On the phone with my mom last night. We were talking about finances and how she was trying to be “sensible,” I think was how she put it, about spending so that I’d have some money when she died. She said it just like that, “So you can have some when I die,” like she was talking about a Tuesday instead of the end of everything I ever loved.
I guess I don’t have to tell you that I cut that conversation short by screaming at the top of my lungs, “Don’t you ever! ever! say that again! ever again! ever! ever! Do you understand me?!” Multiple exclamation marks punctuated each word in my high-pitched frenzied voice.
“Well, honey, yeah, but…you just don’t like the word ‘died.'”
“No! That’s not it! Don’t say that again. Do you understand me?”
“Well, I guess, but….”
“Mother. No. Never again. DO. YOU. UNDERSTAND. ME.”
“I appreciate the sentiment behind the words. But I don’t ever want to hear those words again. Thank you, but just shut up about that.”
Why is it she’s feeling the need to make references to how her body’s not working like an 18 year-old’s all the time? I tell her yesterday about the running I’ve been doing at the gym, and her first response is, “Wow, I could never do that.” Well, duh, Mom. You’re not 28. You’re not expected to be able to do that. You’re expected to do things gently. I expect you to do things gently!
When we speak over these 10,000 miles of distance, she tells me how she can’t sleep at night, how her legs are falling apart because of whatever nerve or muscle problem is plaguing her, how her back hurts, how arthritis is squatting on the edges of some bones and have already set up permanent residence in others. I don’t like to hear how she’s getting older and how things are falling apart. I don’t like to hear the changes in my mom because if she falls apart, so does everything.
My mother is a concrete building with steel reinforcements and titanium screws in all of her joints. She is a fortress. (And I love that word “fortress” because it implies strength and protection in a sound that is feminine. And anyone who ever had a mom who was strong and protective knows that’s the perfect word.) To hear about a crack in the foundation, to hear about the potential of the fortress crumbling, to understand that indeed all things really do fall apart or lean to the side or turn into skeletons of their former vibrant selves is something that fills me with fear. Because really: once the fortress falls apart, the folks on the inside need to protect themselves. And maybe they’re not so prepared to do it on their own, having relied for 28 years upon the strength of the structure who protected them.
So perhaps I’ve made myself clear about our conversations on the phone. But making myself clear doesn’t do anything to change the fact that, like always, she’s right and I’m in a dreadful state of denial. No matter how old I get, no matter how many miles I can run on a treadmill, how many languages I can speak, how many places I’ve been in the world, it’s always going to be like that: Moms are always gonna be right. And kids are always not going to listen, and say, in the end, that they should have.