“Bury me there beside him,” she said, pointing over the horizon to the tall elms wearing scant offerings of stubborn yellow leaves- soon to be bare. We stood in her kitchen, socked feet on the cold, white ceramic floor. Looking through the floor-to-ceiling windows, nothing but frost-covered grass and trees stood before us.
And I wanted to protest that he wasn’t dead, but there was no sense. She was deep in the thralls of loving him, of missing him. He had been away for a week now and would return the Friday after next. His absence and two glasses of wine made her a poet, sad and full of tragic words.
“In the forest?”I asked. “But mother, that’s illegal.”
She scoffed at me and my ignorance of her romantic notion. But I knew the depth of her emotion. I rode the waves of it all my life. And while it moved me to know that a love like theirs could exist, I also knew- for myself- I would never have such a thing. I wasn’t built like her. Reason ruled my mind. I could never lose my logic for something so sentimental.
“I know what you’re thinking,” she said, gathering the folds of her ivory knit sweater closer to her throat. “You think I’m ridiculous.”
“No,” I said simply.
She continued as if she hadn’t heard me. “I loved your father too, you know.”
I rolled my eyes and sighed. “Mother…”
She cut me off, “He gave me you, after all.”
I nervously ran my hands through my hair because I had been down this road so many times with her. Her guilt was heavy and loud. And whether she knew it or not, she wove it throughout every interaction when I was a kid. Did she think I was stupid? At the very least she must have figured I had no emotional intelligence. For now anyway, it was best to just let her finish. I put my hands in the pockets of my jeans and stared at the pristine white floor and my less-than-pristine socks upon it.
“My boy, you think it’s easy…” She swept her shoulder-length grey hair from her collar, still staring out at the elms. “It is not. Marriage and children change everything. They take all the fun times: the wine-buzzed dinners, the lakeside rendez-vous’s, the playful phonecalls, the poems and the promises and they turn it all upside down. If you don’t have a strong, thick bond from your gut to hers, it will all turn to ash.”
“Mother, I…” I began. She turned sharply and looked me hard in the eye. I gulped and got quiet again. I hadn’t seen that look since I was a kid. Whatever it was she wanted to say, I was to listen.
“As I was saying, you need a strong energetic bond from your gut to hers. People think love is all about the butterflies and wet kisses. That’s not it at all. Love is God-given, and yet something that you will have to accept for yourself. It’s an affirmation- an admission that your lover is no different than you. It is heavenly solid ground.”
This was news. I knew my mother was somewhat spiritual. I mean, I knew she prayed. But the rest of it?
“You’ll feel it, darling- that tie to her gut. You’ll feel it because no matter what appears to go on, you will love her. You will see yourself in her. And while she will make your heart light and happy, your strength will be at the seat of your stomach. That is where your courage to go on- in spite of how hard it gets- will rest.”
She pursed her lips together and looked down for a moment as if she had a thought she did not know how to express.
“I know you think I feel guilt about your father, and I used to. Sometimes, I still do.” She looked distraught for a moment and then smiled. “You look so much like him, my boy.”
I reached for her arm- touched it lightly, reassuringly.
She continued, “But you see, I did not have the strength to love him as he deserved. It was something I had to cultivate within myself. I wasn’t ready then, darling. My gut was soft. There was nothing to hold us together when it all got difficult. I got scared. And back then, when I got scared, I ran.”
Something in me wanted to protect her when she said that. I wanted to crawl through time and somehow let her know she wasn’t alone. I waited a beat before speaking up. “It’s scary to be vulnerable,” I said instead, not knowing exactly where those words had come from.
My mother, misty-eyed, turned to me. “Yes,” she said. “But you help no one, least of all yourself, pretending a strength you do not have. Spend time with God everyday. Give all your thoughts- your wishes, your worries, your woes- to Him. This is how you build that inner strength. This is how you love- by remembering your safety…your innocence. And as you see it in yourself, you will begin to see it in others.”
She sighed once more, and turned back toward the horizon. I would have to let all of that settle in somehow. And I could feel that she was onto something. I knew she was so much calmer and peaceful than she was when I was young. I was grateful for her words, but she could become so…so grave sometimes! Which reminded me… “So what makes you think you’re going to die after Jonas does?”
It was her turn to roll her eyes and sigh, “Oh, for goodness sake. The way that man eats meat? And those nightly Scotches?”
She breathed in, long and deep. “I miss him, darling.”
I reached for her arm, this time linking it with mine and patting her hand lightly. “I know,” I said. And out of the corner of my eye I saw her bring her hand to her stomach and breathe deeply again. She closed her eyes a moment and then opened them, abruptly changing moods.
“More wine?” she asked.