Ever since the end of high school, my mother and I have not had a very strong relationship. In fact, we disagree on nearly everything. The type of music I listen to, the company I keep, even the simple way I wear my hair. She was too concerned, throughout the duration of my childhood, with keeping up her trophy wife facade. She loved me, no doubt, but when it came to a choice between running me over to a mate's house, or doing yoga, her makeup, a facial; she always came first. And then dad died, and all of that went to hell. She took up chain smoking, drank more often than not, and refused to see anybody for quite some time. And now she'd like me over for tea. I have not seen, nor have I heard from my mother in three and a half years.
My eyes dart to the alarm clock a few feet away. It reads two thirty in the afternoon, January ninth. Just over two months have passed since my birthday. Just over two months have passed since I lost my best friend, and a piece of me with him. It is also undeniably only one and a half hours until I am due for tea. I slowly make my way over to the bathroom and run water for a shower. The steam fills up the small room, fogging the mirrors and making my skin moist. It feels refreshing; a shower is something that I have not been able to enjoy for quite some time. I step into the tub and let the water run over my skin, cleansing me both literally and figuratively. Thoughts drift around above my head and suddenly I realize that they don't matter. The events over the course of my life time are only events, they are not me, they can not be changed, fixed, relived; they are only memories, and it is completely my choice as to whether or not I will let them shape me. I choose to let them float away, like an afterthought, with the mist from the water's spray. And with that, I decide to take back my life.
Chapter Two: Reconciliation
a reestablishment of harmony
I stand outside at the door, the harsh wind lashing at my face. The sound of the bell resonates throughout the inside of my mother's house. It is not a nice home, not like it used to be; the plants in the garden are gnarled and overgrown, a lawn chair is unfolded and sprawled on the porch, the fountain in the front has dried up, with amber residue in the bottom of the bowl. My thoughts flash back to what this house used to look like when we lived here as a family, my mother, father, and I. The grass was always lush, the garden pruned and flourishing, the fountain bubbling with water. But now it was nothing more than just a shell, a bittersweet memory of what once was.
The door opens and a burst of warm air from inside caresses my cheeks. A woman is behind the broken screen, arms crossed, brown hair in a tight bun, creased blue eyes. The years of her life are written on her face, in each line and wrinkle. This is not the trophy wife, the proud woman who was once my mother. This is a stranger with familiar eyes, and a much frailer frame. This is a woman who has struggled with both herself and those around her, mostly in solitude. And whether I recognize her or not, this is my mother.
Avoiding my eyes she steps to the side, opening the screen door, and nods for me to come in. The interior is no better, or worse than the outside. It simply looks lived in; magazines scattered across the coffee table, an overfilled ashtray, the stale smell of smoke hanging in the air. She moves a blanket off the paisley couch and motions for me to sit down. So far we have not exchanged any words. I sit, looking up at her, trying to meet her eyes. But she cannot meet mine. She is holding her hand to her mouth, staring out the window and into the snow. Flakes are falling gently from the sky, swirling in and around the barren branches of the trees that lined the street. She is shifting her weight from one foot to another and tugging at her dress.
Mum, come sit with me.
She spins around as if almost startled that I had spoken. Lifelessly, this stranger makes her way to the spot beside me, sitting down and smoothing her hair. Her knees, in fact, her whole body, is turned away from me, I do not understand why she is so reluctant to acknowledge my existence. As she stares straight ahead I can see the hurt that is in her eyes, and the way that they have learned to harden against it. I can see a woman who is trapped within herself, unable to find an ounce of happiness. I see a woman who has turned to destructive substances in an attempt to stifle the pain that is always present in her mind. And in her eyes, I see so much of what I was just yesterday. And that tears me apart.
Mum, please, look at me.
