Friday, November 29, 2019

My Mother, My Son

These days my son lives in his bedroom. I think of his room as something like mission control—banks of beeping and blinking technology: monitor, laptop, headphones, remote, chargers, game cube controllers. Musty-smelling. The paint on the walls is chipped and dirty white and dotted with pieces of yellowing scotch tape. The top of the bookcase is a hodgepodge of water-glasses and granola bar wrappers A giant drawing dominates one wall: what looks like a wild Satanic dog standing on two legs. His teeth are bared, and he’s holding a giant pencil, pointed like a weapon.

Most of the time I knock once or twice and walk right in. He anticipates this by living under his bedspread—doing whatever he does on his smartphone. I know it’s wrong of me to barge in. I just want to reach him, have access, know what’s going on in his life.

Today, I knock on the door. He yanks it open. Yes, what do you want? Sarcastic.

I feel sheepish. Just let me know if you want my help on those job applications.

I know, he says.

I’m not ready to give up. Why are you so cranky?

Because you’re irritating me, he says, pulling the door closed.

I stare at the door for a minute, then walk away.

I think of my mother. As a teen, I lived in my bedroom, refused to eat the meals she cooked, refused to speak to her, scorned her pathetic attempts to insert herself into my life. I wanted to be free of her--at the same time I needed her desperately.

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Mother, Oak Tree

A few days ago, I wailed like a child. Why had my mother cut down the century-old red oak tree that had perched on a bank at the edge of our front yard?

The tree shed acorns that crunched under our feet—a nuisance for lawn-mowing, I guess, but a pleasure for us kids. We hurled them across the street, or at cars, or at our neighbors' windows on Halloween. The two trunks of the tree had fused around a strip of metal someone must have stuck between them long ago: when we played on the slippery bank we used the strip to haul ourselves up from the road. I watched the tree's leaves turn the colors of the seasons—green to yellow to orange to red to rust--and peered at their veins and burls, like the warty skin of grandmothers.

The tree meant something to me—it was always there.

When I heard from my sister that my mother had cut it down, I was dumbfounded: Why? Didn’t she know how I felt? Why hadn't she asked?  There was no way to bring it back.

The truth, of course, is that I’ve been gone from my childhood home for over 40 years. The house is no longer my home. My mother has every right to do what she wants with her yard.

But it hurts.  I want to know: will she count the rings on the stump? Will she save a slice of the tree for me?

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