Note to Mom

Mother’s Day May 10, 2015

I see you now, but mostly in photographs. I keep the ones that look best. These are the pictures of better times and they were taken in better places.  They are the pictures that remind me of when you were young.

The other day, I told the story about the time I met your first date after Pop died. Neither you nor I were ready for this. Then again, neither you nor I was ready for The Old Man to pass away. But time had also passed and you agreed to a blind date.

The man you picked, or more accurately, the man that was picked for you was not a perfect match by any means. He wore his hair in a comb-over. He wore glasses and dressed in a very plain, unflattering style. He had no spark or charisma.
Perhaps I never mentioned this, but to me, the man looked like a school teacher. And actually, he looked exactly like a substitute school teacher that I once hazed named, Mr. Rowley. I suppose this was enough to make me hate your blind date. But more, this man was in my father’s home and sitting in my father’s kitchen.

The Old Man would have wanted you to be happy. I wanted you to be happy as well—just not with Mr. School Teacher. If you remember, I woke up late after a long night out with the boys. I believe it was 3:00 in the afternoon. I walked downstairs and into the kitchen.

There he was . . .

He spoke as if he were trying to sell me something.
I suppose this man was as uncomfortable as I was.
But he was nowhere near as hateful.
“Are you just waking up from a nap?” asked the man.
“No,” I answered. “I’m just waking up.”

He was sitting on one of the two stools at the counter between the kitchen and dining room, which was across from the sink, stove, and the cabinets above them. Not only was he sitting at the counter, he was sitting at the counter, which was built and tiled by The Old Man.

I turned my back to him as he tried his best to speak with me.
“What are you doing,” he asked.
“I’m making breakfast.”
“But it’s 3:00?”
“So?”
“So?” he responded with a slight laugh.
“Nobody has breakfast at 3:00.”
Nervously, he continued, “Who has breakfast at 3:00 in the afternoon?
In a brief, but uninviting glance, I sneered at the man and growled,
“I do.”

I suppose he knew then. I suppose he felt the figurative drain plug to his soon to be date was opening and he was cycling down, soon to be removed like an excess of useless wastewater, which was about to flush into the sewer.

I was wearing a pair of plaid lounge pants, which at the time, was made by a popular brand name known as Skidz. I was not wearing a shirt. My hair was disheveled. My voice was anything but kind and my responses to the man’s questions were anything but welcoming.
I opened the cabinets above the sink and above the counter to retrieve a loaf of bread, a jar of peanut butter, and a plate to put them on. I turned towards the refrigerator without making eye contact with the man, who I would have rather seen leave quickly, if not painfully, instead of sitting in the kitchen.

“What are you making?” the man asked.
I told him, “A peanut butter and jelly sandwich.”

“What kind of breakfast is that?” he asked.
With his bushy eyebrows folding downward, he continued to speak and dig the hole even deeper by explaining, “No one has a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for breakfast.”

This is when I turned to face him.
I responded with every ounce of hatred and contempt.
“What’s the difference? Nobody eats breakfast at 3:00 anyway, right?”

Appearing to shrink and shrivel, this seemingly weak man leapt up from the chair. He stood, but he stood much shorter than me. He was slightly round near the stomach area. The man’s thick, black rimmed eyeglasses appeared crooked from his swift jump from the stool. I suppose this is when he understood how unwelcomed he truly was.

Stuttering to win my favor, the man asked, “What would you like? Would you like me to make you something?”
He was afraid and trying to adjust himself.
“Would you like pancakes? I could make you some eggs, toast?”

Moving closer, I commanded him to, “Sit down!”
“Where are you taking my mother?”
He stuttered to answer.
I asked, “Who are you?”
Before the words left his mouth, I continued to interrogate him with questions like, “What do you do for a living?” and “What time will you bring my mother home?”

It was obvious to me. This man had no business in my father’s home. He had no backbone. No spine at all. He was the embodiment or focal point of my anger. My Old Man was gone, and as sure as I lived, I selfishly refused to allow this spineless human being another moment of mine or my mother’s time.
Closing in, I curled over the man like a bully to a victim. As the man submitted and timidly curled inward, I absorbed the light around him and covered this feeble little man in a dark cloud of terrible threats. He was frightened, and at the time, I believed I had done right. I was 19 years-old

But all the while, Mom, you were standing on the steps and coming downstairs. You were heading from the bedroom, which you shared with your late husband. You were walking through the home, which you decorated with the love of your life. You were standing on the steps, listening to your youngest son, and heartbroken because you knew I did not approve of this man. And rather than allow yourself a moment, you sacrificed an opportunity.

I never knew you were there until you told me so. Needless to say, your date did not go well. As the story goes, you left the house with this man, and shortly after, you asked if he could turn the car around and bring you back home.

You never brought a date to the house again.
At least, not when I was home

Motherhood is a strange unending job. It comes before everyone and everything else. We always ate first and you ate last. The home was cared for—even after your long days, your chores were never finished.

I remember this well.

I remember the times when I was in the hospital. I remember the stuffed animal, which I still have. His name is Tuffy.
Tuffy is a small tiger in a little green shirt with the words, “I’m a little Tuffy” printed on the front. You gave him to me when I was eight. This is when I was in the hospital for gastroenteritis. I was there for more than two weeks. I could not keep any food down and the pain from the I.V. needles left my arms swollen and almost purple.
When the doctors took me in for testing, I returned to the room, and there he was. Tuffy was sitting on my bed at the bottom of the pillow. The nurses lifted me and placed me on the mattress. I held that little stuffed animal as if it were the only thing that could make me feel better. And in some ways . . . it did.

I speak with you often, but mostly over the phone. The distance between Florida and New York seems farther to me now. I suppose no one planned for life to work out this way. No one expected you to be sick. Perhaps this is because there is an unwritten rule, which clearly states, “Moms are not allowed to get sick!”

It is strange to see how the roles in life have reversed. Instead of you getting phone calls about me, I am getting phone calls about you. And rather than you speaking with me about kind behavior, better eating habits, or the stating the obvious warnings like, “You need to quit smoking,”  and, “Don’t forget to take your medication,”  it is me who says these things to you.

It is hard to see you in pain. It is hard to keep up with the doctors and their advice. It is hard when we argue about treatment plans and it is frightening whenever I receive calls from an unknown telephone number in Florida.

Yet still, I believe this is less difficult than the job you had of delivering me into this world. I suppose the worry I feel is easier than the worrying I caused you, or the frustration I created.  I suppose the phone calls I receive are less troublesome than say, the ones you received from our local police department or the hospital when they reported, “We have your son here.”

I love you Mom.

In truth . . .  You are the tuffy.
You are the tough one
Not me.

In case I never said so, I’m sorry about the time I ruined your date. I still think you could have done better than Mr. School Teacher. But I sure wish I let you make that decision.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom

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