Sunday, May 11, 2014

the one where I write a sappy Mother's Day post about my dead mother


(wrote this last night but was too tired to post until now)

Many of my favorite friends who happen to be on Facebook changed their profile pictures to pictures of their mothers, living and not-so-living. I pulled up one of my rare pictures of my mother, a favorite picture I didn’t even have until her family reconnected to us fourteen or fifteen years after her December 1993 death.

In this image, my mother leans on the hood of a red Olds Cutlass Cierra. I think I drove that car for a few months when I was a young editor on a newspaper. Mountains in the background make me guess she and my father were on one of their many road trips during his time as a locum tenums physician. She’s casual, wears a navy blue sweatshirt and holds her sunglasses in her hands. Already in 1984ish, you can see the rheumatoid arthritis was bending her fingers at odd angles. She looks younger than almost 60, younger than I look now at 55 going on 56. Her hair is salt and pepper, wind blown, skin flawless except for grooves between her eyes that are a perfect contrast to the lips that seem to curl up despite her distaste for having her picture taken.

She is beautiful, and I’ve been studying this picture off and on for a couple of hours as I’ve tried to get some writing done.

I’m not going to post it on Facebook, though. I feel protective of her tonight. She was a private person, though she could get anyone to tell her his/her Story with a capital “s.” Like me, she wasn’t good at small talk, but she was friendly and interested in people, so somehow she would manage to get cashiers, servers, flight attendants, cab drivers, hotel concierges, shop owners and beauticians to tell her their deepest secrets without them realizing that what they were doing was unusual.

Her openness to strangers was one of my favorite things about the public side of my mother.

This is my 20th Mother’s Day without her, my three siblings 20th Mother’s Day without her. The stories we tell about her to each other and to our spouses and kids are mostly funny, lighthearted stories. My younger sister-in-law once asked me for “real” stories, for information about our mother that showed who she truly was other than the punch line of our terrible jokes. I don’t remember what I told her.

But here are a few random things I hope I shared and that I should share with my daughter if I haven't already:

- She was a child of the Depression but never talked about it.
- After one particularly grueling week at the all-girls’ high school I attended as a 13-year-old freshman, she listened patiently to me whining about some incident where schoolmates mocked me at a candy machine, and when I was finished talking, suggested I write down my experiences but write them to come out the way I wished they’d happened (birth of a fiction writer).
- When I was about 5 or 6, my younger brother about 3 or 4, she used to write on our family chalkboard with her left hand (she was slightly ambidextrous), "THE LEFT HANDER WAS HERE!" and then hide from us somewhere in the house until we got close enough for her to pop out and scare us in a delicious way.
- When we went shopping for interview suits for me after I graduated college, she sped through the mall on her short, arthritic legs, and I couldn’t keep up.
- On one of my visits home from college, she and I went on Post and were in one of the “extra” shops near the PX, maybe a dry cleaners. The man who waited on us watched us laughing with each other for a minute then said, “You two act more like sisters than mother and daughter.”
- The last time I spoke with, after her stroke but before the pneumonia struck, she told me it was all right that my husband and I hadn’t yet had a child, that she thought he and I would be happy either way, that all she ever wanted was for me to be happy.

My daughter was due on the first anniversary of my mother’s death but came three weeks early. I wrote a bad poem once about a visit my then 2-year-old daughter and I made to the cemetery to visit my mother. My child was aware she was in a place where people were “resting,” that these people were not here with us anymore. I don’t think she yet understood the concept of death (though she did less than two years later as she watched her beloved granddaddy succumb to lung cancer). She flitted between the polished, military headstones while I had a quiet chat with my mother. Then my Girl joined me, looked up at me, down at the words she couldn't yet read on the stone. She approached it as if she were approaching a favorite aunt, patted the smooth top, said, “Hi, Grandmother!” and dashed off again to weave her way between the headstones.

Tonight, my Girl asked my permission to post to Instagram the picture of my mother leaning on the red car. 

“Sure, go ahead,” I said. “But your grandmother might haunt you in your dreams for doing that.”

“That’s fine with me,” she said.

She misses her, this woman she never had a chance to know.

So do I.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

wild dreams and fiction

For months now, my dreams have been insane, wild, hilarious, terrifying, shame-inducing, sad, full of characters from my past, strangers, composites, school, teaching, reading, running, grass, sky, car crashes, parties, ghosts, wild onion, my cat, some odd malevolent something that jolts me awake and convinces me I will die in 10 seconds if I don't cover my head with a pillow or my quilt.

It's been awesome. I've been trying to sketch them out soon after I wake up, but my life is a little busy right now. Time is short (this is also awesome, not that time is short, but that my life is full of things and people I love).

This morning's dream was so exhausting that I slept through my alarm and woke feeling drenched and heavy, not the kind of heaviness having to do with excess weight, but a sort of soul heaviness.

I realized that the dead friend who was in my dream seemed to have appeared to remind me to send some files I saved of his to the friend who asked me to save them after he died. I can't believe I forgot, though I suppose I can believe it since right after the saving of the files, I got really busy (that word. Busy. bizzy. bizzeeee) with freelance projects.

I have some time now, so I'm grateful for the reminder.

My father has been hanging around in my dreams, too. It may be because he's been dead nearly 15 years, and that's one of those strange number things that seem to affect me. Who knows. He's pissed at me about something, but I'm not sure what it is. It's all right. He can be pissed at me if he wants to be.

Some of the dreams involve former MFA schoolmates who appear to be older in the dreams than they are in reality, who crawl into my bed and curl themselves around me. These are not people I find particularly attractive, though they are nice enough. Maybe I'm lonelier than I think I am for romance. No. That's not it. In the dreams, the romantic attention annoys me. I want to get on with creative things, want not to be "nudged" at night, want to sleep so that I have energy to do whatever work it is I do in my dreams, which I suspect is richer and more important than the work I do when I'm awake.

Sometimes, I can't wait to go to sleep at night so that I can dive into these dreams. Sometimes, I nap afternoons when I've slept badly the night before (the dreams sometimes contribute to bad sleep), and those dreams are positively ferocious. I can't tell if my dreams are influencing the direction a novel in progress is taking or if the novel is creeping into my dreams. Maybe a little bit of both. I love this process.

I want to take better care of these dreams, these gifts. I could make them into stories or poems or even just weird little essays, but I too often don't bother writing them down.

I finally upgraded to a smartphone last week, and I've discovered that the Notes app that came with the phone will allow me to record my notes so that I don't have to type them on the tiny keyboard (but I don't have to listen to my terrible voice). The microphone sometimes doesn't hear me that clearly, or not yet, but it's wonderful that if I wake up in the middle of the night, I can tell myself my dreams before I lose the dreams to neglect. I can then email the note to myself and add it to this collection I've just now decided I'm going to start.

This makes me really happy.