When you were 52, you told me you still felt like you were 21.
At the time, I thought you meant aging was surprising, that your mirror image was disturbingly different from the picture you carried of yourself. That, boy, was life unfair.
It was the 70’s. I was 10. You were 36. The Middle East was on fire. In Toronto, Daddy’s disease held us hostage. Up and down our downtown apartment corridor as Gaza Strip we would run, my brother and I, away from your warring factions. Daddy—trapped inside his alcoholic prison, and you—on the front line, battling back, refusing to be terrorized by a disease Daddy simply couldn’t free himself from. Your inner warrior emerged—tall, blond, outwardly fearless, drawing forth your strongest weapon—your maternal instinct—and you smuggled us out of a war zone 6 stories high with a view of High Park.
Dead at 38, Daddy lost the war. We survived. You kept us safe.
And you never dropped the ball. Suddenly single, you worked full-time, at work and home, building us back up from the singeing rubble of his death. You refused to rest until new soil was turned—a Viking farmer with a plough tied to her back—sacrificing all but the grip on our hands. You never let go. We, too, knew of drinking powdered milk, sparing portions of generic cheese and garden furniture as décor in our living room—not unlike the post WW 2 period you endured as a child. But you painted and puttied and persisted, taking us from rations to riches. And through thin wisps of black smoke emerged a beautiful home—a sanctuary—where every day 3 little words were said over and over and over as mantra.
“I love you.”
I felt safe.
When I was 13, I lost my kidneys. When I was 19, you gave me one of yours.
You say you never thought about it. You had to save your child’s life.
Over those years of illness, you wove me a tapestry of love, thick threads of compassion and concern sewn together with hands so elegant and strong. I love your hands. They could stitch the finest embroidery and still rip out a pair of spark plugs. Hands that stroked my throbbing head and clutched mine ever tight throughout procedure and pain.
That day when you were 52, you were readying to move back to Denmark, where you were born and raised—you could no longer play the role of “Mum”. Under the florescent lights of your Joe-Job, you were wilting, fried from sadness and stress. A working actress, I was moving to Los Angeles with my husband, Kevin. Your parting gift was the tapestry you’d woven for all of my 26 years.
What happened to us?
Separated by miles of ocean, my tapestry became worn and threadbare, gnawed through with gaping holes of resentment. I remained a child, demanding to hear from my Mummy. Demands get lost in the roar of the ocean.
And the continents divided us.
Had it become my job to love you differently? I could stand on a stage, memorize someone else’s lines, but had I not understood, that it was now time to assume the role of adult, and although still your child, no longer act like one? I missed you. We would talk, but I would forget my part, improvise things I would instantly regret. And you disappeared into the wings.
I became sick, rejecting your kidney. I missed your hands. Dying, I reached for your tapestry, pulling its ragged remains around me, but found no comfort. And so I reached for something else. Down the path of addiction I wandered, running wild with fear, getting so lost I nearly joined Daddy on the other side.
But I’m still here. And after 6 years apart, so are you.
Maybe when you gave me your kidney, you gave me the best of you. In those silent years between us, was I meant to hear your muffled cries, an agonized regret that your gift of life that was failing me? And after Daddy, was it all just too much?
I get it now. You lost your husband. You lost your Kevin.
Now I have Kevin’s kidney inside of me. They tell us never to refer to it as his. “The kid” is mine, my child. My responsibility. I have finally grown up.
When you were 52, you told me you still felt like you were 21. Now I know you meant we never feel completely comfortable in our skins. And no, life sure isn’t fair. But wrapped inside the tapestry you wove, I always felt comfortable, safe.
Now it’s my turn to make you feel safe.
I love you, Mum.