Last Friday, Good Friday, was my mom’s birthday.
She is gone. She made the mistake of dying years ahead of her expected lifespan, leaving me once we’d become friends and not before we’d exhausted our adventures.
I love my mom. I loved my mom. I hated my mom, too, but the hate is like a stain left on the sidewalk by a partially decayed leaf. If I keep scrubbing it, there may come a day where no unwanted mark remains.
When I was young, there was good reason to hate her, it seemed.
One of her favorite stories was of happening upon me in the backyard plucking petals from a flower and saying (instead of he loves me, he loves me not):
“I hate Mommy more than bugs.”
(pluck a petal)
“I hate Mommy more than vomiting.”
“I hate Mommy more than spinach.”
What I love about this story is that it was so “US” and we knew it. Mom bore a strong resemblance to Morticia from the Addams Family or to some character from an Edward Gorey cartoon. Like many parents, she was somewhat preoccupied.
She had a marvelous piece of costume jewelry–a brass ring–whose faux amber stone flipped up to reveal a chamber suitable for holding a soporific or a poison.
It makes me laugh when I look back on it now. Every night I would poke my fork into dinner, having carefully pushed the vegetables to the side, and ask, “What IS this?” and she would always reply, “It’s poison. Now eat.”
When she first came home from the hospital after her initial cancer surgery, I would bring her soup and she’d ask, “What is this?” Naturally, I replied, “It’s poison. Now eat.” She would give me a snide look and we’d laugh until she said I was making her stitches hurt.
She was too young when I was a child, and I was too big a brat for someone so young. We loved each other in our own convoluted way, there beneath the firmament of Edward Gorey’s stormy skies, absorbed in his Gashlycrumb Tinies (an abecedarian in which each of the twenty-six children succumbs to an untimely death) and I would laugh and squirm at the twisted wickedness of that book, anxiety mounting as she read each name on the way to the letter “T” and played out the excitement, knowing my secret dread, that the letter “T” (which once stood for Titus) had changed to Tonia sometime in the night, that she would then jump up…
…and strangle me
…or stuff me in her old shipping trunk
…or chase me until my heart burst.
It was delicious fear working out how I’d survive her.
I didn’t know when I was young that she read because she loved reading. She read to us every day, multiple times each day, partly because reading, like music, does soothe savage beasts, but also to keep her sanity. Reading was all the knowledge of the world–arcane and commonplace–and full of veiled warnings of coming harms. It was clear to me she intended me to know that adults are dangerous, that even good parents become werewolves by the light of certain moons.
In case your mother didn’t read them to you, in case you need the dark thrill of something far, far from Dick and Jane, click this link and you can hear the Gashlycrumb Tinies as read to you for your delight.