Last week, I sent two essays to my MFA advisor, Laurie Alberts. The first essay in packet I liked a great deal. It's about the crash-and-burn of one relationship (the guy came home from the bar with another girl on our anniversary, people) and the bouncing back with my "rebound guy." Whom I married.
The second essay, about a conversation I had with an old teacher, felt... incomplete. I couldn't pin down what was missing--but I knew I hadn't nailed it. There's something to be said about writer's intuition because when I got my packet back this weekend, Laurie agreed with me. Only she recognized the problem. (That's why she's the teacher.)
"This story is much more about your mother than about this nameless guy in the restaurant," she wrote. "You've given us your mother mostly in summarized reports. You need to write an essay that is much more focused on that relationship ... Your mother deserves real scenes, not reports."
Okay, sure. I would've rather received a letter from Laurie reading, "What do you mean you're not sure about this essay? It's brilliant!" But she was right. My mother deserves real scenes. So in honor of the ineffable Penny Haugen, here are two:
We're at Godfather's Pizza, and, frankly, I think we're embarrassing my dad. Amy's roughly five seconds from hyperventilating. Angie can't see through her tears. I'm sitting on the floor next to my chair, shrieking. My mom's throwing her hands in a "I'm laughing too hard to talk" gesture.
Who knows what was so funny? That's not part of the memory. Had I fallen off my chair? Did one of us snort during a giggle? Did we overhear something of great hilarity from a neighboring table? I mean, anything could've spurred this outpouring.
When we finally calm, our stomachs aching, our throats hoarse, my mom wipes her eyes, shakes her head and says, "Oh, that was funny."
Which, naturally, gets us started again.
My grandma's doing the dishes at the kitchen sink, the clink-clink-clink of Corelle against cutlery the soundtrack of this memory. My mom's sitting on the blue flowered couch under the living room window. I'm sinking into her, my face in my hands, my breath a jagged mess of tears. "But why doesn't he want me?" I cry. "How can he do this?"
"I don't know," my mom tells me, near tears herself as she smooths my hair with the hand that isn't wrapped around my shoulders. "You are a beautiful person and I love you."
"But why doesn't he?" I say, my words a squeak.
"I don't know," she answers. "Maybe because he's not very smart."
Here's the thing. My mother has never once told me that she'd always be there for me. That she's only a phone call away. That "family is forever."
But she's never had to. Because I've always known. She has lived every minute of her parenting life by these truths, ensuring that her three daughters know, unequivocally, that she has our backs no matter what.
My God. My greatest hope in this world is that my sons never question these same truths about me. Happy Mother's Day, Mama-cita. I love you.