Teach Me How To Suffer

My earliest memory of it all…

It was a saturday afternoon. Not sure what season of the year. But it was a weekend that Mommy had off. She had every other weekend off from the hospital. And they were usually the funner weekends because we got to be with her and I didn’t have to deal with my horrible anxiety of her leaving for the night. Or the day (pending on which job). She was owed her midday nap if she wanted one. She worked so hard and it was drilled into our heads so thoroughly how hard she worked and how much she sacrificed for us regularly that the least we could do was let her sleep when she was home. So we did. They had a Queen sized bed at the time. And she would feel most comfortable for her naps if she laid diagonally across it with her feet at the head of her side and her head at the foot of daddy’s side. She’d face the window, which was away from the door and she normally had her hand crossed in front of her, like she was thinking about something in her sleep.

I spent an inordinate amount of time doting on her. Sleeping or awake. I was obsessed with my mother. She was rarely around. She barely uttered a word. She was beautiful and unattainable and tired. Sometimes I’d go into her room when she napped and just sit there. Listen to her breathe. Breathe in her always lightly perfumed perfect aroma. Be in her presence. Sometimes without opening her eyes she’d reach for me and cuddle me into her bosom and I was in heaven. Best place in the world.

This saturday… I snuck in for my secret worship ceremony. My 7 year old skinny frame sidled along side of the bed slowly and quietly so as to be sure not to awake her. Carefully watching her silhouette to be sure that I didn’t disturb. But I saw … shuddering. Her shoulders… her back… her stomach… heaving and trembling in a rhythm I wasn’t familiar with. I was sure at this point that she knew i was in the room but she did not turn to me. So I came all the way around the bed to my dad’s side and knelt on the floor to look directly in to her face. Her pretty, soft face. Wet with tears. Left thumb positioned across her lips – perhaps to keep the sobs from getting out. Her eyes rolled a little when she saw me. I understand now it’s because she never wanted me to see her this way. “Mommy? Why are you crying?” Sounds so cliche. Every kid would ask that. They put it in movies. But the truth is? Kids are pretty cut and dry. They just want to get down to the nitty gritty. You are here. You were supposed to be napping. But you’re crying. Why are you crying? “It’s nothing, Vic… go play with your brother.” And I think to myself – how am I supposed to play with my brother if you — my mother — are here crying? Surely something is terribly wrong. The world is definitely ending. Democracy as we know it is coming to a close. Carvel is no longer serving soft serve vanilla ice cream. SOMETHING is wrong with the world. Her tears continued to flow. I attempted to find something I could tell her that was assuring… or comforting. But what did I have? I was 7. “Mommy… I love you… please don’t cry.” It was the best I had. She caressed my face with her right hand and patted me on the head and encouraged me anew to find something else to do. I kissed her on her forehead… wishing I could do more. And walked out of the room. I told my brother as soon as I got in there… and the look on his face / his reaction told me… he’s already been there and done that and to just let it be. But how could I?

It, unfortunately, was not the last time I’d find her in such a predicament. And I learned as I went along that it was all associated with my dad. He’d done something… or not done something to send this pillar of strength, this selfless saint on earth spiraling into some deep depression that pushed her to tears. She? was miserable. So often she would wish aloud… “One day… I’m going to go so far away…” The wish became more frequent with time. I guess the desire to disappear became bigger.

The fact of the matter is that while my mom did love my dad… he kept doing some hurtful things to her. She was trapped in a marriage devoid of passion where she got to watch him randomly hit on other women. (I remember being in the car so many times when a “cute” woman would cross the street in front of the car while we were ALL in it and he’d make some comment about that woman in full presence of my mom… I hated it then and thinking about it now makes my eyes burn… how could he do that to her esteem…) She was ballooning into a shadow of her former svelte fit self. She had to work all the time and her health was declining so she had to make the choice between working or going to doctors. But she didn’t leave. Us or him. All of her sisters and brothers were in marriages that they were jimmying their way out of. Even her mother was participating in the famed “West Indian Divorce” where she just up and left him behind. (deservedly so – he fathered a child out of wedlock that was only 2 years older than I. Yeah – my GRANDfather). My mother was trying to show us what Catholics / Christians are SUPPOSED to do. You say “I do” and you STAY there. “Till Death Do Us Part”. Even though Domi and I made it clear that we were TOTALLY fine if she decided to leave him, on the real. Because we saw how sad she was. How demoralized she was. How destroyed.

But even if she felt empowered enough to leave? No… I can’t even complete that thought. She never did. She couldn’t conceive of who would have her. Older. Fat. Sick. Kids already. Broken. Who would want her? She might as well cut her losses and stay with Dad. Didn’t seem like he was trying to fight his way away. So … best to stay put. Ride it out till the end. That’s what she signed up for. Made her bed… now lie in it.

The least they can do is change the sheets on this thing.

*

Leave a Reply