During this special weekend, I will be sharing a few stories. I have a few friends who have shared their stories with me. My friends and I have a lot in common, most importantly, we all had spectacular relationships with our respective mothers.
I was born into a big family. The last of eight children. I have very little recollection of my father. He never came back from Vietnam. My maternal grandmother was our matriarch. For a woman who stood barely four feet five inches tall, she commanded such awe and respect. My mother with the assistance of her mother raised five daughters and three sons. She was a school teacher and her finances were spread thin catering for our household. We didn’t have much material wise but our home was awash with love. I excelled in athletics, especially in wrestling and was able to clinch a full scholarship to college. My mother was ecstatic. My two older brothers had both joined the army-our ‘mothers’ were not happy with their choices. My sisters had gone on to college and were all experiencing great things in their chosen careers. I had dabbled into the wrong company in high school and had made some wrong choices. Back in those days, in the late seventies-drugs had become a common feature in the social circuits. We were the generation sprung in the shadow of Woodstock. There was so much decadence…so much indulgence.
With my choosing to go to college, I had effectually turned my back on all the negative influences my mother worried had the potential to destroy my future. My choice was a small liberal arts college that had a vibrant African American community. I took long walks, wrote long letters to my grandma and mama. I spent my days fully engaged in my academics and athletics. My mother was my compass and I kept my eyes fully fixed on the prize. I left school within record time and was able to secure an appointment as a teacher in an elementary school. My feet were firmly planted in the direction of my beloved compass! I moved back home into my old room-across the corridor from Mama’s bedroom. I was enjoying the warmth of my mother and grandma’s constant love. Mama had retired but was a part time volunteer in the high school she had spent thirty five years of her forty years of public service. Many of her students had gone on to do great things, in fact, the current principal at my return was one of them.
Two years into my return home, my mother fell ill. In hindsight, I felt a nagging heaviness I could not shake. The constant hospital stays, the tests and the shadow that fell upon Mama’s face were a constant reminder a storm was gathering. My siblings and I kept a roaster. We all did our part: constantly encouraging, echoing bible scriptures our mother had taught us as children. My grandma seemed to shrink within herself…almost like she was fading away. I remember I woke up one night and found my Grandma sitting alone in the kitchen, staring into an empty tea cup. I pulled up a chair and sat beside her. My mother had undergone a procedure the day before, the prognosis wasn’t good. “I will not bury your mother”. She spoke in a raspy whisper, I almost didn’t hear. She died a week later, in her sleep. Grandma’s death crushed us but in light of Mama’s health we couldn’t fall apart.
My mother passed exactly a month after the surgery. I don’t think there are exact words to describe my life after my compass was broken. I took a couple of months off work. I remember the wake, the burial and weeks after that. I spent my days in my bedroom, blinds closed and completely turned my back on the world. My brothers went back to their posts, ,my sisters all lived out of state. We all grieved for our loss but in retrospect I think my loss was the most devastating. My brothers had their commissions, my sisters apart from their chosen carriers had spouses and children. I was the only one whose family, whose center had been completely obliterated. Remember the choices I had turned my back on when I said yes to college? Well, I fell head first down that dark hole. I was in so much pain, I snorted everything that took the pain away, even though they were temporary fixes. It seemed I stumbled into a dark room and some how, couldn’t find the door. Teaching during the day, shooting up or snorting cocaine at night.
I can’t remember exactly when it dawned on me, I was going to die. If I continued to make the wrong choices, these choices my Mama prayed against. These choices I promised my Grandma I would never make-I would eventually die. Alone. I couldn’t remember when last I slept properly in three years. I had lost almost forty pounds. And so, I pulled myself up by my bootstraps and enrolled in a rehabilitation program. Failing was not an option for me. I went cold turkey. My body was racked in so much pain, my head felt like it was going to explode. My nights were plagued with dreams. I would find myself running down a dark corridor, ahead of me I could make out the familiar posture of my Grandma. And even though, I was running I never caught up with her. I would find myself getting tired and would slowly come to a stop. At times, I would hear my Mama’s voice calling from far away and would wake up drenched in sweat.
When I came out of rehab, I moved to another town and went back to school. My siblings and I sold the house and I was able to have a soft landing from my share of the proceeds. I eventually went back to teaching after a stint in the public relations industry. I found my compass again, it was etched in my heart. Though I went through fire, I came out singed but not destroyed. My Mother and Grandma were my center, my voice of reason, my compass. It’s been over twenty years and from time to time I still catch myself feeling deep sorrow. I don’t think one ever fully recovers from some losses.