I was awakened by these sentences in the pre-dawn darkness of Sunday morning.
It was our dear mother’s favorite time of day, her favorite day of the week.
To quantify longing is an exercise in futility; however, in the seven years she’s been dead I think I miss her most during this time of year.
At first, I missed her most when I inhaled and exhaled.
I missed her when the sun rose and set, when the wind blew, whenever I saw a tall light-skinned black woman of a certain age (which seemed freakishly regularly), when I heard Gospel music, smelled bread baking or had the audacity to laugh.
I started my days — usually around 6 p.m. — by reminding myself “Mom’s still dead.”
When she died it was springtime — time for regrowth, blooming, thawing out.
The sun was shining through a rain shower when I pulled in front of my building alone the afternoon of her memorial service. The weather turned out to be a perfect metaphor for what’s turning into the rest of my life.
Something good’s always peeking through murky shit.
I walked my neighborhood crying and screaming at the top of my lungs, thinking: and tomorrow she will still be dead.
The rain had stopped. It was a perfect spring day.
The spring of 2005 was an exquisite one.
But I hardened my heart and isolated myself from the living, subsisting on Glucerna shakes, Ambien, marijuana. I turned off footage of dead blacks drowned by Katrina and turned instead to the five seasons of The Wire, which I watched in one marathon sitting in my blacked-out living room.
Oh. And I cursed and vetted God.
Really? I asked. You take the one person who knows me best and longest, who doesn’t judge me and who loves me when I cannot love myself? This is your idea of grace and mercy?
In the throes of my grief, my long-ago friend, Nancy, a white woman a few years younger than my mom, sent me an email with the message: “God’s grace is sufficient,” a paraphrase of 2 Corinthians 12:9. It goes on to say... “for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
Scripture says I should boast gladly in my weakness so Christ’s power may rest on me.
Arrogantly and angrily, I was “boasting” all right. I gave up and gave God the middle finger.
I’d long stopped eating whole food and drank only water and diabetic shakes, but denying myself nutrients and vitamins left me with dangerously low blood sugar and anemia and being suddenly anemic meant I was blurry-eyed, uneven on my feet, light-headed. I had heart palpitations and my skin itched. I couldn’t walk across UC’s campus for a story I was writing without stopping to sit and rest to catch my breath.
I was killing myself slowly like a top-notch coward.
I called myself dead awake.
Once I emerged, it was nearly Thanksgiving.
I played catch-up and started seeing people again; I checked in with all the friends who’d called, stopped by with food and who wouldn’t let me go.
Thanksgiving was mom’s favorite because of the fellowship.
She’d started to loathe Christmas because of the grotesque commercialization, but also because it reminded her of those years and money she’d lost to putting on a Christmas production herself when my two brothers and I were kids. She lamented to me once that the minute she left our father, she’d fallen so out of favor with supposedly good church people that she never got another Christmas card, call or gift from the ones she’d opened up her garishly decorated home for.
Looking back I see now all those holidays were hard work for her.
You work full time. You’re married with three young children of your own in addition to four older stepchildren who’ve never had stability, so not only do you believe you must shower your own children with gifts, food, clothing. You know you have to give those stepchildren the home they’ve never had because they’re yours now.
So, then, the big holidays become black Norman Rockwell recreations set to a Motown soundtrack: three-layer chocolate cakes, turkey, ham, greens, candied sweet potatoes (no marshmallows, ever), dressing (never stuffing), cornbread, sweet potato pies (never pumpkin), sodas, Kool-Aid, macaroni and cheese, visitors, cousins, church friends, aunts and uncles and grandparents, non-stop music and dancing.
She might be glad to be dead because now she can get some rest.
Back-in-the-day Thanksgivings were jobs for her and she pulled them off to spectacular results.
By the time my sister and nephews were born, mom was exhausted.
It was a relief when Thanksgiving — and, really all the responsibilities of planning and cooking — transferred to West Chester and then Mason with my sister-in-law, Kelly, and my brother, Kenny.
By then all mom wanted to do was visit, fawn and feign over her two grandsons, eat and leave. We had a new running joke that fit nicely in the space between clearing the plates and waiting for dessert.
“Look at mom,” Kenny would say. “She’s ready to go.”
And sometimes, against my wishes, we’d get dessert in a to-go container and we’d get our coats on and leave. I always drove, yet I had no control over our exit.
I always (begrudgingly) bowed to mom’s wishes.
After all, she’d bowed to all ours for decades.
So if she wanted to get back to her small, hot apartment and stretch out on the couch clutching the remote control to watch Matlock, Amen, Golden Girls, 227, The Game Show Network or Bobby Jones Gospel until she fell asleep and it was no longer Thanksgiving, then she deserved that.
My ache for her has diminished. But every time I walk into a kitchen and the air is thick with dressing, I swear my mom’s going to turn around and say, “Hey! Baby!”
“Happy Thanksgiving,” I’d whisper in her ear, my cheek against hers.
CONTACT KATHY Y. WILSON: [email protected]