Sunday, October 25, 2009

A Ghost in this House

"When you remember me,
it means that you have carried something of who I am with you,
that I have left some mark of who I am on who you are.
It means that you can summon me back to your mind
even though countless years and miles may stand between us.
It means that if we meet again, you will know me.
It means that even after I die, you can still see my face
and hear my voice and speak to me in your heart."
Frederick Buechner
"I'm leaving," she said in a raised voice that sounded like this time it might be for good.

In my memory she carried a small suitcase. I had to have been 10 or eleven. We lived in Jacksonville but I was still small enough to curl myself into a ball. And that's what I did. I hid. I squeezed into the space between the china cabinet and the wall in the dining room. Worried about what was going to happen next, I listened for more words.
Was mom going to be gone forever? Who was going to take care of us? Why was this happening?
I was too young to know that sometimes couples get really mad at each other and one or the other needs a time out.

That's what my mother did. She took a time out. It wasn't the first time (I learned as I grew up) or the last either. Perhaps she did nothing more than drive around the block - maybe once, maybe 100 times. Perhaps she headed south to Green Cove Springs looking to her own mother for comfort. And on the days she did not walk out the door she went to her silent place ... where she wouldn't talk but could slam a kitchen cabinet door off its hinges.
Not knowing if she was going to stay gone or silent unnerved me. Both scarred my inner child into believing that it is impossible to love and be angry at the same time. Smiling and hugging represent love. Slamming the door as you leave or sitting in stony silence can only mean I-don't-love-you-now-and-I-might -never-love-you-again-in-my-life.

When I was in my 40's a therapist told me that it is possible to have two emotions at the same time. That people can, and do, get angry but it doesn't mean that they stop loving the object of their anger. I thought then, and sometimes still do, that she was speaking nonsense, or Greek, or both. Like the quadratic equation, I just don't get it.

This has been a hard week for me. My father has shown some strange behaviors and (re)attacked with an old and painful song. I've been so mad that I wanted to walk out the door and not look back. I have struggled with loving and caring for a man that seems hell bent on hurting me yet professes to love and need me. Big ME is just about fed up; Little ME is confused. And sad. With the clear vision that comes from hindsight and lots of work Big ME is beginning to see, if not completely understand, why these love/hate roller coaster rides are so hard on me.

I guess I need a time out. One day last week I seriously considered trying to scrunch my body into the dining room corner. If I had gotten in, it would have taken a fork lift to get me out. Yet for some strange reason that corner comforts me. Which is weird because here's the rest of that story ...

I must have fallen asleep, or maybe I just zoned out to my own private Idaho. My mom came home which, of course, I don't remember like I remember her leaving. I wonder why it isn't the other way around. Anyway, I stayed in the corner. People went looking for me and I stayed quiet. When I was found my parents were mad at me! Go figure! At least they weren't mad at each other anymore and, in my little girl way of thinking, I was glad that the focus of their anger had changed.

Friday was the 7th anniversary of my mother's death. I was reminded again of the other times she went away. When she died, she went away for good. Sometimes, especially at this time of year, Little ME still waits for her to walk in the back door and act like nothing happened.
Like her leavings and returnings my mother was a mixture of opposites. On Friday I remembered the times when Mom:

Ate Lobster, juice dripping down her chin and off her fingers, and
Ate nothing more than a small glass of milk and Saltines (or popcorn).

Gently rubbed my back with alcohol to bring down a fever, and
Got really angry because she had to pick me up from school when I was sick.

Looked beautiful with a red hibiscus stuck behind her ear, and
Looked quite scary when she gave me that black-eyed stare.

Would go silent with anger, and
Didn't have to say anything for me to feel loved

To paraphrase Buechner, by remembering my mom - the good mixed with the bad - I am carrying her with me; she is never far away.

Hoping that your memories are good ones,
Merry ME


Fire Byrd said...

Mum's where would be without them!
It doesn't matter how grown up we are when we no longer have them it still doesn't seem fair.

terri st. cloud said...

i don't have a thing helpful to say...just wanted you to know i was out here....

sorry it's been hard(er) lately...

sending some love...

Anonymous said...

Don't know Fred Buechner, but his words truly strike a chord. Those/your images are vivid...lg