My mother liked roses. She liked chocolate too. The dark stuff. Milk chocolate, in her opinion was for children and invalids.
I look at her face, on the coffin pillow, and realize it is as empty of humanity as a balloon is of air.
It is as obvious as a leaf going brown, though less immediate. The jumble of emotions cascading through me is very odd. Certainly not obvious. I try to think the good things. The bad things tag along, pick-a-back.
I pick through my memories and try to apply them to the still, cold face on the pillow. They don’t fit because they all have to do with passion and pain and human frailty. But the face on the pillow isn’t human any longer… just clay.
To be crude - a carcass. The meat. The stuff that makes the weird noise when it hits the pavement.
I think of my mom, supposedly the one who could speak to anyone… and she could. Her most usual means of connection was finding a commonality of complaint to break the ice. She had weird breakthroughs in feeling… my best friend’s parents were celebrating their fortieth wedding anniversary—she’d come up with a suddenly massive gift basket; mostly food.
And when I think of my mother I realize it circles around food.
Her feeding of herself and others.
Who is fed? Who cooks? Who eats? Who is tired of cooking?
This isn’t what I was going to write.
I need to keep thinking this through. But the cascade of images continues. My mom holding the back end of an ‘I-beam’ precariously balanced on a bicycle, walking through the streets of Essen… worried about getting pasted by the street car… my dad on the front bicycle, yelling at her… But they did it. They built their house after the war, out of rubble.
My mom following my dad into all kinds of situations where she was afraid, but wanted him to think she was brave and so pretended. Jumping off the highest diving board at the ‘Gruga Park’ piggy-back on my dad… both of them surfacing with bloody noses…
Trimming herself to fit the perfect reflection of my dad, the way she was supposed to. Endlessly unhappy and never knowing why. Trying harder and harder to make perfect what she was supposed to.
My mother in a stunning dress walking out of the factory… My mother in her dancing dress and snake-skin shoes. My mother in a blue-suit and Jackie O hat, almost falling in a stream at an amusement park. My mother tasting a supermarket sample and turning to me “Just taste it.” We bought three cans.
My mother… dancing in the living room. My mother in the snow, shrieking with laughter. My mother sleeping in the bed in the middle of the day. My mother showing me gold earrings bought post-war. My mother smoking, surrounded by my dogs.
A plaintive cry when she was eighty-one. “Why didn’t I just let the dog into the house with us all? It was just hair. No one cared. I didn’t care…”
The girl is hiding in the old woman who is hiding in the corpse. But the girl is the one who was there all the time. Lonely. Empty. Never knowing what would fill her, settling on papa to fulfill her life. That was what she was supposed to do.
An unhappiness engine. The life, carefully unexamined lest it show her something she does not wish to see.
I don’t know my mom. I can only see the faintest edges of the island of my mother in the fog of time. It will take me years to figure it out, I think, and I will not know me until I get to the bottom of her. I can get to the bottom of me. I have no hope of getting to the bottom of her.
And ultimately I’m not sure it will matter.