My mother is an artist. She wants to make a living as a painter, and when she dies she wants us to spread her ashes in the mountains.
My mother is a musician. When I was in high school, and I made her angry, she liked to remind me of how she gave up a career singing at the Met for her twin children. I liked to remind her she was 37, and should have known better.
My mother is never short of projects, projects that she accepts from others or creates herself. She has airbrushed Seas of Galilee, and sewn on donkey ears and tails. She has painted walls in suburbia, and made Piglet costumes for her plump, boisterous nephew and son. She has never finished the basement of her home, however, and her kitchen remains a fantastic mess.
My mother never could remember to pay bills on time, even when she had the money to pay them with (which was rare). Sometimes her daughter would have to remind her. Sometimes her daughter was mercilessly tormented in elementary school because there was no hot water for a shower that morning, or even water to use for a toothbrush.
My mother has been willfully single since her twins were born, interrupted only shortly by a well-to-do lawyer who may have been her children’s financial savior, but the end of her own spontaneity (so she has insisted). Our father is a man who plays drums like John Coltrane played his sax and Michelangelo hewed his David, who flatly denied paternity, a man whom his children have never met and have no intention of ever doing so. Him, drummer, for a lawyer. Vitality for practicality–a decision my mother makes so easily, and will continue to make, untroubled, until the day she dies.
My mother is tall, pale, with eyes like a jade sea and shadows under them that never go away. She speaks broken Spanish, and her body is slowly breaking down. She tells me about the cortisone shots for her knee and other signs of decay and I choose to forget them, because my mother will never die.
My mother is not a cook, and was so tired when we were young. I am trying to learn how to eat because of this. Sometimes I feel as though this is a battle I will always be fighting, and it makes me sad.
My mother loves animals, all animals, and has gifted that love to both her children.
My mother is a moral absolutist, and does not like to see nuance. She is stubborn, and inflexible, and does not like to be disturbed. Truth is absolute and static, and what she knows is what is real, valid, factive.
My mother has two theatre degrees, and no savings, no contingency. She follows passions and colors and feelings, and leaves her big sister and her daughter to hoover the imprudence she leaves behind. She’s made both of them cry doing this.
My mother quit her job two weeks before I had to move across the plains and through a mountain range. She said this was freeing, and necessary, and she was so relieved to leave. No thought spared for me, for a brand new life I had to make for myself. She had nothing again. My friends and my mentors and my family had to make up for this, and this shamed me. I cried over this for two days. She will never know I did this, or about so many of the other missed opportunities and appended distresses she has left me.
My mother calls me, expecting me, but never answers when I do the same.
My mother is manically depressed, and has been since our birth. Once, when she didn’t take her prescription, she hit me, with the knuckles and veins of her hand, across the face, enough to bruise, because I was being silly about not putting my pants on. I was six. When I was sixteen, I fell ill. I now had a similar prescription, in an even stronger dose, and she refused to believe her daughter could be sick, could be weak like she is. I told her two years later that I was better, cured. I lied.
My mother doesn’t know much about me. That will never change.
My mother thinks I am still twelve–that I still love Doctor Who, that I laugh at the same things, that I read what I used to or understand the world in the same way. She sends me Pez dispensers for Christmas. I put them away.
My mother does not understand the work I do, or why I want a PhD. I can’t talk to her about how not all programs are good enough, how I have to work so hard and for so long in order to make those programs want me, or about funding, or anxiety about finding a position anywhere at all. To my mother, I do nothing wrong, and I never stop excelling. “You can make money writing, absolutely,” she said once. I said nothing. She lied, and she doesn’t understand that she did.
My mother doesn’t know about the men and women I’ve kissed, or the man who hurt me. She doesn’t know about the volumes of substances that have filled me, the people I’ve gone home with, the hips I’ve swallowed and eyes I’ve looked away from. She will never understand why I sliced my forearms open in middle school and went to class the next day, beaming, my teachers’ favorite and my life so organized and full of the discipline and ambition she never learned to exploit herself. She doesn’t know about the dreams I have for myself, or about how hard she’s made me. She would be scared of me sometimes, I think. She doesn’t know I have names picked out for my children, or that sometimes I never want to see her again.
I love her because she is my mother, but I never say it aloud. She’s so free with it, and I wish sometimes she were less open, more severe. I wish I didn’t feel responsible for her, that I could be at large, disengaged, following my viscera, beholden to only self-imposed limitations. I wish I could make a man follow me around the world, and live unstably.
But I would hate it.