One of the fondest memories I have of my mother was when I was about five years-old. I watched her juggle her books in her arms as she hurried across the asphalt courtyard of the Asbury Park Village. She was striking in her camel colored pea coat with dark-brown barrel shaped buttons. My Nana soothed my cries as I pressed my face against the screen.
“She’s coming back. She’s going to school to become a nurse so she can take care of you.” Over the years, I heard stories about how my mother was one of the most sought after women in Asbury Park. She had a heart of gold to match her fun and vivacious spirit. Her girlfriends reminded me and my sister that they used to call our mother by her abbreviated middle name, “Millie” short for Mildred. From the look on their faces, me and my sister surmised that our mother was raising all kind of hell in her younger days. I wanted to be just like her when I grew up. But as the years passed and teenage angst set in, I changed my mind. Like any other teenager, I wanted to do whatever I wanted without consequences. I became withdrawn whenever I didn’t get my way. I had a false sense of invincibility. I was not going to become my mother.
As I celebrated my granddaughter’s first birthday and my mother’s seventieth, I am grateful for God’s grace and mercy. Some of my girlfriends never had children who would extend their legacy with grandchildren. There are some that have departed this life before their mothers. I am blessed beyond words that my mother is still here on earth. It took me forty-six years to realize that becoming my mother is a blessing.
I chuckle at some of the moments we shared. I started window shopping in Georgetown when I was in high school. Fantasizing about becoming someone else helped me to escape bullying from my peers. I remember asking my mother if she could buy me a pair of snake-skin loafers I saw in a boutique window. I couldn’t help but laugh when she responded.
“Two hundred and eighty-five dollars? I don’t spend that kind of money on my own damned clothes. What do you think I do…eat paper and shit money?” My mother is still one of the most hilarious women I know. She says the craziest things with a straight face. And yet, she is one of the kindest humans I know. She manages to find the good in people even when they are not kind to her.
I reminisce about the tension between us when I came out and my father disowned me. As a heterosexual woman, I sensed that she could not fathom the fact that I loved women. As a mother, I sensed her concern for my safety in a world that didn’t honor who I am. I recall her rolling her eyes when I told her about the “parties” I attended in Southeast Washington. Little did she know I was sneaking into the gay clubs when I was still underage. I rationalized my stubbornness by convincing her that she may not like where I was going but at least I was telling her the truth.
I worried myself sick wondering if my mother would disown me the way my father had. Through the heartaches of my youth and my recent divorce, I only wanted my mother and she was always there. She never wavered in loving me unconditionally.
Recently I asked her when did she know that I was gay.
“When only girls kept coming over to the house.” She whispered. Feelings of sorrow rushed back as I thought of the trials and tribulations I endured to become who I am today. I never shared with anyone until later in life how badly I was bullied in high school for being “out”. I was ashamed for anyone to know that I used to wear long sleeves to cover up the cuts on my arms. Self-mutilation was confirmation that I was still able to feel after suffering traumas no child should ever have to endure. I wondered if she was disappointed that I wasn’t straight, like my sister. If she was, she never showed it.
Me, my sister, my brother, and all our children surprised our mother with a beautiful diamond ring and dinner at a five-star restaurant for her 70th birthday. The happiness on her face was priceless. I got lost in my own thoughts when I realized how blessed I am that my mother is still alive for us to honor and cherish. As both, me and my mother age, I feel like a five-year-old again. I don’t want her to go. I don’t ever want her to leave me. Who will love me when she is gone? Tomorrow is not promised but she is still here and I will cherish each day.
I smile as I recall a conversation I had with my son. I was badgering him to complete an important task before he missed the deadline. He continued to make excuses as I scolded him.
“Oh, my God, Ma! I’m going to do it. You sound like grandma.” Without missing a beat, I replied.
“I AM grandma, damn it!”