Wednesday, January 22, 2014
My Mom's Birthday is January 24th. In honor of my mom,this story is available for about the next 36 hours.
"Not From Around Here" For my mother's birthday, I make it available, here to everyone interested for a limited time. -----Mother’s Nature----- My mother has always been there for me. Sure, she once pulled me out of a pool when I was a drowning 3 year old, but all mothers would have done that for their kids. I mention it because that’s just one of the first memories I have of a lifetime of her taking care of, and looking out for, me. It’s fitting that it’s a memory from many years ago, because, things have changed in a very strange way. It’s hard to explain, but I feel like a man out of time. It’s as if my entire life is laid out before me and, when I deal with my mother, rather than just move through life, we randomly bounce around it. I think it’s because so much isn’t right anymore. My mother read a lot of my writing even though when I started writing it wasn’t her cup of tea. That’s mostly because she was always a tasteful and discerning reader who was into --- you know --- good writing. When I first started writing my work was, well, not that. It never stopped her from reading my stuff, though. I could talk to my mother about anything, and she often had wise counsel to give me. More than once, when talking about girls, she shrewdly observed that I should break up with them, and unwisely, I usually didn’t take her advice --- at least not right away. But even when I didn't, I could still see the wisdom in it. More importantly, I could see the love. Whether I followed my mother's advice or not, it was always plain to see it was in my best interest. A moment has never gone by where I didn't know my mother wanted the best for me. My mother and I faced many difficult times together. It should’ve prepared me for what I’m dealing with now, but it didn't. I can remember some of those earlier travails, such as, when my father left home. It felt like things would be very difficult indeed, though it wasn’t long before we realized the biggest effect on our lives was we now had a lot more closet space in our tiny apartment. Also, after he left, I learned there really was something called leftovers after a meal. Until then, faced with my father’s never ending appetite --- I thought ‘leftovers’ were just a comedic prop used on television sitcoms. Still, when my father left, it was a difficult time for my mother, and she showed me through example that, life goes on, and you must let nothing stand in your way from doing what you need to do. She taught me about courage and strength, but never from oratory; always through deeds and actions. Soon enough, sadly, we would learn how much worse things could get. The really difficult times began with a noticeable decline in my mother’s health. She lost the front of one foot to diabetes and poor medical judgment. She had other health issues as well. But still we persevered---and by we, I mean ---she, she persevered and I went along for the ride. But illness in your parent does make you think…and worry. My mother took these events hard, but in stride, and she never gave up. She truly taught me by example that despite great adversity, we can always carry on. I’ve known people who are estranged from their parents, so I think that’s why I always make sure to tell my mother just how important she has always been to me. My mother and I have never spent even one moment estranged, which shouldn’t seem like much of an accomplishment, but there are many who would think it is. Nevertheless, can a parent know the profound effect they have had on a child if the child doesn’t make a point to speak of it? If the child doesn’t tell them, thank them, and discuss it with them, how would they know? Which brings me to some of the odd experiences I've been having lately. How I've come to feel like a man out of time. These nights when I speak to my mother our talks contain elements from conversations long past. Perhaps this is merely a function of my aging and revisiting topics with a revised perspective, but sometimes I am still surprised at my inability to drop a particular point. For instance, I mentioned that my mother often read my writing. I think my topics of ‘speculative fiction’ were less appealing to her. She enjoyed elements of fantasy, she enjoyed the work of Stephen King, but she could also be found reading the historical fiction of Michener or the intrigue of Le Carre. So again, just the other night, we were speaking about my writing. As usual I did most of the talking but later on we had more of a dialogue. I reminded her of a story I wrote called “Wall” and how when I gave her the original unabridged novella version so many years ago, over 50 pages, she very nicely remarked that it might be a while until she could get to it. She was having vision problems and reading was becoming a more difficult proposition. As reading was always one of her joys, I was not looking to take some of her precious reading time away for something she might not particularly enjoy, so I said, “You know what, how about we save such a long story until I actually get it published?” That was years ago, and currently, “Wall” has been published. It would seem fair for her, after so many years, to finally read and critique it. I guess that was on my mind, because I brought it up in more than one conversation I had with my mother, on different nights. Again, with that feeling that I had been removed from my timeline and floated above