16 May 2017

For a short while after my mother's death I would wake up with a start, thinking, what if she can watch me now, all the time, day and night, everywhere, what if she can read my mind, hear me talk, see me get hurt and how I hurt others, lie to people, cheat with my taxes, eat the wrong food, make mistakes. What if she finds out that I am glad she is dead, that I am relieved, that I can sleep much better now.
Will she be upset, sad, angry? Will she punish me, lash out at me, make my life miserable? What price will I have to pay for deserting her?
I was 40 years old, scared, the way a child is scared of being found out.

But it was only for a short while.

Often when I think of her now, I see her walking alone behind us the day my brother's youngest child was baptised. For weeks, my brother had been negotiating with our parents whether they would find it in their hearts to both be there. Regardless.
But no. They were adamant and in a bizarre way, for once in total agreement with each other. Either him or me, either her or me.
My brother cried, briefly, my father decided to get out of the picture and my mother got her hair done. That sounds harsh. It was exactly that.

The day was glorious, a perfect summer's day in the Franconian countryside, a baroque church in a small village among rolling hills, a long line of tables under the thick, cool canopy of walnut trees, singing and laughing, food and wine. And later, after too much food, a walk down to a small river. Setting off in small groups, talking, joking, children running ahead, the adults passing babies and toddlers from one set of arms, shoulders to the next.
My sister puts a hand on my shoulder and whispers, look back. I turn and there she is walking all alone, already some way behind us, my mother in her elegant suit, her expensive handbag, her high heels, despite her condescending smile she appears almost lost, helpless.
I look at my sister and I swear, we are about to turn and walk towards her. I can feel her pulling us, her two dutiful daughters, coming to her rescue, keeping her company, making her life bearable - or at least trying to.
No, my sister takes my hand. No, let her walk alone. Leave her, she is almost shouting at me. We are running now. When we reach the river, my sister has stopped crying.
Much later, my mother carefully sits down beside us and lights a cigarette. Silently.

13 comments:

  1. And in those lines, there is a novel, a memoir, a tale of great length and worth. You are an amazing writer.

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  2. I am so moved in reading this. I am sorry. You deserved better. Perhaps she did, too. But still, the damn love endures. The lessons learned. But the heart still aches.

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  3. A heartbreaking story that was so beautifully written.

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  4. You ARE an amazing writer. Are you compiling your memories into anything of longer form -- a book, a memoir? If not, you should.

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  5. Thank you for writing so clearly and honestly of your memories and ongoing experience of your relationship with your mother.

    Every time you write about your mother, you help me understand my relationship with my mother (German ancestry on her father's side). Again there is some striking synchronicity for me in reading about your memories. I just had a dream where I was debating whether to have contact with my mother or not, and then I heard a strident voice saying,

    "She's your mother. You HAVE to talk to her. You have no choice. Do you want to LIVE or not?"

    I knew immediately that the voice was not to be trusted.

    I trust your voice,

    "No, my sister takes my hand. No, let her walk alone. Leave her, she is almost shouting at me. We are running now. When we reach the river, my sister has stopped crying. Much later, my mother carefully sits down beside us and lights a cigarette. Silently."

    Your experience shows me how to live and listen to my inner older sister who instinctively knows that we need to take care of ourselves and let our mothers take care of theirselves.

    After my mother died, I had a dream that she reached up from a hole in the ground and tried to pull me into death with her. I pulled away in horror and was free of that part of her that was so broken and hurtful. Occasionally now, I have glimpses of who she was before something destructive (alcoholism and drug addiction?) took over her being and kept her broken and hurtful. In those positive glimpses, she is sometimes a little girl, a little with a mind of her own during a time when little girls were not supposed to have minds of their own.

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  6. Oh Sabine. This is so beautiful and heartbreaking and compelling. Write more, please.

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  7. Stunningly beautiful writing. Thanks.

    Greetings from London.

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  8. Beautifully written Sabine. Life goes by too fast. I want a do over. I want to know my mother better. to know her as a person and not just "Mother." Too soon old, too late wise.

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  9. Things could be worse. As I grew up my mother wrote novels (never published) and poetry (some published, one a big prize-winner). Later I was to write novels (also unpublished) and sonnets (never submitted). The urge to do so had arrived mainly by osmosis.

    Now her "stuff" is up in the loft, most of it I haven't read. Should I do so as an act of filial piety? I'm grateful for her example but I'm disinclined to mobilise the loft-ladder. Would my mother sympathise with my far-from-clear motives?

    My tribute took another form, forty years later:

    Pittsburgh, Christmas 1971

    I waited, knowing the festivities
    Would choke the flow of transatlantic calls,
    Delays which brought their own blank auguries,
    A prelude to the saddest of farewells.

    “Ah… yes…,” my brother said, quite languidly,
    Languor that looked for comfort in delay.
    But what he added lacked necessity,
    The link was cut and youth had gone astray.

    She died within a distant older place
    I’d left behind with callow eagerness,
    Yet unrestrained by any false embrace,
    Encouraged, taught, with chances of success.

    She wrote, I write, but here’s the difference
    No letters, now, to foil my ignorance.


    But was it enough? Or was I merely showing off?

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  10. Beautiful piece of writing, Sabine. So poignant and true.
    I love how we zone-in on those emblematic moments, how they come to mean so much. And no doubt if you could ask your mum about it, she'd be surprised, and have a completely different view of what happened. Jim x

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  11. Excellent post. Sad but honest at the same time. Thanks.

    Greetings from London.

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