Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Day four hundred and seventy ... Words to live by.

"You're going to miss me when I'm gone."

This was a phrase uttered by my dear late mother on many occasions. It was usually preceded by a moan and an exaggerated eye roll by me following an innocuous reminder of a banal impending task.

"Don't forget you have to call _____ about _____ in the morning."

"Yes ma ... "

"You know, you're going to miss me when I'm gone."

"Maaaaa!!!", I'd say, in a three note lilt like a vocal speed bump about a half note on either side of  the whiniest tone known to man.

I said it, and said it like that, because of a couple of things: I very well may have forgotten to call _____ in the morning and I knew she was right; and, I didn't want to actually give much credence to the fact that it was true that I'd miss this great woman when she left this world--my world and hers--someday in the unknown future.

And now she's gone, and of course I miss her like crazy.

There's a distinct feeling that I haven't experienced in a while: volatile, random embarrassment.

My aunt, Lynda, was able to produce this emotion in me now and again. My mom was good at it too. It's the kind of thing that even your best friend can't summon. I guess it's partly because your best friend knows you as well they do from the things you have either told them, or experienced with them. Your best friend did not know you when you couldn't be held responsible for your bathroom behavior. Your best friend never had to feed you with a spoon and bottle (although some people may be able to refute this, depends on what you're into, I guess). And your best friend probably doesn't know how many times it took for you to learn how to read, write, spell, and remember. 

But your immediate family knows all of this.

And just like I cringe every once in a while when somebody regales me with a story of my inebriated activities that I thought were long gone from anybody's memory banks (and were hardly ever even in my own), you can never be too sure who's going to be around when it happens.


Was that a reference to how I used to like to eat my peas balanced on a butter knife?

Did she just tell the guy at the Jiffy Lube how I play in a band that just came back from Europe?

Did I just get goosed?????

Yes. All of these things have happened in real life, at the hand of my mom, in public, on random occasions in which I suffered no immediate nor any long term consequences.

But at the time, it was almost as bad as if I locked myself out of my house completely naked, just in time to catch the attention of the local news team passing by.

And even that scenario I just mentioned doesn't have the deep impaling precision of a well placed embarrassing moment at the hands of a close family member.

I see it all the time these days. People get that look of pale horror when they and their parents meet public spaces that have routines designed for intensive interaction in close quarters with strangers.

A great example would be, waiting at the "Please Let Te Hostess Seat You" sign in any restaurant in the world. You just stand there with your hands clasped behind your back quickly scanning the room for acquaintances, co-workers, or, better yet, prospective love interests. You may be rocking from side to side, or rolling up on the balls of your feet. The hostess comes over, and, if it's a pretty woman, you may start to sweat, because if your mom is like my mom she's never going to miss a chance to try and introduce you to a complete stranger--someone she thinks you'll get along with famously. 

But before she does it--and you know exactly what's coming and there's absolutely no way to stop it short of pulling the fire alarm (whose edges you've already run your hand alongside)--before she calls you by name and asks you something she already knows in an attempt to get said pretty hostess's attention, you will inadvertently feel either the hand of your mother swiftly tucking the renegade tag at the top back of your shirt back in where it belongs, or a large ball of lint or two will get plucked off an arm or collar, sending shivers of anxiety and self-consciousness through your already agitated nervous system.

"Alex here just came back from a tour of Europe ... "


"Wow!" says the hostess. "That's great! Welcome back."

"Um ... thanks *cough*, I play in a group of senior citizens and they sing rock songs and they made a movie and we get to travel a lot."

And I scoot into the booth and grab for the water glass in an attempt to calm myself down, inadvertently knocking my knife off the table and getting a cramp trying to retrieve it myself.

And these are the kind of things that I miss from my aunt and mom being gone. Because nobody else in the world has the gall to up and promote me to a complete stranger as if I were going for a job at the school board where she was well regarded.

And she knew she could get away with it. She earned that right. And I'll be willing to bet that her mother did the same to her to a lesser extent. Pride runs deep, and small talk looms large when families travel these temporary plains. 

And I realized, albeit a bit too late, that my mom wasn't trying to embarrass me. Regardless of how much she teased me that I deserved whatever emotional distress her vocal reminiscences of my past might invoke--no matter how far back in my natural and very much dependent development--she was just doing what families do. 

She was extending to the world the evidence that I was a part of her, and she absolutely knew me better than anyone outside of the fold.

I, of course, made whatever concessions I had to at the end of both her and her sister's life over the last few years. I stopped being so embarrassed that the beam of attention was being shown on me to random people in restaurants and at car garages. I learned to simply smile and enjoy the gift of their lives, extended. I learned to gracefully soak in the pride that came from their souls. 

The smallest detail became fundamentally essential for survival. Every motion, every gesture, every utterance and every facial movement was engulfed by me so I could remember them always. 

I see it every so often when I'm out: the high school graduate out for a celebratory dinner with the folks. I see the look of mild shock and annoyance when the mother smoothes his hair with the palm of her hand, like she has probably done since the first day he was born. I see the tiny piece of lint pulled of an otherwise spotlessly black jacket with an air of meticulous ferocity. I see the halfhearted attempt to swat away the hand that determinedly tucks an errant label back inside a shirt collar. 

And I watch as the mother tells her child--her young man--under her breath, "You're going to miss me when I'm gone," and he curtly dismisses her, dramatically rolling his shoulders back as the pretty waitress with the innocent wide smile approaches to place a basket of rolls on the table.

It's so hard to take those words with anything other than a grain of salt when said by a person who is so full of life she could very well still be supplying her full grown child with the essential nutrients and protection for survival.

And she knows that her words will take on a different meaning someday.

Because, for her, at one point in her life or another, they most likely already have.

Thanks for reading,


1 comment: said...

Very well put. One's embarrassment is really only another's pride...
Thanks for refocusing how I look at what my own folks did and still do.
Hope all is well.