my life and could just dive in any place or time, I brought it up, matter-of-factly, as if there were no intervening years. As much as I could not explain why at that particular time it seemed perfectly normal to bring it up out of the blue, I might also mention that no matter how much I hinted, she spoke about other things as though she didn’t hear me, or maybe, didn’t understand me. Sadly, this is how most of our conversations go these days, the ones where she responds at all. Much of the time I do the talking. I talk to my mother just about every day. But when she and I have a real discussion, few and far between, she rarely addresses anything I hope or expect. Another example, she has never, since it occurred in 2001, at least that I can recall, had a comment about my birthday being September 11th during one of our infrequent dialogues. Yet I can remember how important my birthday always was to her in the past, and how special she made me feel as we celebrated it. I remember she once arranged a small surprise party for me. She sent me on an errand and when I returned, my cousin, close friend and girl friend were all there waiting for me. Before this birthday, my father had already left and my older brother had moved out, and it was just me and my mom. She worked very hard for modest pay, took care of the apartment, while I was in school at that time, and yet she would balance everything, including making that small party for me. Still, the few times my birthday comes up during one of our infrequent conversations, she indicates no understanding of the significance of the date. In fact, I tried to bring up my birthday and that specific party recently, though I’m not sure why it was on my mind. She ignored the topic and instead asked, “Remember your favorite green glass?” “Oh man, ma, I haven’t thought of that in years!” When I was a kid, my mother and brother used whatever glass was available when they wanted a drink, like most people would, I guess. My father had his own, special glass though, and I wanted one too. And I wanted a big one --- I remember being thirsty! I was at an arcade in Coney Island, and did really well at Skee Ball one afternoon, and got a lot of tickets, and traded them in for the biggest glass I’d ever seen! It was green, rippled glass and I thought it was beautiful. I came home with it and said, “Hey ma, look, I won my own special, really big glass!” She took one look at it and said, “That’s a vase.” “No, wha—yeah? Really?!” I loved that vase-glass. It was huge. I drank out of it for many years! Quite some time after that birthday, and years after I got that glass, my mother took in a stray cat off the streets of Brooklyn. She loved that cat. He had a heart condition and usually cats with it live only 5-7 years, but Buddy as we ended up naming him, had a great cardiologist in Manhattan; Dr. Fox from the Animal Medical Center. His fine work, our diligence and Buddy’s lively spirit, kept our cat alive until he was over 13! Nevertheless, as close as she was with Buddy, I can’t recall a show of emotion when we had our only discussion about his death, years ago. She visited his grave with me once, but as was often the case at this time in my life, her conversation did not match the events very well, unless she was being allegorical or something. If she was, it went completely over my head. Yet, other times, my mother is still right on the money. I talked about how much I wish my brother and his family lived closer, so we could see each other more. “It’s good when family is physically close, like Lil (her sister) and I always were. But you know, Scott and you are very close, and distance doesn’t matter like it did when I was young!” She smiled, which I don’t see enough these days, unless I look at pictures of her from years past. My mother grew up in the depths of the depression. The world was a much different place back then. Now with cheap long distance, cell phones and internet, as well as more accessible transportation, the world truly is a smaller place. I thought I knew exactly what she meant, which was nice, but unusual these days. One afternoon, many years ago, my mother was making her homemade marinara sauce, and she called to me, “Come here, I want to show you how to make my sauce.” “Why ma?” “Because, in case something happens to me, I want to make sure you won’t starve!” She mentioned this long before disclosing to me some health issues, including an enlarged heart, which caused her physician to make a prediction that she wouldn’t live to 50 (but thankfully that proved not to be the case.) I was talking to her about her sauce just the other night; “I’ve been making it for quite a few years now, and I know I’ve altered the recipe over the years, but you never tell me what you think of it.” She looked at me then asked, “Did you speak to your brother?” I don’t always speak to my brother enough, but we speak regularly, and have a great relationship. Still, I guess one of us was concerned that I wasn’t calling him enough. Speaking of my brother, and hopping around my timeline some more, many years ago my brother wanted my mother to move out to Florida with him, and in fact, had even brought up my looking for work out there as well. Since my mom and I lived together, she was not anxious to leave if I were not going also. I told her my life was very Brooklyn oriented and I couldn’t see leaving. We had a very small apartment, and I was in school, but I told her someday soon I would get her out of there, to a really nice place. Recently, one