I used to imagine what I would say to my mother if we ever met again. I thought a wave of pain and nostalgia would hit me and overwhelm me, that my voice would tremble, that maybe I would scream. I imagined tears rolling down my cheeks, my throat getting sore. I almost saw her pleading expression as she apologizes to me, and I, after a long and intense conversation, finally, graciously, forgive her. It was always so emotional in my mind.
But now I stare into the face of the woman who raised me and instead of deep, meaningful emotions I am hit with a sudden, bizarre realization.
That woman changed my diaper eight thousand times.
I try to shake the thought away, to focus on something else, anything else, but I can’t. I suppose it’s because I just changed a diaper myself, not even thirty minutes ago, right before I left home.
“How you’ve been?” she asks casually as if we’re friends.
It’s been ten years. How do you answer such a question after ten years?
“Fine,” I reply in a cold tone. It’s all I can come up with. I try to focus on how she looks, how she changed. This is a woman who cared for six children. That’s at least six hundred sleepless nights. You can see that life took its toll on her.
“That’s good, that’s good,” she says, trying to get the conversation going. “And how’s Emily?”
“Emily’s fine,” I answer almost immediately, my tone even colder than before.
“I brought her something.” She reaches for her purse and pulls out a blond-haired baby doll in a pink dress. She puts it on the table. “I thought she would like it,” she adds.
I don’t take it.
We sit in silence for a few long seconds before the waitress shows up with our coffees. She lays them next to the doll on the table. My mother opens the sugar packet and pours it into the hot brown liquid. I’m not even sure I want to drink. This is excruciating.
“What do you want?” I ask bluntly, feeling fed-up with this charade and this ridiculous diner. Could she have picked a place that’s more out for character for her than his? Did she think it would make me feel more comfortable? She always hated restaurants. We rarely got take-out, she always cooked. She must have prepared a meal for us over nineteen thousand times.
“I wanted to know how you were,” she starts hesitantly, “and I thought maybe I could see Emily”.
“That’s not happening,” I say with a sneer.
“She’s my granddaughter. I want to meet her,” she pleads.
“You have four more grandchildren. You’ll manage.”
She grows visibly offended at the words. It’s the same expression she used to have whenever I tried to lie to her and she wouldn’t believe me. I mostly lied about whether I finished homework. I would get scolded for lying and then she would help me with math and check all my essays. We’ve probably done homework together a thousand times.
“Jane, when you left us-”
How dare she.
“I didn’t leave you. I left the church.”
She opens her mouth as if to object, and stops herself at the last second. But I’m not letting it go.
“You kicked me out.”
“That was a long time ago.”
I stare at her, dumbfounded. My voice turns bitter. “Well, I have a good memory.”
“You turned against everything I taught you, our whole way of life,” she tries to explain, “it was insulting. What was I supposed to do?”
“You were supposed to support me,” I say in a firm tone.
“Support leaving Our Lord? You know I couldn’t have.”
She doesn’t let me interject and instead starts talking faster. “You were already eighteen. And you made it abundantly clear you didn’t belong in our home anymore.” A newfound sense of certainty seems to rise in her with every word. “How would our family even work after your declaration? Did you stop to think how it would affect your siblings?”
My three brothers and two sisters. Over nine hundred Sundays that spent together in the same uncomfortable church bench, praying. Six baptisms, six first communions, but only five confirmations.
She looks down at her coffee. “It was an obvious choice.”
I let her words sink in. Countless retorts pass through my mind, but they stay there, and I stay silent. This is pointless.
“I have to be back home in an hour for Emily’s feeding,” I state matter-of-factly. “So if you have anything else you want to say, say it.”
Please say it.
She perks up at my words. “You’re nursing?”
I let out a resigned sigh. “Yeah.”
“I breastfed you till you were two, you know,” she says with a wistful smile on her face.
Two years. That would make around four thousand three hundred and eighty feedings. I don’t remember any of them of course, but I can almost see it. My mother laying on the bed, on her side, relaxed. I lie right next to her, a baby, and she’s holding me close, caressing my head, nursing me until I fall asleep. The room is quiet. Peaceful.
I take a sip of my unsweetened decaf. It’s dreadful. My throat is burning.
“Well, the first two weeks were rough. I had to give her a bottle a couple of times,” I say, directing my mind further back into reality.
“Oh, that’s completely normal!” She exclaims, obviously happy that I shared that experience with her. “What’s important is that you didn’t give up.”
But you gave up on me, I want to say. Instead, I take another sip.
“Motherhood is hard,” she continues, “full of trials. I can’t even count how many times I thought I’m not going to make it.”
The numbers pop into my head. Four thousand three hundred and eighty feedings. A thousand times we sat together to do homework. Six hundred sleepless nights. Over nine hundred Sundays. Nineteen thousand cooked meals. Eight thousand diapers. So much work. So much sacrifice.
And I just need two words.
You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.
I love how you use numbers to pull the story forward; it works perfectly in this case. I thought that the conversation had a really nice flow to it, too. Well done!
Love the story! The story, for me personally, would've been more compelling if there was more clarity on the trauma between the two characters. A flashback perhaps? Or even the narrator being less reserved in confronting the mother? Something that aides the allusion to practices like Disfellowshipping (the part where the mother justifies kicking out the narrator) in aligning me with the narrator.
Thanks for reading. It probably would add to the story, especially if I did something like going back and forth between past and present. But when I was writing it I only had an idea for a simple conversation and I focused mainly on the flow of it rather than on anything else. I enjoyed writing it though so I might come back to these sorts of topic in the future :D
Powerful! I love that any reader knows the two words she's searching for. The confliction between what her mother did FOR her all those years and TO her all those years is really evident. I'm so curious if she leaves after that comment, or engages more with her, or if that's kind of the point of the open-ended end.
Thanks for reading! I wanted to stop the conversation there because I felt that I have shown everything I needed to understand the problem and relationship. In my mind the conversation wasn't too long after that. They both ended up empty handed and it was, in a way, pointless.
Isn't it funny how we long for acceptance and understanding from those we love--even when we know they're flawed and often just wrong? I think it's a universal truth, which you captured brilliantly here.
Thank you. I think my own experiences in motherhood influenced this one heavily. :)
Hi Zoe, I really enjoyed this story. I like the open ended finale. And her appreciation for all that her mother did for her. Good take on the prompt too. You’re a great writer! I took different slant on the same prompt. Life is so interesting isn’t it. Thanks for writing!
Thanks for reading :D