Mother's Day

It’s a Twilight Zone episode, in grainy black-and-white: a sixties-style Everyman (white middle-aged guy in a suit), out on the town late one night, walks along a deserted sidewalk when the streetlight he’s passing beneath goes black. He heads to the next but, just as he reaches its puddle of light, it too winks out. And so he lurches from one lamppost to the next, until he finds himself alone in the dark, shouting to his Higher Power and waiting for the plot to develop.

How I’m feeling these days.

Today (as I start this) is the 52nd anniversary of my mother’s death. With Mother’s Day following hard on its heels, as it always does. I hate that holiday. I just barely remember scrawling my first Mother’s Day card—a heart in Crayola red with a pink arrow. That would’ve been kindergarten. By next Mother’s Day, I had no one to give it to.

So if, as this dread holiday approaches, you’re one of the people not buying a card—well, this one’s for you:

From age six, I went without routine maternal care, but of course there were moments; not even the most hapless child escapes all motherly gestures. Now and then, a teacher really talked to me, and really listened. Occasionally, one of my father’s dates offered me a pat on the cheek or a small present.

I cherish each and every instance of being mothered: the kind-hearted eighteen-year-old who helped me cope with my first period. The friend’s mom who gave me a bottle of after-bath splash and a brief lesson in being a girl. The unwed mother, separated from her infant and banished from her family, who took me under her wing when I arrived at summer school as an adolescent in crisis. The teacher’s wife—a beautiful woman!—who offered unforgettable words of encouragement when I finally cut my hair. I’ve kept these memories through the years like jewels in a silk-lined box, to take out and polish on special occasions.

But now we have the web, not to mention Facebook and Google. You can find almost anyone nowadays, no matter how lost.

Naturally, when the thought occurred to me, I started searching. And right away, I found someone. That eighteen-year-old is now a kind-hearted mother and grandmother, and I wasn’t surprised to learn that she’d fostered homeless girls when she was younger.

Thank heavens for her; otherwise, it’s been a string of deaths. My first and best friend, after a five-year drought. A teacher. The unwed mother. The friend’s mom.

About the friend’s mom—actually, I didn’t have to wait for Facebook before trying to reach her. Back in the ’90s, I got in touch with my high-school friend the old-fashioned way—through the alumni directory. And sure enough, his mother was still alive.

Wasn’t such a good moment for my friend, though. He was in the middle of a big move. I fell off the bottom of his priority list and never crawled back on. By the time—years later—that I caught up with him again, it happened to be the day after she died.

Q: What hurts worse than dropping an anvil on your toes?

A: Dropping an anvil on your toes and having to stifle your cries.

Yesterday, I learned of yet another death. The teacher’s wife, this time.

That’s me lurching down the street, the streetlights going out just as I reach them.