“To remember a wrongdoing is to struggle against it.”
“…it is important not merely to remember, but to remember rightly.”
-The End of Memory. Volf, Miroslav, pp. 10-11, Wm. B. Ferdmans, Grand Rapids, Michigan. (2006)
Today you look away from me, your backs are turned and your arms are crossed.
You look to your horizons, painted with red resentment, bitter blue, pious purple wrapped in dark deceit. Despite yourself, you see in them what you want to see, those things that turned your eyes from your mother and your heart into stone.
I once held you next to my bosom, skin to skin you were fed. I gave you hot meals and warm baths, read your bedtime stories and sang you to sleep as you drifted into dreamland. Creeping on the wood floor outside your rooms, I moved in the darkness every night and placed my hand upon your little chest or back, to feel it rise and fall, awash with relief as I finally made my way to my own bed to get very little rest.
I listened as you woke up early every morning, giggling as you made your way down the stairs and whispering loud enough for the neighbors to hear you, “Be quiet and don’t wake mom up.”
We had the Alphabet and colors, numbers and rhymes, paint and Sing-Along-Songs and Barney—tutus and dance shoes, swimsuits, softball, and basketball. We navigated piles of autumn leaves and bitter snow, hot summer days and The Duck Pond in spring. Trick-or-Treat, Easter clothes and fresh little faces smiling for the cameras.
Seinfeld re-runs, Diet Coke (it tastes best from Mom’s cup), throwing Larry’s Fried Chicken bones out the window as we cruised up 75, the oil derricks dancing up and down as the wind swept from the plains, smelling of sweet grass and crude, and whipping through our hair.
We trimmed Christmas Trees decorated with baby’s firsts and hand-made ornaments collected over a lifetime. Christmas parades in bitter winds, catching candy when Santa waved as he went by.
We stomped to the beat of the Indian Summer drum, listening as the men sang in Lakota Sioux and watching as they all danced—buckskin, fancy dance, blanket dance. Sage burned as prayers were said. They carried their colors and we all said The Pledge of Allegiance. We held our hands over our hearts. Later, we rode ponies and ate funnel cake and Indian Tacos and looked on enviously at the drums and beads and paintings.
We sang along with Mary Chapin Carpenter, chased Flint when he got out of the fence, tromped in fields of freshly turned dirt along the tree line and creek as we searched for arrowheads, fished little ponds where I caught that seven pound bass, and floated on that lazy Illinois.
I went to your classrooms and told stories and helped your teachers, attended your concerts and games, and cheered you on as you graduated from elementary school, won the spelling bee, and sang your heart out at that talent show.
We baked cookies and cakes, sold cookie dough and chocolate bars, and did a lot of homework. I taught you how to make biscuits, roast and fry a chicken, and bake a cake. I sewed your Brownie patches on the wrong way onto your vest, and I combed the tangles out of your hair.
We occasionally got to splurge together, with Jude’s green tea chai lattes, sushi Fridays, Sonic, Mazzio’s, Freckles and Jared’s and Braum’s and Szechuan. Remember Amy? She remembers us, too.
We laughed and we cried. Sometimes we yelled and sometimes we were silent. You began to move away, as your life took on a shape of its own, and you didn’t have time for dinner, or trees, or ball, or ballet. You held your diplomas and then took your new wings and flew away, and I flew away from you, too.
Time went by so fast.
But you will remember me.
When you look out your window and see the maples, oaks, birch, and cottonwood trees swaying in the wind as their colors change from green to yellow, then orange and red, and finally to brown as they fall from the limbs and cover the ground, my voice will sing to you through the crisp, autumn air.
As the snowflakes fall, you will hear our laughter as we ran through the sea of white, powder flying beneath our boots, holding our tongues out to catch those icy crystals of fluff. And you will hear the swishing noise that came from making angels in the snow, our arms and legs moving back and forth as we giggled at one another.
On the first warm breeze of spring, when the Redbuds and Dogwoods start to bloom, you will see my tears as the rains come, falling and dripping from the petals and new green leaves, making puddles on the ground beneath their shade.
As the sun beats down upon your skin, you will remember my warmth as I held you within and took you in my arms when you were tired, or sick, or just needed a hug from mommy.
If you are fortunate, when you look into the eyes of your child, you will know my heart. You will feel what I feel. You will see with my eyes and hear with my ears. Your arms will ache to hold and you will ache to be held.
When you look into the mirror you will see faint traces of me there, looking back at you with those dark eyes. You will see me in your reflection in the determined chin, the measured look, and the sadness around your mouth. When you smile—and I hope you will—you will see the little dimples and the curl of that upper lip, and the crooked mouth.
You will see my imperfection in your own imperfection. You will see what you truly long for as you search your own face.
Change your name, turn your back, and keep your silences. It’s okay. I still love you. I always will.
Go after your dreams. Make your life what you want it to be. Create something new and beautiful. Change the world. Be radical. Be a leader. Be a friend. Build a sturdy home, full of love and forgiveness, where the walls won’t fall with the first stout wind and they will shelter you and those you love from all harm.
Be happy. Please, my loves, be happy.
Despite all your efforts to forget that I made up at least half of who you are, though, there will come a day—the wind will shift, the air will be denser, or that old song will play as you drive or ride the elevator, shop for groceries or wait in the doctor’s office.
And, you will remember.
When you do, I hope I’m still here. I hope you aren’t left with only memories.
Though somewhat comforting, they are empty compared to the real thing—to the warm skin, that voice you never could completely forget, and the crooked smile.
They cannot make up for the hands that tried to comfort you, the same hands that still long to rest upon your back or chest, to feel them rise and fall as you breathe.
Kim Bailey Deal writes Women’s Fiction, short stories, poetry, and non-fiction. She is currently revising her first novel and finishing her second, as well as co-editing an anthology. Publications: MORE Magazine’s Member Voices, The Pull of Strays; Issue 3 of Firefly Magazine, A Journal of Luminous Writing; Writer’s Digest as part of editor Robert Lee Brewer’s blog. She lives in Chattanooga, TN and is the mother of four grown children, three boys and one girl, and “Nim” to her husband’s grandchildren. To connect, she can be found at kimbaileydeal.net, Kim Bailey Deal Page on Facebook, @wordjunkie1966 on Twitter