When I finished my master’s, I ordered two extra copies of my thesis: one for myself, and one for my mother. It was a hot August day in 2007 when I drove to Long Island, copy of my thesis packed in a bag in my back seat, to give to her. My thesis was 119 pages of creative nonfiction, written about my father, and my family. No sooner than I had unpacked my car and given it to her, she sat down in one of the adirondack chairs in the back yard to start reading it. It was one of the most tense moments of my life.
My thesis advisor, Jenny Spinner, had tirelessly worked with me to craft my story, helping me nip and tuck the excess wording, carefully choose what I was putting down on paper. Countless revisions and meetings in Starbucks and e-mails had all led up to this – a finished piece that I had to find the courage to share. Jenny had written an article that she gave to us in her class about the art of telling. While I had read her article over and over, and agonized over what I chose to write, I still wasn’t sure what reaction I would get.
My mother loved my thesis and was devastated by it at the same time. I remember her joking that I only write about my father, and asking if she had to be dead before I wrote about her. And I joked back that it makes good material and dad can’t get mad and yell at me about what I write.
Last weekend the man and I were on Long Island for his cousin’s communion. As always, we stayed with my mother, and on Sunday I was doing gardening with her. It was a gorgeous day – cool but comfortable. Across the yard, I was picking up sticks or weeds, I can’t remember now, and my mom went to put a spade into the garden to dig out some Siberian Iris for me to take home. I turned around to ask her about something she said, and as she put her foot on the spade to try to break up the roots, she fell.
Life went into slow motion. The roots were tough, and the spade didn’t go in as she thought it would, it shifted her weight and she fell. As her body torqued to the left, I saw her legs crumple under her, and her head smash with a loud crack into the corner of the garage.
I let out a blood curdling scream of “Mommy!” and ran to her. She didn’t respond right away, and then she put her hand to her head slowly, shakily. I thought that my life was over. That she had fractured her skull, that I wouldn’t be able to get her up, that I wouldn’t remember the direct number to the town fire department. I hadn’t dialed that number since my father died 15 years earlier.
When she lowered her hand, there was no blood. There was no cut. She kept saying, “I’m fine but I just need to get up. You have to help me get up, my knees…” And she was right. She was okay. Horribly bruised, a little scraped, but okay. I was terrified. Since I lost my father at 15, I have had a sense of dread hanging over me that something horrible would happen to my mother. And living 131 miles away does not ease the fear. What if she gets into a car accident? What if she falls off the ladder while cleaning her gutters and no one hears her scream or sees her fall? What if someone breaks into the house? I talk to her on the phone nearly every day, sometimes several times a day, and whenever she doesn’t pick up the phone and then doesn’t call me back for a while, I panic.
Her head had smashed into the vinyl molding of the side door to the garage – it is still dented. Two more inches, and it would have been the brick that her head made contact with. Last weekend made me realize more fiercely than ever how very lucky that I am. Lucky to have a mother that does so much for me, lucky that she is my friend, and lucky that she is still with me. In that terrifying moment last weekend, I thought my world was going to be shattered. I am lucky.
I’m not with her today, and for that I feel tremendous guilt. The card I sent didn’t get to her yet, and is probably lost in the mail. But we talked on the phone, and next weekend I will go visit her. So the best that I can do today is put this tribute out into the world. I know she’ll read it some day.
Mom, I love you. You make my world continue spinning. I can’t imagine not having you, not being able to call you, not being able to hug you, not being able to visit you at the house I grew up in that you made so happy and safe. Happy Mother’s Day.