She told me that I picked her, and she said it as if it were a stone cold fact, like it was one of the great truths of the universe, like god had told her himself. Her death was a blessing. I was finally off the hook, now I could start the big bad work of forgiveness. She was gone for good. As long as my mother was alive, screaming at me and trying to steal my body, I was her slave. Like a good Jewish daughter, I carried around sacks of guilt for not visiting her enough in the nursing home, for failing her when she needed me most. I got the news while I was on the freeway in Los Angeles, the earth had recently cracked open on the other side of the world, and even the though it had been a full week since the tsunami racked Indonesia, we were still feeling the effects. It started raining on December 26, the day of the tsunami, and over a week later, it’s still pouring. I’m on a freeway in Los Angeles, on my way to Hollywood to visit a friend, when my phone rings— it’s my Brother. “I’ve got some news…” I already know what he’s going to say, as a matter of fact, I tell him what he’s going to tell me, “She’s gone, huh?” I ask him if I can call him back in a few minutes, I need some time to check out how I’m feeling. I hang up the phone, feeling for my ever present guilt sacks. I can’t find them, I can’t find anything inside of myself. I feel empty. I’m fresh off a ten day silent meditation retreat, I feel so equanimous that the news of my mother’s death has failed to create a ripple in the still ocean of my mind. I stare at my hands on the steering wheel, these are her hands, feminine but strong, I have long fingers, and my veins are juicy and big, evidence that my hands are full of oxygenated life force. My sister used to say, “You have her hands, and your handwriting looks just like hers too,” which made me wonder if the design of my hands was related to the way I shaped my letters. My sister always recited her assessment with an air of disgust, like this was some terrible affliction, and I really should do something about my problem. But I love my hands, I often fall into narcissistic self appreciation regarding my hands, a gift from my mother.
Without thinking, I pick up my phone and dial my friend that I’m going to visit, Yvonne. When I tell her my mother is dead, she says, “congratulations, and by the way, don’t think about her, that way she won’t be able to find you.” I once took Yvonne to Osborn Manor to visit Charna, we all sat on the porch while she chain smoked her Raleigh 100’s and asked me when I was going to get her out of this hell hole–and—could she have my watch? I apologized to my mother and told her maybe someday I would take her home, and I would bring her a watch next time. I said things I didn’t mean. I said things to make us both feel better. Yvonne just watched our dance with eyes as big as moons, saying nothing, she told me after our visit that she was sorry, but she could never go with me again, my mother made her feel sick. She didn’t think I should go back either.
Charna knew psychic magic tricks. The few trips I made to see her at Osborn Manor would leave me drained of my life force. I would lay on my bed unable to muster the strength to move my body. I would close my eyes and wonder what was wrong with me, I felt possessed by some energy that had a forceless pulse, my body was hanging on to my head by a very weak thread, I was disconnected, and sometimes I wouldn’t be able to feel my feet. This wasn’t me, this was her.
Of course, seeing my mother hanging out in a wheel chair watching The Price is Right in a urine stenched day room bright with fluorescent lights took its emotional toll, but this was more. I started to think my mother was trying to steal my body. After all, we were once connected by a cord right at the center of my belly, and this is where I decided she would enter me, serving me a psychic eviction notice on a body she intended to reclaim for herself. I would gather my strength, roll out of bed onto the floor and bust out some crunches in an effort to reclaim my will and squeeze her thieving super natural vibration out of my body——it worked, but the extraction of my mother wasn’t something I wanted to get used to.
My mother’s mantra when I would visit her was, “get me the hell out of here!” Charna had her first stroke when she was 50, followed by 2 more strokes, bypass surgery, total kidney failure that required dialysis three times a week and several infections in her feet that moved up into her legs, leading to bilateral amputations, bit by bit…..off with her legs! She has suffered all of these insults by the time she was 56. I think she wanted out of her body, she was locked in a broken down jalopy, while I cruised around in a convertible sports car. Now that her spirit had been liberated from her clunker, she was free to carjack her youngest daughter who neglected her, and who felt guilty for doing it, I was the obvious choice, and not thinking about her made it harder for her to find me.
