If you look deep enough into any mirror you’ll see the reflection of your parents standing tall in the long shadow of your truth; their strengths magnifying your inadequacies, their weakness emboldening your most admirable powers. Whether you’re all they are, or all they aren’t – there’s a message for you, and only you, waiting to be reflected on…
All my fears lay beneath me, on her deathbed. “So, I go now?” she sighs, trembling with exhaustion.
Her hazel glazed eyes turn softly toward me, lost in a fog of gratefulness and regret. Unable to speak, unwilling to let go, she presses against the vast silence that lays ahead. Loving praise rains down on her washing away any comfort of illusion. She resists, tensing and writhing beneath a flow of words that make it all too real – lamenting the woman she nearly became, forsaking the future she never realized.
“Yes momma. Your work is done here. You can go now,” I exhale in reply, staring into the wet eyes of a bound soul, praying the only prayer I’ve ever prayed.
I’m staring out my bedroom window at a gibbous moon. A small black and white television sits beneath my cherished, glow-in-the-dark, black-velvet panther poster. Johnny Carson just ended and it’s time to pray for my mom before sliding under my Star Wars comforter. The T.V. shows have changed over the years, but my one prayer has forever remained the same.
It’s 7pm and Kendall Jackson has joined her for dinner, again. Of course no food will be served tonight, as her menu offers nothing but loneliness.
She rests lazily upon a green pluther couch, nestled in a throng of soft pillows, surrounded by a thick wall of historical-fiction books she sequestered herself in long ago. Her nightgown creeps high on her thighs as she settles in to watch the local news. She’s crying before the first commercial break.
I was twenty-nine at the time. She’d started drinking heavily eight-years earlier after watching her second husband, a man she no longer loved, die from cancer. I’d returned home to work on my graduate thesis. I was up before sunrise most days photographing the streets of DC before making my way to the Washington Post. I was a rising star and I’d never been more miserable in my life.
Eleven months later I found myself driving toward the evening sun. I was leaving it all behind, my mother included. Misery sought new company.
I found that and more in the shadow of the Tetons. Friendship, adventure and four-legged love made for a five star life. I felt so blessed I never returned home, for I had made my own in the high mountains of western Wyoming.
Fourteen years and six-hundred missed holidays later I apologized to my mom for running away and never inviting her to join me, companionship being the one gift she coveted beyond any other. My apology set the rusted wheels of reconciliation in motion and together we mapped a grand adventure that would never come to be.
The thought of spending a week road tripping with my mom terrified me, afraid to open myself to her unfiltered truth while driving quiet roads that offered little escape – but I reached out nonetheless, certain the trip would be our resurrection after these words poured out of me onto a page I didn’t know existed…
“We are one. Her pain is my pain. There’s no way around it, only through it. She needs you and you need her. You don’t have to make her your neighbor, but you need to make her your dear friend. I’d forgotten that we were best friends long ago before I became a man.”
You see, without loving my mom unconditionally for all she is and all she isn’t, I knew there would be no hope for me in life or love – that without this, I’d continue pushing love away, banishing myself to my own lonely existence.
No man can love a woman more than he loves his mom – which is why a man’s maternal bond is more important than any other. For once a man pushes his mom away, no woman will ever bring him closer to loving himself – no matter how much she cuddles, compliments or supports him.
Simply put, a man’s self worth is tied to his mom whether he likes it or not. A man looks to his father for validation, to his mother for love – and only one of these nourishes the soul.
Trust me. It’s true.
It’s why I kneel beside my mother now, desperate to atone for a misery I fear may never leave my side by seeking the friendship of my oldest companion, certain my window of redemption has passed and no matter how hard I push, closure will never come.
The next morning I find her laying half naked on the carpet, moaning. Her adult diaper is torn, shits piled up beneath her and she’s too exhausted to stand.
I bend down, looking to close the distance between us any way I can. I reach out, stroking her silver hair the way she once stroked mine – but she’s beyond consolation so I set to cleaning her lower half…
Her legs are withered, her chest heaves. There are no words; given, or received. Only drugs to numb and a blanket to warm – she lays silent as the night in the eye of a storm.
and I stand, staring down at the inevitability of death.
Neither the carpet, nor myself will ever be the same, I think – before turning toward the kitchen to make a cup of coffee, knowing it’s over, wishing I’d reached out sooner and once again praying the only prayer I’ve ever prayed:
Dear God, or Mother Nature, or whoever’s out there, please let my mom be happy and find peace.
The teapot wails and I turn, looking back at my mother glued to a floor she’ll never rise from again.
“The window of redemption never closes,” I think. “It endures in every relationship, forever – as long as you remain open to it.”
I press my coffee and take a sip, wondering if I’m completely full of shit.