“Mom, I’m home.”
“Shhhhh. One must not disturb the creative flow of an artist.” I stared aghast at the once beautifully adorned living room. Now a giant easel was propped up in the middle of the room. The fluffy Persian rug from mother’s adventures in antique collecting was splattered with paint drops. Grimy newspapers littered the floor, also dotted with paint blobs. Regal paintings from the Baroque time period that had once been hung up around the room were now stacked in a pile in the corner. There were instead abstract paintings that seemed to be in the style of Picasso tacked up all over the walls.
And front and center, with a picturesque barrette perched on her head, was my mother. Her dirty blond hair tied up messily in a knot; quite different from the dark black hair she’d acquired last week. A drab gray smock covered her body already splattered with colors of black, blue and red.
“What is it now?” I dropped my backpack on the ground and tugged off my coat.
“Oh, don’t look so disapproving, dear. I’m merely experiencing the depths of abstract art. Said to be cleansing for the soul. The classical art as we have here,” she gestured to the pile of baroque art, “
“What about antique collecting?”
“Tsk. One must not dwell in the legacies of the past, but the possibilities that lies ahead.” I could’ve said something snarky right then and there, such as, ‘But isn’t Picasso something of the past?’. But mother wouldn’t be amused by that. Well, she’s become a rather complicated person recently. Actually, not that recently.
I guess I’d always been living in a rather stereotypical ‘rich girl’ life. Our family lived in a beachside condo in New Jersey. I attended a prestigious private academy for my elementary school years. I won’t dwell on all the luxuries and perks of being the daughter of a wealthy investor, because soon enough those perks disappeared.
The 2008 financial crisis hit our family especially hard because my dad was a big investor but went bankrupt in the height of the financial crisis. I was twelve when in a whirlwind of chaos, I had to leave my fancy school for a regular private school and our luxurious condo for a neighborhood apartment.
Okay, so we weren’t like poor, in fact we would still be considered probably middle class but going from little princess of the Jersey Shore to the average middle school kid was a big jump. The only thing worse than being poor is being poor only after you’re rich.
It took a long time to adjust. I guess I did better, since my parents did everything they could do to shield me from the humiliation. But my mother and father who had to endure snarky newspaper titles like, “The Epic Dethroning of the Marple Family: From Riches to Rags”, or “WHICH Wall Street Investor Gone Bankrupt?”. The stark change in fortune killed my father. Yes, he died of heart attack after two years of this torture. The media had calmed down by then and moved on to other harrowing dramas. But the humiliation and utter embarrassment in my father ran deeper than that. It broke him away bit by bit until he started having heart failures more and more frequently until the dramatic climax was reached- and then he died.
I’d say I was saddened, like yes, he was my father. I was of his blood and bones. But I couldn’t let him forget that for the first twelve years of my life he’d merely regarded me as a child. No, not his child; a child. He’d neglect me, and buy me candy or clothes to quell my temper instead of patiently talking it through with me like a regular father. His death hit my mother fairly hard.
She was a sturdy type of person. A strong beam of support in my life. She was the real parental figure. In fact, I supposed she made up for the lack of parenting my father gave me, since she was the double package. Many hours at the park or field would be spent with her teaching me how to throw and catch, how to play soccer, and how to play basketball. Then she could be the maternal side; comforting me and kissing my bruises.
When we lost our fortune, she still stayed strong. She slid into the housewife role easily, even though in her past life she’d always had a maid and chef to do the housework. But without a complaint, she cooked, cleaned, and catered to both mine and my father’s needs. But after the death of my father, the years of sadness, grief, and humiliation caught up to her.
Mom no longer cared for her appearance, she let her rich chestnut colored hair go gray. No makeup, manicures, or spa treatments anymore. Instead of custom-tailored gowns and suits, she wore a simple sweatshirt and pants around the house. For hours on end she would stare off into blank space, and it frightened me. She’d always been my strong support, and I could feel her just breaking away. Every time I came home from school she would either be curled up on the couch staring out the window, or sitting at the table with a mug of hot water with a blank expression on her face. When I spoke to her, she would respond monotonously without thinking.
“Mom, how was your day?”
“What was good about it?”
“The good stuff that happened.”
And so on. I guess this was how she felt when I was younger and replied like this to her queries about my day. It was unnerving to have the roles switched, but she had been there for me, and now I had to be here for her.
One day, I came home from school and instead of my mother staring morosely at a blank wall, I found her stretched out on a yoga mat. The TV was blaring with some calming yoga tutorial. That was the first time the TV had been turned on in nearly a year. Instead of baggy pants and oversized sweatshirt, my mom was wearing a sports bra and athletic leggings. Her graying hair was tied up in a high ponytail and she looked surprisingly happy and healthy. From a forward stretch, she stood up and took a few deep breaths.
“Oh hello there, Adeline.”
“Wow mom! What’s this...?”
“I’ve decided to take up yoga!” She chirped cheerfully. Without waiting for my response, she stretched herself out on the floor again and continued doing more exercises. It was a refreshing and hope-filled moment for me. I knew there was still a little bit of that energy in my mom, and I was glad to see it. Soon, I realized that her energy was short-lasted. She would give up yoga and go back to her blank, expressionless days. Then she would pick up a new hobby, such as playing the guitar, and she would pursue it with an energetic craze (yes, that’s where the $2,000 private lesson fees went). Then back to lethargies. Then pick up creative writing. Then go back to the languid days. Then become a vegetarian. Then give it up. Then start antique collecting. Then become an abstract artist.
And this is where we are now. It’s not the life I had, or the life I would want to have, but it’s the only life which I can have a part of my mother which I love.