Thursday, October 15, 2009

here's to hoping she doesn't pick today to start reading my blog

I automatically think something's wrong when I see her number show up on the screen of my telephone. She doesn't call much. I call her. It's how things go. So when I see it's her, my heart stops for a second while I make the decision whether or not to answer.
Deep breath. Hi, Mom.
It's only occasionally something like, Grandma's in the hospital, but she's okay. She faints sometimes. Like me. It's an odd comfort sharing genes with someone who knows what it's like to lose minutes on the floor of the shower and then go on with the day. Only when you're ninety-six, you sometimes need help getting up.
So I worry about Grandma. The thought that any one of those calls could be the one telling me she didn't get up this time. Old ladies do that. The fact doesn't make it easier to say.
But what jars my heart into my throat is when it's her smart little voice on the end of the line when I answer. Because that means there's something wrong with my mother.
And it's morbid to think it, but I expect my mother will be the one I lose first next. Even at ninety-six, Grandma Fern is healthy and happy. Two things my mother hasn't been for much of my life. If you've been reading a while, you know that my father lost a long and hard battle with alcoholism the year of the terrorist attacks. That's not right. From what I know, he didn't battle at all. Let's say he just lost a whole lot because he couldn't stop drinking. Including his family and then his life.
Although we were somewhat estranged, his absence and passing is woven into the story of my life coloring who I am and who I will be. These days I pick up the phone fearful that news of my mother is sounding much like the beginning of my father's end.
On the first visit to meet her grandson, she sneaked away to the patio and smoked a cigarette just out of my grandmother's sight*. Her boyfriend watched her from the kitchen and told me quietly that she quit drinking because the doctor said she might be able to walk better if she did. I stirred a pot of spaghetti sauce and put on my best optimistic face.

oh? when?

last night.

I love my mother, but my hopes of her overcoming addiction were crushed during my childhood. Cigarettes, booze, Tylenol pm. I've watched her fall down over and over. Scraping her knees and bruising my heart. Every shot at her sobriety ended with me feeling as though I had just finished a marathon dead last. Why is it that the things people do to hurt themselves wind up torturing the ones they love even more?
We sat at a Chili's one afternoon when Ladybug was still an infant and I asked her to stick around long enough to see her grand-daughter grow up. It was the first and only time I asked her to quit drinking. She answered with a sip of her rum and diet, I don't want to live as long as grandma. A fist in my chest. And to keep myself from crying, I made a jab at her ridiculous rationale and the conversation was over as suddenly as I had begun it. I became a real-live grownup that day during lunch. I felt it happen.
I am her only child and I feel I have failed to make her happy. It's not my fault she doesn't love life. It sure feels like it is. By giving up on her own happiness my mother has shown me how to make my own. Jeez.
I didn't mean to get so serious today. Sam is growing so fast and it reminds me that time is going by even when I feel like today is the same as yesterday. My kids remind me to be here, now. We all need these reminders. So today I will indulge and get drunk on the smell of my baby's neck. I will get high on details like dimpled hands and finger paintings folded and unfolded on the bus ride home from kindergarten. I will call to share my happiness. And while the phone rings, I will keep my fingers crossed that it's my mother who answers.

*Smoking is a habit my mother thinks my grandmother thinks she gave up last year. My grandmother, sharp as a tack just plays along. Sometimes I think she's just as weary from running that "marathon" as I am.

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