Oh Mother

One week.

That’s all that’s left before she’s gone.

You know what? I’ve had a great week. I’ve caught up on some sleep, I’ve had so much encouragement from friends about the growth I’ve made as a person in the last year, and I made Amish Friendship Bread for the first time without something bad happening to it or the people who ate it. I’ve even started making lists and plans for my next steps in life. The road is wide open before me; what can’t I do? (Don’t answer that.)

But once again, reality hits, just like the rain that’s been pelting the pavement for the past 12 hours. My mother – the one who bore me, raised me, protected me, stood by me, who I’ve alternately loved and hated – is being forced to leave the country in one week. When I see her on Monday, this will be the last time I see her for who knows how long. For years, I’ve been envisioning what this moment might be like.

Nothing prepared me for the tug-of-war that my heart would be fighting.

While I’ve been busy counting my blessings, she’s been counting her dollars and her days left and her options. I have helped with almost none of it. I’ve always felt that our relationship was this twisted, symbiotic blob where no one was quite sure who was the mother and who was the daughter. If I helped her, that would feel like a mother stepping in to rescue her daughter from the mistakes she’s made and enabling her to continue doing so. No, I had to steel my backbone and tell myself, “She’s a big girl; she’s made her bed and she can sleep in it. She’ll thank you for it one day.” And meanwhile, I mentally shake my head that these are actually the thoughts I’m thinking. Just when did I become the mother in this duo?  Have I taken one tentative step away from that craziness? Or am I a heartless, selfish daughter who is now guilty of turning away her own family in their time of need?

Growing up, there are sounds I heard every day that became part of my existence – to the point that when I hear them now, I’m instantly transported back to place I first heard them.

The clacking buckles of a guitar case. The slightly-sharp/slightly-flat process of tuning the guitar strings just right. The melodious picking of fingers moving so fast I could hardly see them. The heavy up-and-down strums, back to quiet picking. The scales, the suspended 4ths, the minor 5ths. I learned all of it without actually touching the guitar once. My mother was a master of this carved wood and string. She could move an entire crowd to tears as they heard her sing words pregnant with meaning. I can still remember some of them if I think really hard.

And then, for some reason, she put the guitar away and didn’t touch it for 7 years. The only evidence that she’d ever even written anything was a quarterly check we received from sheet music being purchased by her circle of listeners. She became someone else far removed from the idol I had worshiped growing up. Yet as much as I adored her, I knew that I would never want to play the guitar simply because she did. If I was going to be known for anything, people would not be able to say, “Of course she plays the guitar; just look at her mother!” Underneath the love and admiration was a deep desire to never be like her.

Honestly, I thought in 7 years, she must have lost her touch when it came to that guitar. After all, she’d lost touch with everything else in life and all I could do was watch and take more mental notes of what not to do.

But I was proven wrong. In 2 of our more recent visits, she has picked up and dusted off other people’s guitars and again I’m 6 years old, hearing those strings being plucked into perfection. It’s like there’s been an invisible magnet between her and this instrument, as though she can sense they are out of tune and she cannot sit by and let them stay that way. And somehow, she proceeds to wow me with new music material that is so spellbinding and even tear-inducing.

Somehow, this knowledge hurts more. When she plays, I glimpse the woman she once was, the ancient receiver of my adoration. But too much of real life has passed between those strings. They have been slammed, stretched, bent out of tune to the point where I can’t listen to what she says when she sings because it doesn’t line up with the rest of her life. I wish with all my heart that it did. People who hear her for the first time are amazed, but I have lived with what goes on when the guitar is inside the case, silent.

Maybe we all have an ” instrument” we hide behind. Something so camouflaging that we can hide our true selves behind it, something so enticing that no one would notice the difference unless they looked closely. The tears fill my eyes because as much as I know my mother, I don’t know her at all. She is an intimate stranger who has passed along the gift of music, a resilient spirit and not much more. This I grieve as I let her go, my little mother in the process of growing up.

If only I could bang the keys of a piano until I manipulated an answer from it. But I choose to not let this become my instrument of disguise. I will instead hide my soul in something — Someone — much greater, and I trust that I won’t get lost in the notes.

This is a beautiful song by City & Colour. Just change the word from “sister” to “mother” and it expresses my heart so well.

Oh sister,

What’s wrong with your mind?

You used to be so strong and stable.

My sister,

What made you fall from grace?

I’m sorry that I was not there to catch you.

What have the demons done?

What have the demons done?

With the luminous light that once shined from your eyes

What makes you feel so alone.

Was it the whispering ghosts

That you feared the most?

But the blackness in your heart

It won’t last forever.

I know its tearing you apart

But it’s a storm you can weather.

Oh sister,

Those lines etched in your hands

They’re hardened and rough like road map of sorrow.

My sister,

There is a sadness on your face

You’re like a motherless child who’s longing for comfort

Whats running through your veins

That’s causing you such pain?

Does it have something to do with the pills they gave to you?

What is eating at your soul?

Was it the whispering ghosts that left you out in the cold?

But the blackness in your heart

Will not last forever

I know it’s tearing you apart

But it’s a storm you can weather.

Oh sister…My sister.

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