Literary journals are like boxes of treasure. Poems, essays, memoir pieces, fiction… the best of the best coming together to regale readers with myriad choices created by some of the most thoughtful, inventive writers around.
I entered a piece of mine, “The Mother of My Reinvention,” into the Rocky Coast Writing Contest sponsored by The Maine Review, and was honored to have it awarded as an “Honorable Mention” (or “the runner up,” as wonderful Maine Review editor, Katherine Mayfield, framed it!). Which, of course, truly is an honor, particularly given the number and quality of submissions made.
Excerpt from “The Mother of My Reinvention”:
Tucked in her lift chair, chilled and uneasy, she waits for tea and dry toast to calm her daily quarrel with queasiness and hunger. With a raised eyebrow and sardonic grin, she remarks, “It ain’t easy gettin’ old.” I commiserate, but she dismisses my empathy; tells me I’m too young to understand. I don’t bother to correct her.
She’s tired, though she’s been in bed since breakfast. It’s a long day by two o’clock, and not necessarily a good one. Though there are good ones: days when she plays cards, sings along with glee, or gets to video Mass in the community room. She still relishes her three squares and always brightens at the sight of chocolate. She’s now in a wheelchair full-time but loves a roll around the park. She’s almost eighty-five, a widow for fifteen years, and a diagnosed Alzheimer’s patient for five.
She is my mother.
I left home—and her—a long time ago. I left hard and fast, no quibbling or weepy boomeranging. My mother refers to this as, “when you ran away,” which isn’t far from the truth. It had been a challenging childhood.
I am a third child, the third girl in a family of eleven children. My two older sisters and I, by virtue of gender and birth order, became “little mommies” for smaller, younger siblings while we were still smaller, younger siblings ourselves. And though being in charge of an infant at six-years-old is, perhaps, too steep a curve, the responsibility did promote skills found useful later in life. I not only learned to change diapers, feed babies, and wrangle toddlers, I became adept at making meals, doing laundry, and running interference for a mercurial and confounding mother. And that was before I got to high school.
By the time I did get to high school, I was bone-weary of family and desperate to fly. Somewhere. Anywhere. Graduation couldn’t come quick enough and my departure for college was so swift, high school friends claim I never even said good-bye. I don’t remember; I was moving too fast. I came home the summer after freshman year, but by next, I was gone for good. My first apartment was a hideous ninety-dollar-a-month single with lousy furniture and a stuttering landlady, but it may as well have been heaven.
It wasn’t just the weight of trading too much childhood for “little mommy-hood.” It wasn’t just the burden of my parents’ religion with its restrictive views of human interaction (i.e., boys and sex). It wasn’t even that one-on-one time in a big family was too spare to be satisfying. It was that I couldn’t find an honest way to consistently and compassionately tolerate my mother.
She was a paradox. One minute clever and creative, the next enraged and irrational. She was impossible to predict and easy to trigger. She loved music, did a mean jitterbug, and had a wildly romantic relationship with the handsome man who was my father. She could make any day a holiday, taught us that fun was our birthright, and, oh, she loved with a passion. All this provided the good that pushed against the other. Her dark side. The turbulent state that came with frenzied tears, cold silences, or rages that scattered us like terrified animals.
As a child, I would tremble at the sound of her stomping down stairs to mete out punishments I could never seem to avoid. She would be physical, vocal, and unrelenting, and when control snapped and life got the best of her, everyone suffered.
She tried; I believe she sincerely tried, but she was undeniably overwhelmed by a family too large to manage, a husband often too detached to meet her emotional needs, and a psyche too fragile to offer the flexibility and endurance required by the job.
So when I left, I stayed away and kept her away. She and my father didn’t meet my husband until years after we eloped and I’d already given birth to a son. They were that distant and I was that intractable.
But life is surprising….
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