Her general manner, at first, was a brutal mix of willed-efficiency and hasted-love. She was walking on the edge of a precipice, she said often, verging on the great escape. You must, she told me, Do things fully or not do them at all. There is no half-measure to living. No pause. No break or two-star-motel vacations. I’d asked her, once, where she’d categorise ‘napping’. Don’t be such a child, she said, We are not children. Are you a child, she said, Of course, no, of course, you aren't.
Of course, I wasn't. So I killed my naps.
My mother has not known satiety in her life. Simply collected phantom-satisfactions, as short-lived as they were meaningless. She has mistaken the slinking years for something permanently hers, an always. A forever. I have watched her deteriorate. First, the teeth sank in one too many of my hopes. The skin, then, sagged from her arms and legs in slow limping ribbons. The bones, next, broken by years more times than I recount. And her heart, ah! Her heart. Raking against its cruel cage. Dying? No! Breaking? No! Decaying? Eh, maybe. But beating one more day, a day after that, and for the rest of her life. And mine. An always. A forever.
She was never kind. Kindness was not life. Nothing compatible with survival, she would argue. It was a prey’s move, and she pride - a - tor her in being its opposite. I’m on either two sides of a gun, she told me once, Somehow always winning. I don’t know that it was luck, I don’t think that it was. It was mental. Maybe drive. Regardless: cruel, void, endless ambition. An always, I suppose. A forever. I would have hoped that, by the time sickness made a home in her, she'd have seen things differently. Seen, me, differently.
After two months, not one. Two full months. After two full months, she had made peace with her teaching. You are a lost cause, she said, You know that? I knew that. It was the voice she used when she knew she was right. It was the voice she used when she knew I knew she was right. It was the voice she used when asking if I wanted a drink, meaning: I want one. Or the voice she used when saying, You should make yourself more available. Every night after work and the weekend as well. She said, Don’t you think that would be nice? To see more of me? And she meant: this is not a suggestion.
Of course, I thought that would be nice. So I killed my free time. She was planting her teeth around my throat with such strength, I was never sure who was older, more fragile, sick, dying. I imagine weakening draws hopelessness. Sucking my life out of me was a type of preservation. How could I hate her for it?
In October of 2018, it began to rain faintly. Her voice was dead in her throat and she coughed out nice red tulips. A life’s only nine months, she said. Nine months, she said, and fuck the rest. I don’t think she meant it exactly as she said it, at this point of her decline, she’d decided on using the word fuck as much as she could. She laughed, coughed, bled, died a little, and looked up at me with her triumphant smile. Not this time, she mocked. I’m not gone. Nine months, you hear me, she said. Fuck, she said, Fuck as much as you can. I’ve never seen you with a girl, she said. You’re not gay, she said, Are you? And she meant: I listened when you came out, I chose not to hear.
Of course, I was not gay. Or in love. How could I be in the nine last months of her life? So I killed my relationship.
My mother never apologised for the ways she chose to cover up the walls inside my head with trauma until the day she died. And even then, syllables rolled from her tongue with great difficulty. I doubt she'd ever measured the power of her unloving mouth and infamous motherhood. I suppose it wasn't exactly fair that all the times she didn't make space for me to be heard have rendered the moments she did null and void. I collected her fake 'sorrys' under the nails, digging through lifetimes of memories to find more colourful polaroids of my childhood. I'd pinned the mind-photographs of her happy in some drawers of the skull. In places, I could retrieve and replay them when she made her last months a little too hard on me.
Also, after nine more months, she called me into her room. She said That’s nine months today. I’m fucking immortal, she said, Do you hear me? I M M O R T A L. Mama, I said, you’re a lot of things and immortal’s not one of them. I meant: die, I’m so tired. She laughed, my mother. She laughed, she spat a little piece of her lung or heart on the bed between our two cramped silhouettes. You’re going to miss me, she said, When I’m gone. I said, no. And I meant: no. She slapped me, on the cheek, on all the other lockdown bruises. She was surprisingly strong for a sick woman. Or maybe it was just that I could feel her bones through her skin. You’re a piece of shit, she said, You know that? Ungrateful piece of shit.
Of course, I knew that. So I killed my mom.
I did not kill her. I am not a killer. Just a kill-her.
I said my truths, I told her I was in love and out of love with the idea of a mother. I said I liked my free time when I had time to be free. I said, I fucking hate martinis, I’m only drinking them for you. I said, I hope you’ll die soon. I meant: I hope you’ll die soon. I said, I am not going to miss you. I said, I am not going to miss a life you’ve written for me. I am going to be alive. I am going to be alive for longer than nine months. She smiled. Good, she said, You got it all. She smiled, she laughed, she died.
This was my mother's grand apology. The quiet 'sorry' she'd carry with her to the grave. She heard me with the eyes, that night. Loved me with the heart in intensities I'd never been loved. She mended to the bruises, cuts and cruel shredding apart of years spent faking my own nature. She smiled, she laughed, she died, and suddenly I was alive.