, I tried not to talk about men in my life at all, because she would immediately begin making judgments and/or wedding plans. I would feed her tidbits once in a while, to keep her from setting me up with men related to women in her bridge club. Sometimes, the tidbits were even real, but not always.
During one particular dry spell, I not only made a guy up, I made up an extended relationship with him, putting up with the wedding plans, making endless excuses as to why I didn’t bring him to meet her. Finally, I “discovered” that he was gay and only using me see if his mind might be changed. I think she was going to ask me exactly how that discovery on my part took place, in that context, but decided against it. It was a major victory for me in our child-versus-parent-for-control-of-my-life battle.
I’m overstating things here, something I rarely do. She worked hard at not interfering in my life; and she let me know that she was working hard at it. She found a way to let me know her opinion on things. It was “simply an indication that there might be another way of looking at things, a way that didn’t involve a loosening of morals.” After all, I asked, didn’t I? Or, maybe I didn’t exactly ask, but I brought the subject up, or mentioned the subject, or, with her in the car, when we drove past a billboard that brought the subject to mind.
There I go again, overstating. All right, maybe my doing that is not so rare. Why do I do that? Do I have a secret ambition to be a sports writer? Am I afraid I will under emphasize whatever it is I’m talking about? Am I trying to convince myself? Ah, that one seems to ring a bell.
So, what am I trying to convince myself of? Mom died, and I miss her. I associate her dying with Harry, or with having sex with Harry. Only, we didn’t have sex. We were going to have sex. We intended to have sex. I, at least, certainly intended to have sex. And it killed my mother.
That’s so stupid. It must be right; I’m crying again.
Why did he hang up on me? I need him now. Doesn’t he know that? I suppose she had to die sometime. We all do. But not now, later. I finally have a career going, but not now. Not yet. When I’m married, have kids. After I’ve told her I’m in love with a wonderful man. A man who hung up on me. He’s a bastard.
The day after the funeral, I went back to work. I worked a twelve-hour day. I sent out for sandwiches and fell asleep on the couch when I got home. The next day I did the same. I got a lot of research done. Maybe it didn’t need doing, but maybe it did. Maybe, someday, we will find out how important it was to have that research done. Then we will rejoice and be exceedingly glad that I did it. When the weekend came, I went in again, but I just stared at the wall and cried.
Maria came by to pick up something she’d left there and found me, my face covered in snot, my chair rung round with old tissues. She took me home, stopping on the way to pick up some Chinese take-out, and made sure I ate. Then she called Amy, who came over to relieve her on suicide watch or whatever they thought it was.
Together, they held me up through the worst part. It took a couple of weeks, but they hung in. One or the other was with me for at least a while every night. I was their extra kid. I will never be able to pay them back. He didn’t call once.
I couldn’t pay them back, but I could acknowledge their efforts. I offered to take them both out to dinner, but their real kids, well, Maria’s kids and Amy’s husband, whom they’d already been ignoring, made that a problem. So, I threw a pizza party at my place, for them and their families. It was a little more expensive than I thought it would be, what with the professional carpet cleaners and vase-replacement afterwards, but worth every penny. It was actually a lot of fun, and the next week, I was back at work full time and on my own in the evenings: the long, long evenings.
To fill the evenings up, I began to take work home. When I didn’t have work to take home, I asked Mr. Morrison about what I might read up on to learn more about the business. I took a couple of online classes. Then I took a regular class. I asked the professor about things, and then he asked me about things. The things he asked about were not related to Administrative Theory. He knew the answers to my questions. I knew the answers to some of his. One of the answers was yes. We went out, but there was no magic.
Why would I want magic? I’m not a teenager.
I went back to work, but not quite so single-mindlessly. I made pizza night a regular thing. Sometimes it was just the kids. Maria got to go have grownup fun. Sometimes she had a lot of grownup fun, and I put the kids on pallets in the front room. We wrapped up in blankets, and they bunched up around me while I read stories. Then we talked, in quieter and quieter voices.
“Why didn’t the puppy take a bus home?”
“Well, I don’t think puppies know how to take a bus. And he didn’t have any money.”
“I remember a story about a puppy that took a bus home.”
“Yeah. I think so.”
“He must have been a very smart puppy.”
“Maybe it was a rabbit.”
“Ah, yes. Well, I do believe that rabbits are smarter than puppies.”
“How come we always have pizza here?”
“Would you like to have something else?”
“No. I like pizza.”
“I like ice cream!”
“I like snicker doodles!”
“I like asparagus!”
They all looked up at me, except for the youngest, asleep in my lap. “Really?”
“Oh, no. It’s a wonderful green spear that tastes better than new-cut grass smells. Do you like the way grass smells when it gets cut?”
“Well, you’re a good candidate for liking asparagus, then.”
They thought about that, and the thinking tired them out. One by one, the light went out in their eyes, and they gave into the sandman. I sat in the midst of their magical peace. I thought, she must have felt like this, and I cried again; but I cried with a smile on my face.