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When I was a kid my mom and I would slide letters to each other under our doors. It’d be after a bad fight. My father was the peacemaker, always. He’d get between us, a human between two rabid dogs. We’d yell at him, our energy for one isolated moment at last dissipating. Then I’d rush to my room, slamming my door, lying on my bed, angry. She’d slam her door, too.
Forty-five minutes, an hour later she’d slide the lined pages with her exquisite handwriting under the door, that one inch space. I’d use the back of those pages and write my thorough response. I’d open my door, tiptoe across the divide, slide them under her door. Fifteen minutes later we’d meet in the living-room, hug, and “start over.”
Now—twenty-seven years later—we’re writing letters to each other again. They are more verbose, sophisticated, of course. I’m not sure that this time we’ll meet in the middle, hug, start over. We’re engaged in a Matrix-like struggle—dredging up refuse from the past, trying to meet each other halfway.
I love my mom more than words can accurately describe or convey. Which is precisely why, I think, I’ve been so desperate for her validation for so long, why I’ve so badly wanted her to truly see me, truly hear me. The real me, not the convenient, fictitious me she created eons ago out of a need for survival. She’s always seen what she wants—or perhaps needs—to see.
Writing to my mom—writing in general—allows me to sincerely consider my words. Words have heft and meaning. They’re not random. I try in these letters to understand my part in things, to attempt to imagine what being a mother—being my mother—might’ve been like. “You were difficult and precocious,” she once said. “You wanted everything.”
A memory floats down. I’m six. It’s the late eighties. I can’t sleep. We’d just gotten our blue shag carpet shampooed; there was three-foot-wide brown butcher paper along the hallway and your feet would crunch every time you trudged. It’s 2am: The red digital numbers on my alarm clock beam at me like invading alien eyes. I’d been having a nightmare. I swing my legs off the top bunk-bed, climb down the ladder.
I creep in darkness, open my door, crunch on the butcher paper down the hall to my mother’s closed door. I sense my beating heart. I hear nothing. I slowly open the door. Darkness. Light snoring. I swallow, feel for her, discover her body. My father is in New York on business. It’s just us two. I tentatively shake her. She moans. I shake harder.
“Huh?” she says.
“Mom,” I whisper.
She sits up. I tell her I’m scared. She says everything is ok; go back to sleep. But I know I can’t. I ask to sleep with her. She allows it. I climb onto my father’s side; the spot where his big body sleeps is empty, still warm almost, the shape depressed from constant weight.
But ten minutes later—after non-stop fidgeting—I can’t sleep. I swing my legs off the bed, stand. I walk around to her side. I shake her again.
“Mom. I can’t sleep. Can we talk?”
Another ten minutes later—per my mom’s urging—we’re in her gray Buick, driving along the dark, empty streets. We’re silent. I don’t know where we’re going. The stars are out, pulsing and gorgeous and white. I feel afraid. I want to speak but I don’t.
And then we park in front of a house. My mom cuts the engine. For a moment we don’t talk and then she says, her voice shaky, “You’ll stay here tonight.”
I hesitate, say, “Where are we?”
She clears her throat, says, “My psychiatrist’s house. Dr. Hanson. He’ll let you stay here tonight.”
I am confused.
“Mom?” I ask.
She visibly swallows. She faces me. A tear zigzags down her right cheek. “Yes?”
“Do you love me?” I ask.
“Of course, honey,” she says. “But I need to sleep.”
She unclips her seatbelt and it’s like snipping the umbilical cord bonding us together. I am severed.
Then we get out. We climb the six red brick steps. I see Birds of Paradise and White Lotus in the starlight. The door is big and blood-red.
She knocks. A tall bald man in a withered yellow robe answers the door.
We enter. There’s some hushed, whispered conversations between them in the kitchen. My mom returns. She bends down, hugs me. She is fighting tears. I am empty, numb. She says she loves me. I do not respond.
She leaves. I hear her shoes clomp along the sidewalk path, down the stairs. The car starts, and then I hear it drive slowly away.
The man stares at me and says, “I made up the couch. You’ll sleep there.”
And I do.
Thank you for sharing. There might be a start to a novel here. Have you read any Augusten Burroughs?
There's such pain in here, but you've comforted us too. It's amazing what a good night sleep can mean. For mothers or their sons.
Was this difficult to share?
I echo Juli's sentiment. That was an amazing read... Thank you for sharing this with us!