She continues to look straight, the corners of her mouth quivering slightly. I reach across and touch her frail hand, she flinches at the contact. Slowly, she turns her eyes to meet mine. A wave of emotion washes over me at this simple gesture; I feel a sudden connectedness. Her eyes soften and crinkle, tears welling up and brimming on the edges. I wrap my arms around my mother, rocking her gently, rubbing her back. This is a comfort that I had not had the privilege of experiencing throughout my childhood, and the reverse of roles seems strange. However, this is my mother and she is broken, and though I may not be able to put her back together, I can certainly make the best of the pieces that are there. She sobs into my shoulder, and I feel her arms around me, pulling tighter. I rock her and tell her that it is okay, though I know that it is not okay, but I have never been one for finding sympathetic words. I tell her, for the first time in three years, that I love her. And for the first time since I've arrived, she speaks, whispering that she loves me too. I begin to cry. We are two women, two very different women, both clutching to each other for support, held together unconditionally by a love that had been dormant for so long. She tells me that she's missed me, and I find myself now being rocked and comforted. She has finally stepped into the maternal position that she had continuously ignored for most of my life. We stay like that for what seems like forever, and then gently pull apart. I put my hand to her cheeks and wipe away the tears that are falling from her eyes.
Please don't cry, I love you. I always have, and I always will. We just haven't been the best at showing it, but I promise that things are going to get better. I shouldn't have left you to fend for yourself, I was only doing it because that's what you taught me. But now I've seen what you've let yourself become, and that upsets me mum. It really upsets me.
My voice breaks, this is the most compassionate thing that I have ever said to her. All of my bitterness and remorse, and anger has mostly melted away. We've both made mistakes in life, and unfortunately, they can't be undone. However, we can learn from them and grow in that realization.
Oh Janey, I didn't know when I would ever see you again. I've missed you so much, I've been so alone. I just needed to see you. Ever since your father...I've just missed you so much. Can you ever forgive me? I love you.
She looks into my eyes, holding my hand, pleading. She looks as I would have looked after getting caught misbehaving as a child. So many years of separation and independence and fighting have all amounted to this moment.
Of course I forgive you mum, don't be silly. Nobody is perfect, and everyone reacts to situations differently. Dad died, and you dealt with it by holing yourself up in this house, and breaking off contact with me. And that hurt. I wondered for so long what I could have done to make you not want me anymore. I had always felt as if I were just an inconvenience; one more obstacle between you and yourself.
Oh Jane, I never meant to make you feel that way. I've been selfish, I wasn't there for you when you needed me. I promise things are going to get better. I promise that-
But she is suddenly cut off by a cough. A fit of coughs. Coughs that shake her entire body, and make her eyes wince with pain. She holds a handkerchief up to her mouth, as the fit continues. I rub her back, trying to calm her down. She pulls the handkerchief away from her lips and my eyes widen in horror. Tiny droplets of blood are spattered against the white material. I look from her face, to the cloth, to the ashtray, to the cloth, and back to her face. And something clicks.
Mum, mum, has this happened before?
She searches my face, looking ashamed.
Well, yes, it happened at the beginning of this week. But it went away, so I payed no mind.
My head is spinning, the blood spatters are staring me in the face.
Get in the car, I'm driving you to the hospital.
* * *
I sit in a plain white chair against a plain white wall. The paint seems a bit dated, in fact, the whole hospital seems dated. The lighting is harsh and revealing and the dull vinyl of the floor is marked with various scuffs. Scuffs made from people in a hurry, scuffs from people who were too tired to pick up their feet, scuffs from gurneys, scuffs made by people visiting their family. At the very least, the hospital smells quite clean. The staff is prim and clinical, offering courteous smiles and brief exchanges of words.
My hands grip the sides of the chair, my knuckles whitening. My mother sits beside me, waiting for her name to be called. My mother that I have only just had the chance to see, is patiently sitting in a plastic chair, waiting for her fate to be sealed. The outcome is not going to be good, I am aware of this. But all we can do is sit. I feel her frail hand reach out and touch mine and it startles me from my thoughts. I look at her and she smiles meekly and nods, and at that moment we both understand each other. We understand what is about to take place.
My mother looks up, the nurse is standing at the front of the waiting room with both a hesitant smile and a clipboard. We stand and walk towards her.
I can take you right this way, thank you for your patience.
