Your Mother Wouldn’t Want That

I was out of half and half. It was 6:30 am. So I put on yesterday’s clothes, a hat, and walked to the corner store. I made my way to the back and pulled a pint from the refrigerator case. I walked it to the cash register.

“Hey, how are you?” The woman at the front said. I’d been buying chips, soda, and half and half at this store for nearly five years now. We’d gotten to know each other in that way that regulars do.

“Not bad,” I say, aware of my eyes still red with lack of sleep, the crusties that had collected in the night still stuck in the corners. I shrugged. Her face change quickly. To that of…sad for me.

“Listen I never got to say. I’m sorry about your mother.” I was surprised she knew because I hadn’t told her. But I also have a neighbor who’s a bit of a gossip. So at the same time, I wasn’t surprised.

“Thanks,” I said. Shrugging again. It’s been just over three months now.

“Your better half told me,” she continued. “I’m just really sorry.”

“Thanks, I appreciate that,” I nodded. It began to be awkward, the nothing-else-to-say, what-is-there-to-say-anyway,-really, dance. Even though I didn’t feel awkward. Or maybe, awkward was how I felt all the time now, so didn’t feel any different than usual.

“Where is she, anyway?” She asked, about my better half. I’d never used this phrase for my hon, but, I kind of liked it. Most of the time now I would not consider myself anyone’s better anything. So it felt true, and special to have her gain the title.

“She’s just working a lot,” I said.

“And you? Where’ve you been?” I shrugged

“Working also.”

“But you work from home, don’t you?” I couldn’t believe she remembered such a detail.

“Yeah,” I said. “I just don’t go out much.” Her face turned again, to…sad for me.

“Your mother wouldn’t want that,” she said, confidently. I looked at her. What my mother might want for me now that she is gone had not once entered my mind. I remained fixated on what my mother had wanted for me. Had wanted me to be. All the ways I hadn’t lived up; had disappointed her.

“No mother would want that,” she said, backtracking a bit, perhaps feeling nervous about my pause, or my face lost in faraway thought.

“Yeah,” I said, looking at her again. Did she, perhaps, not want for me to fall into The Pit? Was she a mother? Did it matter to her that I live?

She handed me my change. I reached for the half and half and dragged it off the counter.

“Thanks,” I said.

“You’re welcome. Take care,” she said.

I walked back to the apartment, thinking about what my mother would want for me. Wouldn’t she still want for me now the same things she had always wanted for me? Or does death somehow change the dead person’s mind about things? Growing up, from shopping for clothes in high school to being gay and everything in between — what my mother had wanted for me was really, what my mother had wanted for her. And I failed and failed to follow through.

So now, in my grief, I don’t go out much. The noise of the street, the people, the heat — it all feels too much, too overwhelming. I stay inside where it’s quiet. Where I feel like there’s enough room for me and my thoughts. I watch a fair amount of TV. I eat, I exercise, I work — but that’s the best I can do, for now. Beyond that, it starts getting really hard, really fast.

My mother spent the last five years of her life mostly in one room, in front of the TV, going out less and less every passing day. One of the few things we used to do was sit on her deck in the sun. And in the last few years, she wouldn’t even do that. The few times I asked her about it, all she said was she liked it. She liked laying in bed all day watching TV. Sometimes I’d sit with her, but there was rarely anything to say.

I think now: would my mother want this for me? I honestly don’t know. I hardly think it matters.