My Mother and I
When I was very small, but already big enough to learn to remember some things, there were days when my mother would yell at me. To say that all hell broke lose is an understatement, although the image of her holding the key to hell and opening its gate whenever she deems fit is also very cool (contradiction not intended!). She was not very tall, medium-built (but was obviously a lot thinner when she was younger and before she had me), mostly soft spoken yet not afraid to voice her opinions. Whenever she laughed she let out a staccato of chuckles and her head would spring backwards, showcasing a series of crooked teeth in her small mouth. If you did not really know her or only saw her once in a while, she would not strike you as a person who would totally lose it. She would not strike you as a person who would get remotely angry even. I know this because I overheard a couple of our acquaintances saying that to her when she offhandedly told them that she was upset about something. That was why they were called acquaintances, I suppose.
So, yes, I have seen her angry. And to make it worse, at me. I was a kid who was blessed with an overflowing supply of books and toys, I have to admit, to the point that my mother had to buy those large plastic containers to keep all of them organized. These boxes lined the walls of our former TV room, which had slowly morphed into my playroom. I guess I had too many things I could be very careless and irresponsible about them. But I remember I was enjoying them so much too! I would play with one toy, and when I was bored with it, I would just take out another without bothering to put the first one back into its box. And when I had my friends over we would take out many toys all at once. Why, we needed the tent to play house, the kitchen tools to play cooking, what house did not have a kitchen, the dolls to be our brothers and sisters, the pop-up books to be our fence, and so on, and so forth. Thirty minutes later, we just had to go outside to ride our bikes. Who would have the time to tidy up? While, you guessed it, my mother liked our house to be tidy, the everything-in-its-place-and-a-place-for-everything kind of tidy. I could see now how my insouciance could be a recipe for disaster, for everyone.
When my mother was angry, she became taller and bigger. Her eyes, flaming and watery at the same time, protruded from their sockets. Her arms would flap around and she would look like a gigantic mother chicken, throwing a scattered toy or book back into its designated place or waving them in front of my face and then thrusting them into my hands so I would put them back in the exact place where they belong. No, she never hit me or get physical with me, in case you were wondering. She never called me names either. She would only pointed out how I should start learning to appreciate and take good care of my things, how they cost money, how many kids were not as lucky… in a speech so rapid and loud it was as if her sentences had thorns and they were banging in my ears. Tang. Tang. Tang. And she would always end her monologue (I was already crying like the baby I was, of course, and I would not dare say anything back to her!) by leaving me there with my own mess and then locked herself up in her room. Oh, after banging the door so hard that the whole house literally shook.
If you think I was terribly scared of her when she was angry, you would not be wrong. But it was not because she could appear like a she-giant with horns on her head and sharp knives as fingernails whenever she got mad. I was scared because each time it happened I thought she was done loving me, every single time. But, every single time, a few hours later, or just before we went to bed, she would always hug and kiss me and said yes, I still had to learn from what happened, but she should also learn to express herself better next time. She would say sorry and I would say sorry too. And each time the word came out of my mouth like a bad pill. I had my child-ego too, you know. Shhh...
But then, only a couple of years later, something really bad happened. One day, she was looking very weak and could not get out of bed. When she finally managed to do so, it was only to go to the bathroom to throw up. She was retching so much I thought she would never stop. In the afternoon, my father rushed her to the hospital. They did not take me with them, so I was left at home with my nanny. My mother did not come home that night.
The next day, I was taken to see her. She lied on the hospital bed, which had a fence on each of its side, with something like a keypad attached to the one on my mother’s right side, with buttons and drawings of the bed in many awkward-looking positions. There was also a remote control attached to the bed with the same buttons and drawings. My mother smiled at me and waved her hand signaling me to come closer. But I shook my head no. There was a string attached to one of her arms, and I saw the other end came from a clear pouch filled with liquid. This was one of those events that nightmares were made of, my instinct told me. My mother had turned into a strange looking bed. A mother that was both a bed and not a bed, my mother and not my mother. The giant has fallen and become a small creature overnight.
The following weeks were strange. I stayed at my aunt’s house. I slept with my nanny and still went to school everyday. And finally my mother arrived at my aunt’s and I was overjoyed, as she was. However, there was something that felt almost dodgy. My mother was no longer a bed or a monster, she was a completely different — like I said — creature.
She did look happy. But much later I overheard her saying more than once that to her it was more than just happiness. She felt like she just came back from the dead and was exhilarated to be alive. And she now saw life from a completely different perspective. All of a sudden, her every problem seemed to have a practical solution. She hugged and kissed me a lot, but to me, she felt so far away. I would not say I liked her dragon version better, but I did not think this plushy doll facade was right either.
Exactly a week after she was released from the hospital, she was rushed again to another. This was after I saw her screaming the same words to my father over and over again. It started only as a whisper but then escalated into urgent uncontrollable shrieks. At one point, I thought she was going to faint. They told me to find my nanny and stay with her. I came down the stairs slowly, holding my pink hippo doll on one hand and stroking the wall for balance with the other. And when my aunt, uncle and cousin came, they carried her into the car and then they were gone. There was this feeling I cannot yet name this second time she was gone. It seemed to me she came home to always go away again.
The creature that was my mother, maybe she knew when I was still in kindergarten I took my best friend’s artwork. I took it by mistake but when I wanted to return it to my friend the next day, I could not find it. Because I never kept things where they belonged.
And things that do not belong, they cannot be named or summoned back again. They may visit you though, in times you least expect them to come.