My mother and I follow the nurse down a short corridor with many windows. It seems to be a bridge of sorts and outside is bright; the sun pours into the hallway, casting shadows on the walls. We come to a small room and she lets us in, motioning for us to sit down. So we do.
Doctor Abbot will be with you in a moment.
She smiles briefly, letting herself out and shutting the door. I always wonder what it would be like to be in her position. It doesn't seem quite appropriate to make light small talk with people who are anticipating bad news. It seems ironic to ask them how they are doing. The answer should be quite plain, they're in a hospital.
I look again to my mother, she is shaking and her eyes seem distant, her thoughts a million miles away.
Mum, I want you to know that whatever happens I'll be here for you, we're going to get through this. I love you.
I love you too.
Her lip trembles slightly, but she does not make eye contact. I am reminded of earlier in her living room. I feel the same shame radiating throughout the room. I fold my hands in my lap and gaze around focusing my attention upon various objects; a pressure gage, a footstool, the tissue paper covering the examination bed. There is a light tap at the door, and it opens. The doctor emerges from behind, and stands in front of us.
There is something different about this man. He smiles at us sincerely, there is a hint of stubble around the frame of his face, his eyes are welcoming and appear honest. He seems quite youthful, perhaps just a few years older than I am. Every aspect of him is warm and open, and I suddenly feel more at ease.
What can I do for you tonight?
I look to my mother, she glances at me, nodding for me to speak.
Well you see, it's my mum, she has a very bad cough. There's been blood, she says she's had it for a little while.
Why don't you have her pop up on the bed and we'll have a look.
My mother doesn't look like she's ready to pop anywhere, but she stands and walks feebly over to the bed, sitting down on the edge.
Alright Mrs. Mahon, I'm going to have you take a couple deep breaths for me.
He places the end of his stethoscope on her back, speaking gently to her. She breaths slowly, her chest rising and falling.
Thank you, that was very good. Now if I could just ask you to open your mouth up wide for me, thats it, perfect. Now will you take a few breaths again? Alright, you can go sit back down.
Doctor Abbot pulls his chair directly in front of us, bringing himself to our level. He smiles as warmly as possible, folding her hands in his lap.
Miss Mahon, I'm afraid that your mother is not well. She appears to have a violent case of consumption, and signs of something much worse.
Mrs. Mahon do you smoke?
Well yes, ever since my husband passed...it helped me to relax, I haven't been able to quit since. I've tried...
In that case I'd like to have you tested further, just to be on the safe side. How does Tuesday sound? That's six days from now.
I suppose that'll have to work. Thank you Doctor Abbot.
Chapter Three: Prospect
anticipation; expectation; a looking forward
Oh Hi, may I ask who's calling?
His voice was direct, friendly, and there was an air of self assurance about it.
It's Marcus. I mean, Dr. Abbot. Well, really it's both. But you're welcome to call me Marcus.
Hello Dr. Abbot.
Please, Marcus will do.
Sorry, is there something wrong?
I laugh tentatively, unsure of the reason for this spontaneous call.
No, no, nothing's wrong. How are you Jane?
I'm quite well thank you! Just been tending to mum, getting the groceries, cleaning house, feeding her cats. Kidding, she has no cats.
I listen to myself speak, wondering what the hell I'm thinking. What a pitiful joke.
That's great to hear, I'll bet you've been quite busy. However, I was wondering, do you have any engagements for tomorrow evening?
Well, I do have a yoga class. I've already missed last week, my instructor would have my head if I missed another.
Oh, well I see, no matter.
But the next evening?
The next evening? Thursday. That sounds lovely.
May I inquire as to why?
Well, I was hoping I could take you out to coffee or dinner, whichever you'd like. I think I'd like to get to know you a little bit better.
Doffee. I mean coffee ! Would be great.
I stumble over my words, blushing on the other end of the line. I'm so thankful that he can't see me.
Well it's a plan then, would you like me to pick you up at say, seven ?
If it's not out of your way, then that would be nice. But I can always drive myself if you'd prefer.
Don't even worry about it, I'll see you at seven.
Thank you very much !