I was leaving a comment for a short story a friend has on astoryaday.org and it asked for contact information and there was a space for a web address. It prompted me to assure you I am still out here writing, painting, taking photographs. The whole point of having this page is to share my creativity with you. I have completed my novel. It will likely take some time between edits, and some re-writing so until then I can share with your some of my other art. Here is a piece a wrote a couple of years ago about my Mother.
TALK IS CHEAP
I did not always appreciate my Mother. I was well into my 30s when I realized that Anna was the lottery of all parental units. She came from a humble background in the small town of Greenwood in British Columbia’s Kootenay district. She was not well educated, yet she has proved to me repeatedly that book smart does not equal common sense, or guarantee success in this world. What sets her apart from other mothers and other human beings in general, is her spirit. She is altruistic. The best part of her being altruistic is she doesn’t know what that means and would be embarrassed to ask. There is such beauty in her simple kind nature. Always equally willing to help a neighbour or a stranger. Anna’s love is the titanium of emotion, nothing stronger in this world.
The discovery that she was extraordinary happened over time with small every day occurrences. Once on my work coffee break a co-worker overheard me ending a phone call with, “I love you too.” My workmate inquired if I had been talking to my husband. The utter look of disbelief on her face when I said I was talking to my Mother was alarming. She sat there contemplating mouth agape for a few moments when she said, “I don’t know if I’ve ever said that to or heard that from either parent.” It was my turn for my jaw to slack, this co-worker a lovely woman in her 40s, brought to light what I took for granted. I could not remember a day in my life, even when I was the very worst version of myself, that my Mother did not tell me that she loved me.
I did not always know what I had in a Mother like Anna. My Father committed suicide when I was 7 years old and this altered our lives in a way known only to those who survive this experience. You have a sense of abandonment that no amount of counselling, meditation or acceptance can completely shake. I was angry for a long time and that was easy to hang on her. Despite my anger we forged a bond. This happened at a time when the percentage of single parent homes in my world made up about 1% of the households of my elementary school. There were no daycares, only neighbours I could stay with until she got home from work. When I was old enough I became a latchkey kid gorging on cookies, watching Gilligan’s Island and the Brady Bunch until she returned. I thought of home as my safe place, but in truth it was Anna that was the safe place.
I longed for my Father. He, like many Fathers in our blue-collar neighbourhood, worked out of town for 6-8 months of the year. When Alphonse came home bearing gifts his presence was like Christmas in July. I remember the innocence of my childhood leaving me when I was told he was dead. There was this void, like there was no longer any air for me to breath. My last memory of him was waving goodbye as I drove off with my Godmother to spend the night at her house. The whys even at 7 were a heavy burden that I have never had answered. My Father had always been the good cop to Mom’s disciplinarian presence and now there was only her.
People were cruel. They asked her if she would go on welfare as though she had no other option. My first day back to school a classmate declared my Daddy had shot his head off in our garage, when all I had been told was that he was dead. Anna found out soon that their friends were awkward and distant; the wives feeling like she had designs on their husbands. In reality, in the depth of her grief, she could not have fathomed anyone else, ever. We were suddenly pariahs. People would often promise to visit, we would wait all day and nobody came. We didn’t get invited places. I always loved when there was a new kid at school because they didn’t “know” and I could pretend my Dad was a business man working out of town, or a police officer gunned down on the job. I had many stories. I was so ashamed of having no Dad. We had this unspoken understanding that we only had one another. She recounted to me many years later how I told her people were tired of listening to her sadness, they had moved on and she had to too. It shatters me to think how painful that must have been to hear from her little girl. I was one of those cruel people.
Anna took my words to heart. She poured her energy into giving me the life she felt I deserved. She did not take any time for her. I would venture to guess she easily went 5 years without new clothes. She found work in the school system so she could maximize the time we spent together. Mom enrolled me in dancing, skating, music lessons, everything. We took the bus to Stanley Park on Sundays to walk thru the rose garden and feed the birds and the squirrels. I asked her once if she every sought any counselling and her response was telling. She said, “We didn’t have those kind of things then. The doctor prescribed me Valium. I did not like that foggy feeling. I needed my wits about me. If I felt bad I got down and scrubbed the floor and if I was still feeling sad and thinking about things I just scrubbed the floor again.” She still abides by this form of therapy. Her home is spotless. She advised me that it is what you do that matters, talk is cheap.
Tragedy did not end with my Father’s death. My Mother remarried a terrible man that took advantage of her naiveté́, stealing both her money and her confidence. We escaped together after 4 years of Hell and she had to start again in her mid-40s. Anna was not about to sit around and dwell. She fought her way back. She worked hard. She took in tenants and never complained. Once again though I managed to hang resentment on her back, this time for making a poor choice of husband and putting us in harm’s way. He was a con man and she a trusting loving soul, the perfect mark. After a childhood cut short, my teen years with an abusive home life, I allowed the anger to boil over into my 20s fuelling it with liquor like gasoline on a fire. My anger, and who I had become, was too much even for Anna and her colossal love for me and she asked to me to leave.
Something amazing happened after I left and met the quarter century mark. I was not who I thought I would be, or where I thought I would be yet somehow I unconsciously let it all go. Sometimes you have to burn things to the ground before you can start to build again. Like some biblical revelation I saw Anna’s sacrifices and selflessness and was able to see the differences between her and other Mothers and that changed who I was too.
Our next chapter we grew closer even though we did not see each other much. We both found love and our energy poured into our relationships. We were less adversarial and more equal, both happy in our own worlds. We had learned to enjoy life because we knew at any time things could change dramatically and of course they did. We had survived a suicide and an abusive home, so what was left to target us but Cancer. Anna was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. I would have taken it from her if that was possible.
Now I knew the kind of Mother I had been gifted with and had to face the possibility of losing her. She was never the kind of person that could come in to someone’s home and just sit. Anna found herself with barely the strength to climb 2 stairs. When I went with her to the oncologist the doctor explained the seriousness of her condition and Mom responded with, “So I am okay then?” The doctor looked at me in disbelief. I smiled because I knew if she believed she was okay, she would be okay and I told the doctor the same. Anna told the Oncologist she did not have time for this. She has been Cancer-free for 5 years and I cherish every moment.
Life is too short to be unhappy. Despite many good years with her partner Anna knew she could no longer stay. Facing death gives you unparalleled clarity. Although she still cared for him she knew she had to go. At 74 she was to begin again. She moved in with me and then found her own place close by and another chapter of our lives began, this time we were closer both in proximity and in our relationship.
I tell my husband that if he wants to know what I will be like as I age to take a good look at Anna, and a long listen to her, because she is me and I am her. She is still a force in the last year of her 70s, but I see the difference year by year and so there is an urgency to do as much as possible together. We began the tradition of seeking out travel adventures, big and small. Now I am able to take the lead and plan and she can just relax and enjoy the ride. It is my way of giving back to her all she gave to me. Inevitably we come away with a story or two on every trip: be it how we ended up having drinks with a hustler named “Philippe the Hat,” in a bar in Havana, or dancing at a disco at 2am on a cruise to Alaska. Together we found out that love and joy have no price tag and no expiration date.
I appreciate my Mother. I drink too much; I eat too much; I gamble too much; I don’t exercise enough; yet to Anna, I am perfectly imperfect. She makes me want to be a better person because she loves me unconditionally. If she can face all that life has thrown at her at 79 and tell me this is the happiest time in her life, then I can certainly become the best version of myself because talk is cheap.