“The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”
Requieum for a Nun, William Faulkner
“Mother, you can be proud,” she said. “You have three beautiful, accomplished children!”
The words etched themselves upon my heart, as if an epitaph upon my gravestone. I bit my tongue as I pondered my daughter’s meaning.
Is she proud of me? Does she think her Mother is beautiful and accomplished?
Not likely. My daughter’s words, seemingly encouraging, were in fact as sharp as any dagger. You can be proud Mother, not for any beauty, talent or strength of character you personally possess, because you are not worthy. But you can be proud of your offspring. Her words chilled rather than warmed.
I said nothing. If I protested, she would hang up. She would shut me out again. The force of my disappointment was physical. Trying to think of a response that would not draw her ire, I shuddered. It was impossible.
The pause became awkward. As so often happened, I was transported to a time, a happier time, in the past, a time when I was different, stronger in my sense of self, when the universe was friendly, when my life made sense. The present was a Clockwork Orange. Dealing with my children was like interacting with robots.
Knowing it was a mistake, forgetting momentarily, the painful present, I protested.
Even over the phone, I could feel her pull away from me, losing interest, shutting down, as I spoke of a former time. Long ago was nothing like now. Then, I was proud of myself, of her, of my family. Now, I couldn’t seem to stay in the present. There was so much pain, confusion, unfinished business, in the present.
What did I do wrong? What sin did I commit so awful that my children cut off all communication?
When my daughter, my little one with the big eyes and the bigger grin, left home for college, she didn’t tell me she would no longer have relations with me. There was no warning. There was no discussion. There was no appeal from the sentence of banishment. I didn’t share her college experience even though she entered the same university where I had set out on my life, the place where I met her father.
I was thrilled when she told me she was going to my alma mater. But not for long. My happiness turned to shock and then inconsolable grief when she wouldn’t let me visit her. She refused to let me help her move into her dorm room. She declined the gifts I bought for her. She told me not to come to parent’s day. “Why not?,” I asked, indignant. “It would be awkward.” My initial joy turned to infinite sadness as the years passed.
We didn’t talk at all, after that one phone call. During her four years at the school where both her dad and I had studied, I never visited my daughter at university. I never saw her dorm room or even a photo of it. I didn’t know anything about her studies. I didn’t hear about her experiences. I didn’t meet her friends. I wasn’t invited to her graduation. No reason was given other than, “It would be awkward.”
This phone call came three years after she graduated. I still didn’t know her major. In fact, I didn’t even know where she was living.
Why, I wondered. Why could I not come to parent’s day? Why was I not invited to your graduation? Why? Why? Why?
I dare not ask these questions. They just swirled around in my head, never ceasing, going nowhere, repeating and repeating aimlessly and endlessly. There were no answers. I could not think of a reason for my discard. I had done nothing to deserve being erased.
I wanted to scream, to loudly and forcefully object. I stifled my protest. Resistance would only bring more torture. Any show of anger would be condemned and I would be banished, again. She would say goodbye . . . or just . . . hang up . . . who knows for how long . . . . perhaps for years . . . . perhaps forever.
Oh no! I must make this conversation work!
I became tearful. I was blowing it! Trying to steady myself, my fingers gripped the phone until they ached. But I could tell my child, my now adult child, had lost interest in the conversation. She waited for me to run out of steam.
I thought of the day she left. Her older sister, my first born, helped her pack her things. Then they sat with me by the pool for a moment in the summer sunshine. The younger daughter jumped into the pool. The older daughter firmly declined. Her boyfriend sat poolside. He looked like he would love to jump into the sparkling blue water, but he just parroted his love interest. My son, the middle child, was studying out of state. He didn’t answer my calls either.
What a perfect time for a poolside cookout, I mused.
Our home was a roomy cape cod, set on 5 acres, with a pasture, barn and riding arena. My two horses and the children’s pony were grazing in the field next to the pool, watching us, surprised to see such a gathering. Three dogs and two cats lounged nearby.
The house will be enormous for one person.
I looked past the crepe myrtles, loaded with huge pink blossoms, that lined the far side of the black iron fence encircling the pool, at the horses. They instantly noticed my gaze, raised their heads and began walking lazily over to the fence. The grass under their feet was a soft green carpet, more plush than a Persian rug. I mowed their field weekly on my ancient riding mower because there was more grass than they could eat and if not mowed, it quickly grew up to their shoulders. They were round and glossy, happy to have visitors.
I sighed and turned back to the group of young folks. They were lively, full of youth’s optimistic expectation, obviously excited about the departure of the youngest. She was barely 17.
They loaded up and we said our goodbyes, their eagerness overpowering my reluctance. The car pulled out of the long driveway that ran between two sets of four board fences. My first born was at the wheel. My youngest was in the front passenger seat. The man-boyfriend sat in the back.
As the car turned out of the drive, the baby of the family threw up her arm, in salute, and left it up until the car went around the bend and out of sight. I watched her arm, until I could see it no more.
The horses came round to the front pasture and stood beside me, on the other side of the fence. They stretched out their heads, hopeful for a scratch. I paid no notice, gazing at the empty road, seeing, in my mind, the little black car, the long slender arm slung upward, fingers reaching for the sky.