My mother died just two years after the first commercially available mobile phone hit the shelves. Her poor timing does not inhibit my daydreaming about texting with my mother.
Hey Ma, ‘sup. That’s me, trying to be cool.
[Auto-Responder] I’m driving right now. If this is my baby daughter, go clean your room.
Two hours pass. My mother gets home, takes off her bra, pours herself something cool to drink, and puts her work uniform in the laundry. Clad in a house coat, sitting on the porch, she finally texts me back.
So, what’s going on with you?
I hear a funny tone resound in my house. I walk around trying to figure out what it is. Oh, dang. My phone!
Hey Ma. Have a nice day?
A few seconds pass. Her answer bings: Did you lose your grammar book? I didn’t use a subject, verb, object construction. I smile into the empty room.
It’s been a long day, starting with the steel-cut oatmeal that I gagged down. Heart healthy, you know. Then I worked nine hours, stopped at the grocery store, came home and made dinner, then did a load of laundry.
That’s nice, honey. I wait for more. Wait, you ate oatmeal? I smile.
My mother used to taunt me by packing my birthday presents in oatmeal containers. This joke spanned my late childhood years, when I was old enough to realize that I wasn’t getting breakfast cereal for my birthday but still young enough to have that brief moment of panic. I despise oatmeal, as I think I’ve mentioned one or twenty times. But a person who takes two kinds of heart medicine has to acknowledge that something with “Heart Healthy” stamped on every brand’s packaging might just be good for me.
Yeah, I did. Gagatrocious! I’m certain my brother Mark invented that word. I picture my mother at her house in Jennings, smiling at the reminder of her favorite son.
So. A pause. What IS up?
How do I answer that question? Well, Mom, since you asked. In the 32 years between your death and this wistful conversation, I’ve married three times, divorced the same number, fallen in love five times, had a child, lived in two different states, traveled the country, nearly died, gained and lost the equivalent of my body weight, and recovered from a heart shattered into a million pieces.
The devil’s in the details: The politics, the house-purchases, the California doctors, the blogs, the art. My son living in my mother’s birth state. The overgrown garden which nonetheless makes me feel connected with her. The deaths — oh, the deaths! Your baby boy, Mom!
Now it’s real, Mom: Did you meet Steve in heaven?
I no longer imagine my mother standing on the porch in the sweltering heat of July. Instead, I see her standing somewhere serene, on the banks of the Meramec River perhaps. I remember the summer we camped there. My father brought a folding cot because he wouldn’t sleep on the ground. My big brothers challenged me to wade against the current. I kept my shoes on my spastic feet, rolled up my blue jeans, and plunged chest-high into the cold water. The little boys ran along the shore line, cheering me, waving their hands.
I’ve stopped texting. I can’t write fast enough to answer her questions. I send a picture of my son, of the house where I raised him, of the art on the walls of my office. I scroll through the emojis and pick a heart and a kissing face.
Oh, Mary, there’s your father. I better go. I’ll talk to you soon, baby girl.
Wait — Mom — don’t go — please!
I stare at the screen, then drop the phone onto the table. Its clatter echoes through the the dimness of the house. I realize that the sun sinks low to the west, over the neighboring trees. The dog barks outside, forgotten, unfed. Another evening passes with nothing constructive to show for it. The piles that I made this weekend still occupy the dining room table. The towels sit in the dryer, forming permanent wrinkles. I’m no closer to paradise.
But I’m not complaining. I’m not sure why, but I’m not. I think my mother would encourage me to keep putting my best foot forward, just as her mother suggested that she do, that we do. Neither of them ever quite explained which foot was my best foot, but nevertheless, I’m going to try. Because that’s what the women in my family do. We just keep trying.
It’s the twelfth day of the forty-third month of My Year Without Complaining. Life continues.