This Is Me Trying
I remember this, I whisper to myself, as I hold the old, wooden, heart-shaped box in my hands. I brush the tip of my thumb over the engraving, written in a childish scrawl.
Written by me, years ago.
Misty-eyed, I read “To Mom, Love, Em.” The word “Mom” is much bigger, and slanted sideways. “Em” is extra small, and if you didn’t know this gift was from me, you probably wouldn’t be able to make out the name.
It seems so impossible, the world in which this tiny box was made. Years ago, more than a decade, actually.
I want to be that little girl again; the girl who didn’t hesitate when her teacher asked her to “give this box to the one you love the most.” The girl who knew even her worst nightmares were no match for her Mom. The daughter who dared to fall because she knew her Mom would be there to pick her right back up.
Those days are gone. A lot has happened since then.
There’s college, and there’s my choices. I’ll use the word “choices'' as a generous placeholder. There’s Dad, and his choices, which really translates to “Dad and his new wife.” And there’s Mom, and her --- consistency. She never changed. That’s why this hurts so badly.
It’s all on me. I’m the one who changed.
We don’t talk anymore, we can’t talk anymore. We don’t know how.
When we see each other, grief, envy, resentment, and rage rush to the surface like an untamed tidal wave --- crashing, colliding, destroying--- everything, all at once. Only here, storm struck, can we find common ground.
I don’t know how to be any other way.
I don’t know how to get my Mom back.
I walk over to the table in the room and set the box down. It’s then when it happens; as the box leaves my hand and meets the desk, I can feel something shift within the box. I don’t remember putting anything in it.
Too curious to resist, I unclick the painted latch and slowly open the box. What is it that my Mom put in here? What has stood the test of time, and remained here, tucked away under the medicine cabinet?
Flipping the lid fully over, I see what’s inside.
I stare at the empty space within and wait for my eyes to finally locate the object hiding in plain sight. But there is nothing. Really, what had I been expecting? An old macaroni necklace, my binky?
I guess anything, would have been enough.
Hot tears sting my eyes, and I slam the lid shut so hard that I crack the rim, splintering the wood.
I don’t want to be here anymore.
I leave Mom’s house, knowing if we see each other today, I’ll just start a fight. I’ll do it for no good reason, too, just because it feels good.
I put the box back where I found it, then drive straight to my apartment.
When I finally arrive, I don’t even acknowledge my darling Chihuahua-Terrier, Holly, welcoming me home. I hurry past her and head for the bathroom. Quickly, I run cool water over my hands and neck, feeling a panic attack coming on.
Exhale on effort, my track coach used to say, and so I repeat this to myself now. It’s become my mantra when I find it too hard to breathe.
Exhale on effort, exhale on effort, exhale on effort.
There. The redness in my cheek starts to fade, the incessant internal itching subsides, and the room comes back to me with clarity.
I sit down on my bed, and Holly hops up on my lap. We lay there, together, in silence. She’s enough for me, I think. Even on Valentine’s Day, the doomsday for singletons like me, I’m ok.
And I know I was overreacting just now, with that old box. But, I can’t escape the past. I carry it with me into everything new and good. I’ve learned that triggers, even predictable ones, can creep up on you.
I’m scrolling through Twitter when a notification pops up on my screen.
It’s a text message from Mom.
I bite my lower lip and timidly click on it.
Hey, thought you were coming over for lunch?
I hesitate, then type back,
Want to, but feeling sick.
Those three, maddening dots bob below, indicating she’s texting me back.
I figured as much. I’m about to shut my phone off when an image suddenly appears in our chat. It’s a picture of the old, wooden, heart-shaped box I found earlier.
Went looking for this today and found it under the medicine cabinet. Best Valentine’s Day gift.
I stare at my screen. A second passes. Then another. Then,
I don’t even hesitate.
Miss you too, Mom.
I sit at my desk, notebook in hand, and open Paperblanks on my phone. My therapist told me to journal when I’m feeling some type of way, and recommended this app. Today’s prompt is, “Something I learned today was . . .”
I don’t have to wait for my thoughts to form. With eagerness and ease, the truth flows from pen to paper, and I begin to write:
Something I learned today was . . . that I want my Mom back. I know we won’t ever be as close as we once were, and I have to come to terms with the “won't bes” of us. We won’t be the same person, we won’t like the same things. We don’t think alike, we don’t look alike, and we don’t see the world the same way. Our love languages are polar opposites, as is our taste in food and men. And the content we intake and put back out into the world is so drastically different, it’s hard to believe she really is my Mom.
But she is my Mom.
Isn't that the point?
She is my Mom, and that’s worth something to me. It’s worth everything to me. For her, I'll keep trying.
And in her own way, I know she will, too.