This our is second post at the GLBT blog OurBigGayborhood.com ...where the queers write
My relationship with my mother was complicated. Oil and water. Mustard and cupcakes. You get the picture. My mother was a pragmatic woman. She had four daughters. I was her third. I was a quiet child. I had imaginary playmates. I once sat crying in the back yard because I couldn’t stand how beautiful the fireflies were. My mother came out to see what the fuss was about. When I told her the reason, she sighed deeply. “Maria, they are just BUGS,” she told me and walked back to the house, exasperated.
By the time I reached high school, we rarely spoke except in polite conversation. I dreamed nightly of escaping our tiny Iowa town. I was in love with words, with Whitman and Dickinson. I wanted to get out into the world.
The night before I left for college, my mother and I stood together, washing the supper dishes. I suddenly needed to know something. I asked her if she would miss me. She stood looking out of the window for a long moment before she responded. She finally spoke. “No, Maria, I won’t. I love you. You are my child. But I have never understood you. I’ve always thought you were a very odd girl.”
She wasn’t telling me anything that I didn’t already inherently know. But, yes, it hurt. Couldn’t my strong opinioned mother have just ONCE lied to me out of kindness? I swallowed hard and went to finish packing.
I went off to college and only returned home for holidays and occasional weekends. My mother and I didn’t communicate much. Occasionally, she would send me recipes, or more often, prayer cards.
And then I met a woman. We fell deeply, madly in love. I was in my early twenties and the whole experience caught me by surprise. I was ecstatic with joy, shaking all over with it. I had known for a long time that I was attracted to women but had never felt anything remotely close to this. I wanted to share it with the world. I decided to share it with my family first.
Ok, now is the part where all of you readers are thinking, “UH HUH.” But, in my state, I just couldn’t conceive that my family would be anything less than happy for me. I mean, this was so….LOVELY.
So, I told them. No, they were not happy for me. My sisters were mostly stunned silent. My father had been dead for a few years so he wasn’t in the picture. It is my mother’s face that I will never forget. My unflappable mother finally showed some emotion. It was rage. I think that she wanted to kill me at that moment.
She ordered me out of her life. In the one conversation we had about my sexuality (or “deviant lifestyle” as she called it), she told me in no uncertain terms that I was no longer her daughter. We spent the next decade in silence.
I fell out of love and went on to others, both male and female. I found a circle of friends. I missed my mother. I missed the way she could take a problem and use simple steps to solve it without getting emotionally tangled in it. I’ve always been the sort of person who missed the forest for the trees and I missed her pointing out the forest to me.
Then my sisters told me that my mother had breast cancer. The cancer did not go away in spite of chemotherapy and radiation. It spread to her bones. Her doctor told her that she only had weeks to live and she went home to die.
She asked to see me. I was terrified, but I went. She was in a reclining chair, tucked up in
blankets even on a warm, late May afternoon. She sat calmly, looking at me, waiting. I suddenly knew what she wanted me to say. I also knew that I couldn’t do it, couldn’t grant my dying mother’s wish. I couldn’t promise not to be me. She finally looked away from me, disappointed. I stayed for an hour and then said that I had to go. I walked over to her side and kissed her forehead. I told her that I loved her. She said five words back to me: DON’T FORGET TO GET MAMMOGRAMS.
I left. She died soon after. I was left out of her will. I went to her funeral, listened to her
described as the “salt of the earth, someone who always told it like it was.” I thought to myself that, no, she didn’t tell it like it was. She told it as she saw it. She had splintered her own family.
Yet, I loved her. I want to believe that she had missed my presence in her life. I’ll never know.
Once, I thought I saw her. I went to the old church where I made my first communion. I sat in a pew watching some women clean the altar. I just wanted to sit quietly for a while. I looked up and thought for a second that I saw her, leaning against a pillar, smiling at me. I blinked hard. And she wasn’t there anymore. I began crying unexpectedly, startling the altar ladies. One of them came and sat next to me, cradled me and murmured softly to me, “It will be all right, sweetie. It’s all going to be okay in time, whatever the pain is.” She rocked me gently. Just for a second, I pretended that she was my mother.