Phantom limb


*Originally written for Mother’s Day, 2013

My mom tended to make things up. Not lie. Fill in gaps. Pad. Fabricate.People said more passionate, endearing things in her memory. I was near enough to hear her meet a boy she used to help as a school-aid 20 years ago. She was tired, they only talked a bit, politely. But her recount of meeting him was rich and meaningful, where he thanked her deeply for helping him learn to read. I was there. He hadn’t said any of that. But he might have been thinking it and that was good enough for her.

She’d overhear my husband, who is encyclopedic, talking about the harm done the nation by Woodrow Wilson, and remark, “Really? That’s funny, he’s always been my favorite!”
Everyone in that room knew she had no idea who he was, including her. The irritation, the temptation to turn on her, to spit, “Really mom? Can you tell me one thing he did that makes him your favorite?” was buried by the desire not to hurt such a sweet and guileless woman.

Mom was soft and pliable. She was persuaded by the loudest voice in the room. If that happened to belong to a vacuum salesman trying to sell her a $2000 deep pile cleaner for her house, which was wall to wall hardwood, well. She’d buy the vacuum unless someone stopped her.

She didn’t like sad things. Bad things, angst things, troubled things. Me things. I have always been beating back the black dog, and she could not help me at any point in my life. She had no advice for any struggle I brought to her. Bullies, boyfriend problems, the pervading terror that begin eating my brain in my late teens.  All she could offer was a taut, uncomfortable helplessness. When I went to hospitals for breakdowns she did not visit me. It was too much for her to bear. She said I needed to put all my bad thoughts in my pocket and zip it up. And think of flowers. That’s what she did.

And, she didn’t stop my father times when she should have. But how could she. If she were strong enough to do that, they likely wouldn’t have been together in the first place.

I mention those four things, because they’re the only things I can think of that bothered me. It’s Mother’s Day, and we remember our mothers, the sweet and strong things about them. I’m doing that, just by different route. Except for those traits, my mother was perfect to me. Unshockable, endlessly forgiving, full of excitement and praise, self-sacrificing.  Love. Love in human form. Soft, touchable love. She is a part of me. She’s a phantom limb I still want to caress.

She died in my arms a year and a half ago. I had published that story here, but took it down when the blog became linked to my professional name. But I was kidding myself to think I could ever write a widely palatable, appropriate blog. I’ll edit the story and put it back someday.

Happy Mother’s Day.

2 thoughts on “Phantom limb

  1. I guess the final deadline for forgiveness is death. After that (as if we could have brokered some kind of deal before that) we have to really admit that’s just who they were, how they rolled, and what we got. I’m
    sure they all did the best they could, most of the time, and were probably aware of their own failings. Like we are. Thank you for this lovely post.


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