Good or bad, you can't get around it. You can't choose your mother and, in many ways, your mother can't choose you. Because sometimes, you happen by accident. Some people are happy accidents, some...not so much.
The first person you see, I mean really see is your mother. Sure, you might see a doctor's face first, a midwife's, your father's. But due to the fact that you know your mother's voice like you know the comfort and warmth of her body, the first face you see is hers. You don't even see the difference between yourselves. To your tiny self when you are born, you are your mother and your mother is you.
The first time I really saw my mother though, was 30 years after she gave birth to me, hemorrhaged and for some reason still confusing to me, was put in a medically induced coma. Meanwhile, I was in the NICU because I wasn't breathing very well while her milk dried up. We got a nice start, she and I.
The second time I saw my mother I was standing in the waiting area of the Philadelphia airport, ironically listening to U2's "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" over the speakers. People have to go through this absolutely ridiculous series of doors in order to exit the gate area while the rest of us stand there looking like...people trying to pick up loved ones. As opposed to terrorists. Whatever that means.
First, a young man carrying a very large statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe came out. Followed by several Asians. Then an old man with cowboy boots who actually looked like he really did reside in the South. Women with expensive handbags applying lipgloss as they walked. Disheveled college students on Easter break. People wearing grody flipflops. Businessmen. Lots and lots and lots of perfectly pressed businessmen.
Then, this very thin woman wearing a Jim Morrison t-shirt with a black vest and flared jeans stepped out. She looked...overwhelmed. She looked different than I pictured her. Tauter. Smaller. Because of course, your mother is always larger than life.
I delayed a moment and watched her, curiously. Maybe this only happened because I was actually trying to say something but nothing came out.
She stopped dead in her tracks, took one look at me and said,
I didn't want to be late.
Nope. You came right when you were supposed to.
I could feel myself sweating the entire hour drive home to the ocean. I wasn't nervous per say, but I think that's why I was sweating. My body needed some way out.
We kept stealing glances at each other. I looked at her profile a lot while I was driving. I saw her watching my hands on the steering wheel. When we got home and she met Matthew and our little boy, she was staring at my face, not theirs. Something about the shape of her jaw seemed familiar...
She barely ate any lasagna, but I wasn't hurt. I knew why.
When bedtime came, we shuffled from one foot to the other, obviously still eager to talk, but neither of us wanting to make the other one too tired. Damn, politeness. And so, we eased our way into talking until midnight. I honestly don't remember everything we talked about. It came so easily. We made tea, sat on the red couch, drank each other in some more, our cups left cold on the table. She mentioned again the guilt. All that guilt. But the mention of it didn't make me feel bad for her. For the first time in my life, I didn't feel expected to reach over and soothe someone. Maybe because I was the sole person at the end of her long train of guilt, carrying it for her all these years. Just because she didn't see me back there didn't mean I wasn't there all along. So I just watched her. She wasn't wincing---she was remembering; her eyes far away. She recognized me and I could only watch her. I needed time. She, on the other hand, knew me as old photos in the flesh now, the embodiment of what felt like a permanent loss, a fragile state of affairs offering a second chance.
She gave me a huge hug before bed, the silence of night enveloping us in the dim kitchen. I listened to her footsteps as she went upstairs, pinching myself that she was really here. It all felt so comfortable, so easy. Were we just on our best behavior?
I needed some air. Badly.
So I got a spoonful of peanut butter and went outside on the front steps to sit. I could hear the ocean in the near distance. It sounded like breathing and soon, my own breath came more calmly, more deeply, more centered. I felt aware again and like myself, rather than like myself watching myself in a film.
It was 2 a.m when I finally fell asleep, curled around my warm 14 month old, reaching over his toddler body to touch Matthew's peaceful face. I felt safe. I felt connected. I felt like a family.
The first relationship you have with someone is with your mother. Most people's relationship with their mother is complicated; maybe something to do with just how close the two of you are even when you don't want to be---but especially when you want to be. When you want to be so badly.