Friday, May 8, 2015

A Letter To Mom: If You Could See Me Now

Circa 1984: Me and Mom
The last time I wrote about my mother was Mother's Day of 2013. And yet as Mother's Days continue to come and go, I find myself feeling further and further removed from it, primarily and directly because the number of years my mother has been dead continues to increase with each passing observance. I guess that is what happens, though, isn't it? You might notice that I did not say that my mother is "deceased", "passed away", or "gone". I wrote that she "has been dead". While that might seem harsh, you would at least grant me that it is the truth. I hate writing it, not because I don't like the word, but because I am using it to describe my mother. Even so, I would bet that it jars me less than it does most, because I have spent years facing and accepting the fact that she is dead, rather than deluding myself into a comforting fantasy of her continued existence, somewhere, somehow, benevolently looking down upon her favored son. Delaying grief via denial is rarely the healthy choice, it is instead only a diversion. Look, she died. It was the saddest fucking day of my life. But even the worst days eventually end, don't they?

Mom in her 80's
What is comforting to me is knowing that in her 86 years, she lived a great deal, part of which included making me. I can't tell you how happy I am about that happening! Her death truly flipped me over and turned me inside out, but it also reminded me that you can do a lot in 86 years, if that is how many years you have. It reminded me that when it is over, it is over, so I had better get busy living. It reminded me that nobody hears prayers after they are dead, so you better say what you want to say while they are alive. It reminded me that no amount of creative thinking can surpass the scientific fact that my mother is imprinted in my very cells--that every gaze, every touch she bestowed was received not only on the surface, but also by the interior. She is, for lack of better terminology, inside me. Who needs heaven when I have her in my DNA?

Whenever Mother's Day approaches, I find myself wondering what Mom would think about my life if she were alive to see it today. She was always proud of me, but boy, if she could see me now. I would, of course, have to catch her up a bit.

May, 2015

Dear Mom,

Good gracious I fucking miss you. 

You have been dead for over six years now. Mother's Day is coming up soon, and yet again I won't have anyone to buy flowers and a card for. Thanks a lot, Mom! What am I supposed to do with Mother's Day for the rest of my life? I feel like the "little boy that Santa Claus forgot". Did you think about that when you shut down your body at the age of eighty-six, long after your mind had
deteriorated from Alzheimer's? Nooooooo. Your excuses won't cut it here, Mom. Would it have killed you to have just once, before you died, thought about how it would affect ME? Look at me, I am raving to a dead person, that is what it has come to. But at least I am not as bad as that guy at the gym who sings along to his private music like he is a pop star. Sigh, what does one do when after they have lost the one person who will give them undivided attention no matter where, when, or what. What does one do?

Comedian Louis C.K. has a joke that says how a lot of things happen after you die, just none of them include you! I think that is funny. Well, a lot of things have happened in my life since you died, and while none of them include you, they all are a reflection of you. In fact, my whole damn life has been full of choices influenced by our relationship. My life is because of you, then was developed with you, then was in reaction to you, then in response to you, then in respect to you, then in celebration of you, and finally, in honor of you. 

You are gone, but I won't let go, so I suppose we should at least catch up. 

The first thing you must know is that I finally passed my exams and am now a fully licensed psychotherapist. It was a ten year process, but I love being a therapist, Mom. I have learned so much about compassion and patience, and sitting with someone's pain. There is more to being a therapist than sitting with someone's pain, of course, but that is certainly a big part of it. Nobody "sits" with another's pain anymore, I notice. People assuage, they comfort, they utter bland reassurances, they run away, they publicize, but rarely does someone simply sit, witness, hold, and honor the process. If this weren't necessary I would be out of a job, but it is, so I am not. Our culture does us a great disservice by shaming pain, or maybe the blame should be on the free market for selling happiness as the highest state of being. Whichever it is, I am here to confront the problem and ease the pain.

I feel a sort of "love" for my clients, but it is not the usual kind of love. It is a love based on caring and service, knowing that it may not be reciprocal. And yet I am only able to feel that for my clients because of what I have concluded about love in the outside world. A great deal of that I learned from you. You taught me that love is not easy, but it is also not often a choice. You taught me that love feeds hope, and that it feeds life. Love softens death, and calms the tiger. Love can be quiet, or it can be loud, but it is most often quiet because it does not need to be loud. (Lust is loud, but love is quiet.) You also taught me that love can breed fear--fear of loss, disappointment, need, and change. Fear shows up in the therapy office all the time. I sit with clients who want so badly to control love, and I tell them that they can neither control it nor deny it without disastrous results; so the best policy is to walk with it, notice what it wants to show you, then make some sort of choice. 

