Many days I forget her crooked smile, how she loved Jeopardy, her potato soup. Unless I’m prepared, I get either upset or downright angry if I have to think about her and me. The way we were together, or more often, apart. Our arguments are legend, still. Truth is, my memories are like an autopsy, revealing and raw. So much of the time I felt I had to win her love; and so my viscera calls to me, remember it says, it whispers: the wishing for a hug? and instead how you locked yourself in your room secretly hoping she’d knock. Shadows of the games I’d play, the recriminations, for that’s what they were, on both sides, bring tears and the kind of sadness you can’t contain. It’s sloppy, it spills and licks, so I keep the door closed.
She’s gone now and I can’t make things right, and maybe we did, but how do I know for sure, that’s what my viscera says.
I can’t let it go, simply can’t. So much of youth is muscle memory. Your body remembers the clenched lips, the motion of locking the door, the scissor stomach. It’s imprinted, tattooed in permanent black. Even though as I grew older, we had an understanding, and I came to see she loved me. Intellectually, I knew it. It’s that she’d never been taught how to show it, coming from a stout German family, raised on stoicism and pick the carrots for dinner. So she left, first thing she could, joined the airlines (Western) and traveled the world. Once when my dad asked about her mom, she cried. Her mom never hugged her, she said; and then to my dad’s surprise, her sadness became sloppy and uncontained. He didn’t ask again. What does one do with all that sadness and muscle memory?
I still don’t know, I simply don’t. There was more to our relationship: the trying, and loving in ways I didn’t understand, but learned to appreciate. She was silent, I knew that, and it drove me crazy, but if I pushed, she’d dissolve. Just disintegrate into water. I could see: she did the best she could with what she knew. And right when I started to understand her, she was gone. Of course, I stayed behind, with my hands full of the slop and the what do I do now? I want to let it go. But does that mean she goes with it? I don’t want to chance it.
Recently, I was sent this picture of my mom as a teen-ager. It’s all there: the bad skin that made her so insecure, the love of music (she is playing the piano), the intensity. In so many ways, I get her. We are printed on each other, and then I start to think maybe we were more alike than different.
Those are the sloppiest days of all.