I never wondered what my mother was thinking. I should have paid more attention.
The letter arrived two days after she left here, dad's ashes in an urn belted to the front seat of the rental car. She had decided to have the memorial service in the town where we all grew up, even though she and dad had moved away the year before.
They lost the house in the economic downturn, following the government bailouts of big corporations and banks. There were no bailouts for the little guys who struggled through job loss, but we never expected them to lose the house. We were all pretty pissed at them. If they hadn't opened the pizza shop and poured all their life savings into it, they would have had enough money to carry them through. The pizza shop failed when they lost their lease to a big franchise pizza shop. They both got other jobs, but then were laid off a year later.
We all knew it was stupid to open the shop, but they never asked us. Who takes their life savings and pisses it away? My parents, that's who. And now, just three years later, they lost the house, moved away, Dad died in a car accident and now I have this letter from my mother.
Turns out I never really knew her.
I have decided to go away for a while. I have all kinds of people who think they know what I should do now that your father is gone, but I have ideas of my own on that score. I have done what other people expected me to do my whole life. Your father was good about pushing me to do things I wanted, but life got in the way. I'm done.
I'll be in touch when I figure out where I'm going to settle. Kiss the babies for me. I love you,
That's it. I thought it was a joke, or that she would show up after a couple weeks away, move into a nice sober little apartment back here and start acting like a grandma; that she would be what she had always been, a nice, quiet, helpful person who was never in the way but always available when anybody needed something.
Who does this? Who just leaves and doesn't tell their kids where they are going or how long they will be gone? It's been three months. No one has heard from her. I think her friend Josie knows where she is, but she is tight-lipped. Just says, "Let her figure out her life." What the hell? She HAD a life. She had a family. She doesn't get to just walk away from it.
Grandma has been a nightmare since all of this. She calls me every day. "Have you heard from your mother? I can't believe she did this. Doesn't she know how I would worry?" Of course, I don't really believe Grandma is worried, I think she's just upset that Mom isn't around to listen to her gripe about Grandpa and about Uncle Harry. Turns out, Grandma is really good at griping. With Mom gone, I catch it every day. We've started calling it "The Grandma Show". I see her phone number come up on caller ID and call out, "It's time for the Grandma Show!" and everyone knows to come get me in a couple of minutes with a reason I have to get off the phone. She must think we have the plague here or something, the number of times I get called 'cause "Timmy's puking."
Maybe that's why Mom always got that pinched, headachy expression on her face after talking to Grandma and why she would wave the phone away when we would hand it to her.
Grandpa hasn't said a word. Not one. Mom lost her husband, we lost our dad and he has said nothing. That's weird. He showed up at the service, but he left as soon as the preacher prayed the last prayer. They never came to see Mom the whole time she was in town. She stayed with her friends, the Campbells, and everyone came to their house after the service. Everyone knew that's where to go. People brought casserole dishes of all descriptions, pies, cakes, jello salads...there was so much food. I guess that's what people do when they don't know what else to do. They cook. All those people. Mom sitting quietly in the corner, pale, nervously plucking at her nail polish, kids running through the house, Josie sitting next to mom, looking fierce any time she thought someone was too much for mom, but Grandma and Grandpa weren't there. Strange, that I never noticed it at the time.
I never really thought mom needed protection from anything, but Josie sure thought so. What was she protecting her from? All anyone wanted to do was say how they missed Dad or how sorry they were that he is gone. She couldn't have handled that? But people looked to Josie who shook her head yes or no and people just did what Josie thought best. Even me. I tried to talk to mom, to get her to greet everyone, to be polite, but Josie gave me a fierce look. For some reason I just gave up.
A box arrived yesterday. Originally shipped from who knows where, it was forwarded on by a postal center in Vermont, and contains the remnants of childhood, awards, trophies, report cards and old toys; the things I never expected Mom to get rid of. She always had a spot for our crap. My brothers received boxes of their own, each with baby clothes, musical instruments, yearbooks...all the things my mom has treasured and held onto for us since we left home. Now, here it sits, unceremoniously dropped at our doorsteps, without so much as a note from mom.
None of us have heard from mom, just a letter from their attorney, outlining the money that mom has put aside for us from Dad's insurance money. Dad had told us they weren't leaving us anything, since we were all adults and on our own, but apparently mom had other ideas. She paid off my brother Dan's student loans. It always bothered her that he went into so much debt for college. For me and for Kevin, she set aside money for a down payment on a home. We're supposed to contact her attorney when it's time and if the property passes approval, then she will loan us the money for the downpayment and in return will own a percentage of the house until we either pay it back or sell, at which point she gets her money back.
Roger thinks I'm getting a raw deal, but she isn't asking for any return on the money, and it IS her money. I tell him that, defending her even though I resent it too. Dan doesn't have to pay any of it back, but if we take it, Kevin and I have to. And she gets approval on whatever property we look at. I told Roger we don't have to take her money, we can keep saving up on our own. We've been saving for years for a down payment, but something always seem to happen, or Roger decides we need to replace a car.
Today I had to go to the doctor in the morning and was invited to go out to lunch with friends, but I didn't have anyone to stay with the kids. The doctor's visit was bad enough, but two little kids in a nice restaurant at lunch time? Not a chance. I always figured Mom would live for the chance to spend time with her grandchildren, but today it hit me, that isn't what she wants or she would be here.
When they had the house, she had toys and playground equipment for the grandkids, and I knew I could drop them off there when I needed a break. Mom would always watch them. What else did she have to do with her free time? Most grandma's I know are thrilled to spend as much time as possible with their grandchildren.
I wonder what she's doing with all that free time now. Is she working? Does she have friends?
I asked Dan and Kevin where they thought she might be. Kev just shrugged, but Dan smiled and said, "she's somewhere with a stamp on her passport." I didn't think she had a passport. Why would she need a passport? Mom and Dad never went anywhere. All their vacations were to visit family or their college friends in California.
"What makes you think she has a passport?" I asked Dan. "She had it in her wallet. Even when we were in high school she had her passport with her," he answered. I never knew that. Why would someone who never went anywhere carry a passport?
I'm gonna have to start asking her old friends. Someone has to know something. Why did Mom have a passport? Is she out of the country? Maybe it's time to hire a private investigator.
Or maybe it's time to corner Josie.