Mom preparing a Christmas dinner
Remember that time when I was a teenager, Mom, and I was in so much conflict about my homosexuality that I was acting out like a total ass? You asked me why I was doing this, and you wanted to know what happened to your "Tony". I answered you by saying that I was trying to get you to stop loving me so much (I felt like a fraud of a son). To this day I remember your response. You looked at me and quietly said, "If you think I can do that, then you don't know anything about love." And truth be told, I didn't. I didn't realize that no matter what I did, no matter who I was, no matter who I wanted, that  you would never stop loving me. Never. Not even a bit less. Even if I felt, at that moment, like I did not deserve it. 

On that day, with that response, I learned something about love. 

You have probably guessed that I don't dance professionally anymore, Mom, but I certainly do dance in my apartment. Music is still a driving force in my life--you passed that on to me. In fact, I think of you every time I play Shirley Horn or Cassandra Wilson or Harry Connick Jr. When I listen to music I wish that you were there with me, because you knew how to listen to music--you listened with your body. I remember that time when I took you to see Cheryl Bentyne perform, and you and I were moving in our seats to her glorious vocals, like some secret language between us. At one point we noticed a man sitting in front of us who was staring straight ahead, motionless, with a grim mouth.
Mom in her 80's in Montana.
It's all about those shoes.
I knew at that moment that we both felt sorry for that man, so unable or unwilling to let go to the music, as though he were immune to a magic that was affecting all those around him. You got the music, Mom, and when it was playing we didn't need to say a thing. 

You would love my apartment, but you would blush at some of the artwork, because there is a penis or two in the pieces. But I would not hide them when you visited, because the paintings are beautiful, and I am not ashamed of my appreciation of penises, and I suspect that at some point in your life you appreciated them too. You would be comfortable in my home, and we would have fun, visiting coffee shops and farmer's markets for sure, but most of our meals would be eaten here since I would cook up a storm for you. Do you know how much I love to cook, Mom? I even know how to make your Chicken Cacciatore. My comfort in the kitchen started from watching you--the way you set a table, your willingness to vary the menu, your insistence on serving a salad with every meal. Granted, what you cooked was based in the 70's aesthetic, meaning home cooking as well as plenty of TV dinners, casseroles, and pot pies, but you were a product of the culture, like everyone else. And your homemade tacos were the best.

You would notice that I have hundreds of books in my place, and almost as many pieces of clothing. The book titles might confuse you, but you would like the clothes in my closet. I buy things that flatter the long legs you "gave" me, and like you, I have remained slender. I favor style over fashion. Don't you think for a minute that I didn't notice everything about your attention to detail and beauty. I took it all in, and have applied it to my life and surroundings. 

My friends love me and show me great care. 
Mom at her sister's wedding.
She was in her 50's here.
I am sure that I would have them over one night and make a big fuss about you visiting. You might be a bit embarrassed, but I could not help myself from showing you off. My friends always seemed to love you, but the boyfriends not so much! You could be cold at times with those who required my love, but you just felt that nobody was good enough for me, and I confess that you have me convinced of that myself. You didn't really do me a favor in that department, Mom, but what can I do at this point. 

Not that it matters that much. I am getting older, which means that I am simplifying, slowing down, and enjoying my own company. Granted, for me slowing down means that I run at the speed of most thirty-five year olds, but it is a slow down nonetheless. It is welcome though, because for so many years I never stopped. I couldn't stop--I wasn't ready to be with myself. But now I am, and I wish I could show this to you. 

Anyway, Mom, I have to go finish another essay I am writing. It started out as a Mother's Day post, but I think it is turning into something more political. It is always good to cloak your opinions in sentiment, I like to say. I am a writer, and I have a lot to say, and some people like to read what I have to say. You would be surprised at how big my mouth is now, but I am pleased to tell you that there is less anger coming out of it now than when I first found my voice. I smile more now.

But oh, the world gives me lots to talk about, Mom. It is, in many ways, a grand mess. There are some horrible people doing horrible things to others in the name of who knows what, but I suppose that has always been going on. You would not like it, I suspect.
1970--I was eight.
You would not understand why people are glued to phones all day, why dating has become something like thumbing through the Sears catalog, or why Kim Kardashian is famous. Meanwhile there are just as many rooting for love and simplicity, who refuse to listen to the story our culture has written. I wonder which camp you would be in, Mom, but not so much. You were always ahead of your time, while still being rooted in it. I wonder who you would have been had you been born in the 50's or the 80's instead of the 20's?   

But what I really want to tell you, Mom, is that beyond the gifts and graces that you gave me, I have really become a self-made man. The life you would see around your son these days started with you, but has blossomed through my own efforts. I have always had a vision of a good life, even when it did not feel so good; not a life full of material goods and success, but one full of people, laughter, support, food, sharing, care, celebration, simplicity, respect, music, nature, and love. That has always been my vision, and this is the life that I want to show you now. In the truest sense, I have made something of myself, Mom. I have become a kind man, and I wish more than anything that you could see me now. You would smile and be proud, knowing that you did alright. You did alright. But above all, I did alright. 

I carry you within me every moment. Happy Mother's Day.

Your son,

Summer 1980--Saying goodbye