When I call my brother back, he has good news too. “Ashley is going to have the baby in 2 weeks!” My brother and his wife were pregnant for the first time, and Ashley was scheduled for a c-section. After we had hung up, Ashley called my brother while she was still at the doctor’s office. As we’re talking, the other line beeps, when he comes back and says, “The doctor said the baby needs to come sooner, they’re going to induce her tomorrow!” Neither of us says so, but it seems so obvious, Charna found herself a cream puff, brand new, never driven body.
“When the body dies, the soul lives on, and finds another body to live in,” these were some of the words I cut my spiritual teeth on. My mother was a proud reformed Jew, but her spirituality was freestyle for the most part, I suppose she figured if there was only one god and no devil, then what the hell, anything goes, she even wore a Star of David around her neck that sat on top of a cross. She was a fan of Jesus, she thought he was a great teacher, she was…….. really reformed. Charna instilled in us the concept of reincarnation, along with other far out ideas, like I actually chose her to be my mother before I was born. I imagined me up in heaven, all soulified, sitting on god’s lap, high on angel dust, looking down on my mom, thinking, “yeah, I’ll take her. She seems interesting.” Or god would place my potential mothers in a room, all holding hands in a circle. He’d blindfold me, and spin me around with my index finger pointing out, then he’d yell, “Stop!”…and when I did, he pulled off my blindfold, and my soul-skinned finger was pointing at Charna, a 6 foot full-figured brunette with almond shaped eyes and high cheekbones, the mother I chose smoked cigarettes like they were going to save her life, and never bothered to learn how to drive a car, she didn’t know how to swim, and it turned out, she didn’t know how to be a mother either. But the soul knows things that I do not, my super-savvy-soul picked her and I couldn’t take it back. I would spend most of my life wishing I could take it back, while my soul rejoiced in its brave and wise choice.
Given my upbringing, and tendency towards dreaminess and over analyzing most everything, the idea that my mother’s soul would now be housed in a fresh body that would play the role of my niece was an obvious conclusion. I didn’t unconsciously adopt my mother’s belief system without careful consideration; I spent many hours contemplating her philosophies. I would stare at the ceiling before falling asleep wondering, “What happens when I die? Do I just stop being?” The thought struck me as radical and impossible, my mind would stop, and I would be left with just wide open space that seemed to me the answer to my question…. I had a strong sense of the “me” that was beyond my body, the awareness of a me that was beyond my name, my age, and my shame, all of the things I was told were me were just decorations on a subtle but vast pulsation that I assumed without question was my soul, this was the part of me that was to live on after my body died. My mother gave me names for things that I was already experiencing, her teachings prompted me to notice myself, the self I would come to know as the truest most wise part of me. She was neglectful, selfish, and crippled in the ways of the world, unable to provide food and shelter on a regular basis…but the soul knows what the soul needs. My mother gave me wild other worldly gifts made of exotic materials that I would learn to use and appreciate when I was older.
