After the summer closed in 1991, my brother turned the page into the next chapter of his life. I was 19 years-old, and at that age, I faced a new chapter of my own.
Having lost the love of her life and the only reason to stay in the place where I grew, my mother sold our family home and moved down to the state of Florida. She had enough and needed to move away from the memories of her longtime husband. And like it is said as a glass is filled before overflowing; my mother said, “When,” and followed the plan she and The Old Man were supposed to retire with.
Only now, she was alone and unsure of her unwritten future.
Similar to my mother, I was about to embark on my own journey. I was at the starting edge of my new beginning. Ahead was my entry into young adulthood as well as all the unexpected turns that come with life. It was here that I began my first real steps into the working world. I learned about love; I learned about girlfriends and the pitfalls of poor choices and bad relationships. I suppose this is normal, but I had nothing to compare my experiences to. My father had passed; my mother had deservingly moved into her own new chapter, and I was faced with the evolution of adulthood.
At the time, I lived in the basement apartment of a small ranch-style home, which belonged to my Aunt Sondra, or otherwise, my second mother. My room was down the staircase door at the entryway before the kitchen. I lived down the steps, passed the laundry room, which was the first door to the right, and passed the furnace room, which was the first door on the left, followed by the bathroom, also on the left, passed my cousin’s room (still on the left) and my Aunt’s home office, which was the second door on the right.
Behind a white door at the end of a hall with light gray paneling, gray Berber carpeting, and fluorescent lighting, I lived very comfortably with no more than a full-sized bed, a cabinet to keep my clothing, a television, and of course, my stereo. Same as the corridor, my room was carpeted with the same carpeting. My ceiling was white and the paneling was the same color gray. There were two windows just below ceiling height; one was on the right wall, and the other was on the back wall, or furthest wall of the home.
I had an area rug and a few pictures. I had a girlfriend I was supposed to marry—but like most young relationships, she and I fizzled, and the unhealthiness that was us had crumbled beneath the foothold of reality.
I was only supposed to stay with my Aunt for three weeks; however, three weeks became four, and four weeks became six months, which turned into a year and then some.
But I was welcome there. I was taught lessons that were different from the lessons my mother taught me; not better, mind you …just different.
My Aunt became more like my mother and my cousin like my brother. I was involved and always invited. I never felt left out, or dismissed. This home was healing to me. It was healing for many reasons. I was still grieving the loss of my father, and while intellectually, I understood my mother’s need to move on, emotionally, I was alone in some ways.
Nevertheless, I wrote to my mother each week. I wrote about the jobs I worked and the interviews I went on. I told her about my car troubles as well as innocently rated versions of my love life.
I knew my mother was frightened. I knew this because I was frightened. Our family tree had been shaken at the roots.
Our family business had fallen and our financial structure was shattered. And to my mother, the fall of her business was like reenacting the death of her husband. That business belonged to the two of them. It began from a sidewalk on the streets of Jamaica Queens, grew strong, but then it weakened after my father’s death, and it sank horribly
I suppose it was best for my mother to move. She was in a different state with warm weather and palm trees. She was away from the four-walled bedroom and stagnant memories of her husband.
And truly, The Old Man would not have wanted her to live that way. He would have wanted her to be happy; however my youthfulness and overprotective instincts were not good.
My mother’s first date was a school teacher. I didn’t like him….I didn’t like him at all. Our exchange in conversation was quick and went poorly even quicker. I didn’t know she was standing on the stairs listening. I didn’t know she heard me interrogate that poor, fragile little man.
I asked questions like, “Who are you?”
“Where are you taking my mother?”
And, “What time will she be home?”
All the while, I was leaning over the man, breathing on his neck, and figuratively threatening him.
I wish I never did that….
But with thousands of miles between us, my mother was safe to learn on her own. I was safe to do the same thing. And learn I did.
After being pushed by my Aunt, I resisted my fear of classrooms, and I acquired my high school equivalency diploma.
I remember when I received the results in the mail. I was sitting in the recliner of my Aunt’s upstairs living room. Up to then, I was a high school dropout. I was a failure, in my own eyes.
I can recall the sound of the envelope ripping open as well as the tears that fell from my eyes when I saw the results. I passed.
My Aunt told me, “I knew you could do it.”
She said, “I told you….you’re smarter than you think. You just need to believe in yourself”
She pushed me…..because that’s what mother’s do; they believe in you and teach you to believe in yourself.
Still, my letters to Florida were just as often. I would send my mother as many letters as I could. I would tell her, “I miss you,” and “I love you.”
I would write about the stories of my early childhood.
I would call as often as I could and visit as often as I could afford.
I missed my mother, but I grew. I even outgrew my room in the basement of my Aunt’s home. I grew into an apartment, and then into a house. I grew into marriage. I grew into fatherhood, and I endured my divorce.
I redesigned my life, remarried, and moved back to the same town I grew up in.
Years had passed (more than 20 to be exact) like the blink of an eye. My letters became less frequent and so were my telephone calls. My visits down to see my mother became less affordable, and in the interim, my Aunt (or second mother) passed away.
I went through financial hardship. But I found myself along the way and I achieved some of my dreams.
Maybe the years got in the way. Or maybe it was the thousands of miles between New York and Florida. It could be that I turned into the head of my household. It could be life on life’s terms, or the economy. It could be any of these things, but I grew distant from my mother, somehow taking for granted, “She would always be there because that’s what mom’s do.”
I am no longer that little boy she calls her baby….
But if you ask here, she will be quick to tell you differently.
Her memory is scattered now and the conversations can be difficult at times.
Now that the roles have reversed, I have to follow up on my mother’s doctor visits.
I have to follow up on her medication; I have to speak to her about her attitude with the nurses at the nursing home.
I have to make sure she eats; she has clean clothes, and she is getting the proper attention.
Yesterday, one of the nurses called me. My mother is not feeling well. Aside from the pain that comes with having five diseases in her spine, she has pneumonia. She has pneumonia, but she doesn’t want the I.V. in her arm. She wants to leave. She wants to go home….
After speaking with the nurse, I spoke to my mother. I told her she has to listen to the doctors. I told her she has to take her medicine, just like she used to tell me.
“I want the hospital to speak to my doctors,” she told me.
“Make them call my doctors,” She said.
“I don’t know which one you want them to call….and besides; I don’t have their phone numbers.”
“Go upstairs and go into my purse,” she explained.
“Ma, I can’t go upstairs into your purse. We don’t live there anymore, remember? You’re in Florida and I’m in New York.”
If anything I urge you to do, then allow me to urge you to do this:
Call your mother. Send her a letter if you need to.
Tell her about your favorite meals she makes.
Tell her now because life has a way of altering and opportunities have a way of disappearing.
Trust me on this….
I love you Mom