In mom’s bedroom, no light on, mom was whispering near the vanity. I was grabbing at her valuables, shiny things and old things, the ones I could reach with my very small hands. “Shhh, dad is asleep.” Fastening on something, I looked at the broad wings and the petite female head — an alabaster figurine. She looked down and smiled at her curious child. “That’s grandma, she’s an angel.” Very satisfied with that answer, I almost giggled, but didn’t because dad was sleeping.
I learned the word angel from my mom, and I think that was the first time I had ever heard it. She didn’t explain it, but she didn’t have to. I knew that we loved grandma and that she wasn’t alive, so I understood the metaphor quickly.
Even as a kid, I knew she missed her mom. She still needed her close, but couldn’t have her. She eased the pain of her loss by surrounding herself with artifacts. Every photograph pictured her. Paintings in the house and strange collections of pottery, turned over, would reveal grandma’s signature…Valerie with the tops of the V curled into spirals.
To this day, my mother regrets my middle name. “ Why didn’t I name you Aiden Valerie?” She wants to see her mom in everything, and I can understand that.
Mothers are the ones you go through hell with. They say that for the rest of our lives we are unwinding the tragedy of being born. The actual act of birth and emerging into the world shakes us for a lifetime, but mothers bear that existential pain with us as our makers.
I’ve had screaming and kicking fights with my mom. I’ve gotten out of the car and walked off. She’s said horrible things to me. I’ve said them back.
There was a certain turning point for me, though. I stopped fighting her. I started telling her things like, “Everything will be okay” and “Thank you, mom” and “I love you.” And then I eventually befriended her out of admiration and respect for that bleeding heart of hers. I learned that I happen to have the same one. And I began to watch her closely to learn how to take care of it. She does it so gracefully now, in her fifties, always saying the right things and loving her family, patiently, unconditionally.