I change my outfit three times. I’m not sure what to wear. Something slimming always because she is not one who held respect for women she calls “big girls.” I don’t know why I still worry about her opinion but I do. She once called my sister fat while fitting her wedding dress.
I put on some makeup and cover some zits and the dark circles under my eyes to the best of my abilities. I am looking tired. I sponge a spot on my top hoping that it is only water and won’t leave a noticeable stain. My hair looks greasy so I spray it with dry shampoo and work it into the roots. I still expect these things to be noticed the same way she always pointed out the flaws of wrinkled clothes, marks on the walls of my home and pimples on my skin as if I didn’t know these things were there. I grew to be anal and way too detailed oriented. In some ways, I became too much like her.
I am getting ready to visit my mother, something I only do every few months. I am not what one would call a good daughter. I used to be when I was younger. I was her favourite once. That was when I could still be molded by guilt and before I struggled for my independence. Being her favourite is a tough position. I feel for my younger brother as he has held that exhausting job for years.
I put my armor on by going into defense mode, which for me unfortunately has become offence mode as I anticipate scenarios and responses and feel the anger rise inside me as all the words and actions of the past come back to bolster my facade. When she said she wasn’t sure she would come to my wedding because I wasn’t travelling home to get married in her back yard. All the times she told me that I spoiled my son and spent too much time with him. Something she assured me I would regret later. I did not. When she would drop birthday gifts off at the door for my son but couldn’t bother coming in to watch him open them. All the times she dismissed my son and my husband as not important enough to make an effort for. When she attended my son’s graduation from high school along with my husband’s mom, a wonderful women that I had a great relationship with and who she had met on many occasions but deliberately ignored for over three hours on this one as they sat side by side. These are just some the things that can’t be buried.
It is hot and humid when I arrive for my visit. The air in the house is warm and thick. I feel it immediately and tie my hair back in an attempt to stay cool. There is a small fan sitting on a stool on the other side of the room, and I ask if I can turn it on. It helps a bit. My mother sits in her wheelchair in layers of polyester that cover her arms and her neck so that her ninety-two year old body is not on display. I feel warmer just looking at her.
We chat for a bit, mostly small talk. A short conversation about a visit from her brothers. Another about my brother who she lives with. Mostly she talks about the weather and all the little things wrong with the rental house that they live in. She comments on these things as she rolls around in her wheelchair adjusting the hang of a curtain or the position of the garbage bag in the flip-up trash can. Pretty much the same actions and the same conversations as most visits.
We have a snack and I show her photos of my garden and the repaired lower level of our house. I usually try to bring something to show her as it makes things much easier. I had also brought her some books as reading and crosswords are her only pastimes.
I wait for some comment, something to say she has noticed one of my many flaws, but there is none. There hasn’t really been any for a couple of years. Instead something else happens. In this house where her things never appear to be at home, where pictures hang crooked and my flip flops stick to the floor, I smell my mother’s body odor for the first time in my life.
And you would think that now, since this frail woman is no longer the fastidious person that she once was and perfection for her is only a distant dream, you would think I could let things go. Perhaps forgive and forget. And I have tried, I really have; but every time I prepare for a visit, it all comes back.
Thank you for reading.
Photos: Jenn Stone