Tuesday, January 26, 2010

an unexpected gift

I hugged my mother the other night. 
You might not think this is a big deal or worth blogging about. But. If you know me, or more to the point if you know my mother you know she is a hard woman to hug, and it’s been years since we’ve embraced. For one thing, I usually hate my mother. She is a powerful force in my life, though not in the way she might like to be. My relationship with her sends me back to my psycho-spiritual tool box over and over, yearning to find a way to forgive us both and be kind-ish. 
But hug-wise, honestly, it’s the Vaseline. Have I mentioned this before? My mom has been moisturizing with petroleum jelly for as long as I can remember. Really it’s more like shellack. Or lube. And lube and my mother in the same sentence? Egads. If you're like me, you don't want to know when it comes to your parents’ sex life, as in, Please Lord let me have been an immaculate conception. The white-knuckled prayer. 
And speaking of prayers, we joke about my mom and her Vaseline in our family. You know the Lord's prayer? Well my mother does the kitten's prayer. She knuckles a bit of slick from her forehead, chin and cheeks so she doesn't leave a trail of slime, which according to my step-dad Joe who discovered and coined the kitten's prayer, doesn't do much good. The desk in the guest room is covered, he says. So we are not only disrespectful to my mother but to the Lord. Is there no salvation? I believe there is. And yet.
The ends of my mother’s hair, which she wears layered, auburn and flat-ironed in the style of women half her age, hangs wettish and lank around her face. If you spy her cheeks up close you can see bits of lint sticking, caught like flies to flypaper. Add to this my mother’s penchant for groping family members. “Get over here and give your old mother a hug!” She’ll demand, fingers splayed, arms reaching, lips stretched forward as if those twin ribbons of pink flesh could outrun her teeth, all in anticipation of some bodily contact. I cower by the door with my coat still on she grabs my kids and sniffs their heads deeply before burrowing her lips into the virgin silk of their innocent necks and covering them with audible wet smacks. They squirm and scream as she huffs their odors like a glue addict, and bellows, “Oooh I just love you so much!” And I snarl, “If you love them so much then why don’t you honor their boundaries? You’re like a rapist, Mother.” Then I give myself a mental note to bathe them. 
I am such a bitch. 
But the other night in addition to taking Hamish and Stella for the night so Bryan and I could go on a hot date, my mom had just shampooed her hair, let it dry naturally which I don't think I've seen on her since 1976, and had just the slightest gleam high on her cheekbones while remaining suspiciously matte everywhere else. When she held her arms out I balked at first like usual, but then I said, “You know what? You’re not grossing me out right now. I really like your hair tonight and think I will give you a hug.” 

She wet her pants she was so excited, which was unfortunate. No. I’m joking. But she did beam the same way Hamish does when he receives an unexpected gift. The same childlike twinkly-eyed delirium. 
We held out our arms ceremoniously and then, embraced as carefully as if we were packing heirloom china into moving boxes. She smelled clean and her torso felt soft but strong and motherly, the way it used to when I was ten and had nothing against her, before she dragged me to Chicago the summer before seventh grade, before my anger at her cauterized into the hardened scar it feels like most days. When I was fifteen she deflected my rage like a mosquito. She called it a phase as she lit another cigarette. It's been twenty-five years. As in, enough already, right? 
As we pulled away from each other I was so taken with how okay it was to embrace my mom after years of not hugging that I thought, maybe, just maybe I am getting somewhere. I hugged her two more times just to see if it was still amenable, or if it had been a one-hit wonder, a fluke. But it was still okay. I placed my head to the left of her head. Then I tried it to the right. I thought, this is amazing. I am hugging my mom and I don’t even mind it. It actually feels...nice. I said, "Mother, I feel it's important to let you know... It's possible..." She lowered her chin to get a better read on my eyes. "It's possible...that I love you." 

"Oh I know that," she said. "Now go to dinner and have a good time."

So we did, with me in the passenger seat, saying, "Did you see that Bryan? Three times I hugged her!" He was like, "Very good honey. You're not a total bitch after all."

"I know," I marveled as the city lights glazed our minivan.

Hopefully she’ll lay off the lube for good. 


kristi said...

this could be a short story. beautiful. i love it.

elise said...

thank you kristi. mucho love.

Amelia Plum said...

great post elise. you're so good at capturing your mom (love the 'oh i know. now go to dinner and have a good time' and your conflicting emotions. how long has she been using the vaseline on her face. i love the collage of pictures too.

オテモヤン said...