lazy weekend afternoon, I got the opportunity to ask her if she regretted my not agreeing to move to Florida. It’s something that has bothered me for quite some time; that I did not get her right out of that small, old, rundown apartment and into something bigger and nice in Florida, near my brother. She didn’t even answer, but I guess I knew what she would think, or feared I did, anyway. As I hop around my timeline, going far back and then fast forwarding to the now---it must seem that my mother is of two natures---the old mom that was amazing, funny, caring---and the recent mom that’s detached. I can’t argue that. In fact, I was talking to my mother just the other night when the frustration seemed to break through. I was trying to tell her how great it was to see her because it had felt particularly long between visits. As usual, her words were making sense but were not directly related to my conversation. “Mom, it’s great to see you. I’ve missed you so much. I don’t know why it’s been so long.” We were standing outside our apartment building in Brooklyn, in front of my first car, an orange-rust colored Caprice Classic. “We need to go shopping. Waldbaum’s will be very crowded if we wait much longer.” “Ma, if we have to, we can go to another store. There’s no rush. It’s so good to see you. You really look great.” As I said it, I noticed that her left arm had the bone exposed from the elbow down to the hand. Something like this was usually the case for so many years when I spoke with my mother; that something was “off” just a bit --- or perhaps in this case, more than a bit. There was almost always a sign: dark, maudlin outfits, something unsettling around us, inconsistencies or anachronisms; in this case her skeletal arm, our old apartment building and my first car, which would all tell me something was clearly amiss. It’s probably because, while I do talk to her every day, many of the dialogues I mentioned have happened in my dreams. My mother died quite unexpectedly and abruptly 25 years ago, and since then I speak to her a lot, but when I’m awake, she doesn’t answer. Sometimes, when I sleep, much more so the first few years after she died, I speak to her in my dreams, and she does answer, but my conversations are not always what I would most like to talk about, and the words my mother chooses, are not as direct and related as they were when she was alive. The events I mentioned when I was younger, the advice, the writing, the birthday party, making her sauce, her failing health, those took place when she was alive, of course. Talking about my current writing, visiting our cat’s grave, talking about the family, hanging out in our old Brooklyn neighborhood --- all a construct of my somnambular desires, I guess because I miss my mother so much. Our cat outlived my mother by 11 years. Buddy sure missed her, too. Many a night he would stand in the doorway of her bedroom and let out a mournful howl. When I could give my mother writing of mine to read, it was hot off --- the typewriter, complete with whited-out corrections because Buddy the cat loved to walk on my keyboard, the typewriter and years later, the computer, whenever I was working. My mother was a very honest, strong and intelligent speaker. Rather than frustrating it was almost always helpful and fun to speak with her. I think you would’ve liked her too. Everyone did. That’s how I know my dreams are my mind’s creation, not a visitation. It’s how I know this is a tale of loss and not of supernatural occurrence. Because my mother would make plenty of sense if that were her talking with me, instead of my brain trying to create her presence from a string of memories and sleepy synaptic impulses. I remember before she died, my mom, Rae, was very sick and half asleep in a hospital room, and I heard her call out to her mother and speak to her, though her mother had died about 17 years earlier. My mother wasn’t delirious or confused; I knew she knew her mother was dead. And because my mother was always so smart, and so grounded, I didn’t understand what she was doing, or why. But I do now. She talked to her, because it was her mother---and that never changes. And here I am 25 years after my mother died and, I don’t think a full day goes by where I don’t think about my mother ---and few days go by where I don’t talk to her either. The conversations are more one sided now, but when I am awake and speaking to her, I can often reason things out with the memory of the guidance she’d already given me, when she was alive. That is the real impact of my mother’s nature --- that I know what she would have told me to do, and even now, if I don’t do as she would, I am quite well aware of it. So I jump around my timeline in my dreams. I go in search of something, but I usually find something different. I searched for the reason my dreams did not reveal my mother’s nature, but in the end I found her nature in so many ways when I’m awake, because I’m my mother’s son. Unlike the very wonderful dreams we see or read about in movies and novels --- the mother of my dreams is not much like the mother I knew. She doesn’t guide me when I sleep, though she does when I’m awake. My mom doesn’t sit down and talk to me in my dreams, not as she did when she was alive. But when I’m awake, I know what she would tell me… …because my mother’s nature is alive and well in me. ----------------------- Happy Birthday Mom! I miss you. This story will still be available in my collection,"Not From Around Here", along with 17 other stories.