By the time my mother died, I felt like I’d already been motherless for years, I had been losing her over and over ever since I could remember. I would cry when she would leave to go out on a date, she would put my 10 year old sister in charge of a 6 year old me and my 8 year old brother. I would sit on the toilet crying and watching her paint her Russian brown eyes with frosty blue eye shadow and liquid black eyeliner, pulling the inkiness over her top lid only, and dragging it just past her lid in a curl. I begged her not to go out, I cried and screamed, but she left anyway, hugging me and lying that she would be home soon. I wished she was different, I wanted a different mother. I wanted my mother to be like my friend Brandy’s mother. Debbie wore concert jerseys and blue jeans, not polyester pants and tight button down shirts whose buttons threatened to pop, exhausted from the work of keeping two big boobs from busting loose. Debbie spun Blondie and Frank Zappa on her turntable and was always at home with her two daughters, baking cookies, grilling chicken, sewing dresses, and brushing Brandy and Nancy’s hair into flawless pigtails or braids. My mother made a mess when it came to my hair, her parts were crooked, and my ponytails too tight, too high, my pigtails were always lopsided. I loved watching Pippi Longstocking on our hand me down black and white TV. Her braids stuck straight out like misplaced horns, but somehow she was still mostly happy, me and my lopsided pigtails—–we were mostly sad. She claimed to be a fan of classical music, though she never played any, and it was feast or famine at our house. Depending on where we were in the food stamp cycle, we would be dining on king crab legs with drawn butter, or I would be testing out the virtues of toothpaste as a meal. I never felt safe in my mother’s care. I always knew she didn’t know what the hell she was doing, I became hyper-vigilant, earning myself the nickname “worry wart.” I would pop up into my head coming up with dangerous scenarios, and searching for ways out. My favorite disaster was made of fire. I would sniff the air before going to sleep at night, my nose scanning for the smell of smoke. I expected someone to drop a match through a cracked window onto my bed, or our cat Tabitha to chew through a wire causing an electrical fire; my mother would come home from one of her dates, and because it was so late, she would be groggy, and fall asleep with a lit cigarette in her hand, and we would all die in a fire, and it would be her fault. Everything was her fault.
The first time she got sick, I was 8. She had been in bed for two days, unable to eat, my mother moaned in pain. I shared a bed with my mother, and the fear of losing her clung to me like a second skin. I woke in the middle of the night to my mother being taken away to the hospital. She told me she would be okay, but she had to go see a doctor now. She was bundled up in a blue blanket, shivering from pain. Her roommate and friend Rose, also a professional psycho, ( this is what I called my mother and her friends, I knew it wasn’t the right word, but that’s what came out when I told people what my mom did for a living.) drove her there, and never spoke to me or my brother about how she was, even though she was gone for four days. We never went to visit her, and I cried like a banshee, certain she was going to die. The morning after she went to the hospital, I was sitting outside on the front stoop of our house crying with all my might, I was crying, “mommeeeeee!!! Momeeeee!!” I was so alone with my grief, I was left again, this time I just knew she wasn’t coming back. I heard a voice coming from someone I couldn’t see…” where is your mommy honey, are you ok?” I woke up from my crying fit and embarrassed, I went inside without responding. Turns out it was kidney stones causing all the ruckus, my mother was fine, but I was already well into the process of letting her go.
I continued mourning for her when I was eleven, after she and my father broke up for the second time. She left us in Florida, and returned to Arizona, unable to care for us; and not doing a great job of caring for her self after a nasty ear infection that left her with debilitating vertigo. The Salvation Army bought her bus ticket back to the desert where she would live with my grandparents while she adjusted to a dizzy life without her children. Before she left, my mother came to say goodbye, my father had kicked her out about a month prior, and already a new woman was living with us, stepping into the mom role. Barbara met my mother on the car port in front of our trailer, my father couldn’t be bothered with the messiness. My mother wasn’t welcome inside, so Barbara granted her a meeting on a sunny afternoon, a request made by she who had surrendered her children to the only man she claimed to ever love. I clung to my mother, my skinny arms grabbing her around her waist as she shook Barbara’s hand, “Please take care of my children.” My soon to be stepmother replied, “I will”, and I felt my mother’s body tighten under my arms, I felt her fear. After my mother left, I cried myself to sleep most nights, my little heart breaking over and over, losing my mother over and over…..
Her illness wasn’t a surprise, and her death was expected. I was a motherless daughter long before I brought her purple wedding dress to the funeral home, the one she had requested to wear when she was cremated. I felt nothing once she left for good, I was cried out, because she had been leaving me my whole life. It really didn’t matter if her soul was or wasn’t living in the body of the little girl I called my niece, my mother, bestower of unwanted gifts, was gone.