My Mother is the Best Thing that Ever Happened to Me
My mother– reserved, demure, super intelligent, defines herself by a puritan work ethic that’s never quite satisfied. “I need to get to…” is one of her favorite phrases. She is seventy-seven now and just underwent unexpected heart surgery where they found a 99% blockage. The doctor and surgery were a blessing as she had no idea any problem existed.
She’s lived with Psoriatic Arthritis for over twenty-five years. It’s the kind of arthritis that cripples your body, limbs, and organs. Through it all, she’s never stopped. There are things she wanted to do that she won’t get to now. Underneath her quiet demeanor is a woman who still hoped to go rock climbing in her sixties. Right before her heart problem was found, she visited New Orleans. There is a picture of her handling a snake. I can see the flush of excitement on her face. On desert trips she’s awed by the opportunity to “see forever” across the land.
It wasn’t always like that. Born in the middle of a gaggle of kids, she became the only one to complete a college degree. She wanted to work in Library Science. Her parents, having barely survived the Great Depression, remained institutions for everyone, even after the kids married. After meeting my father, she married at twenty-three and became a preacher’s wife. The role never quite suited her private disposition. My father chose each house, our car, our furniture. My mother kept it all intact.
My mother gave up career and became a housewife and mom to me, with occasional part-time jobs to bring in extra money. I can’t put my finger on one particular moment with her; life with mom simply existed as an unconditional, loving, teaching environment. There were times when I was small, doing something wrong, often because I followed behavior or words from children I played with, that I remember her seriousness trying to get across the moral imperative of the lesson. She always succeeded and I never forgot the lessons. She raised a child who learned to tell right from wrong on her own. No small feat.
She never received the second child she wanted and after seventeen years of marriage my father gave in to a traditional mid-life crisis, leaving my mother and me for a woman exactly half his age. It couldn’t have come at a worse time. My mom’s father had just died and instead of staying in our purchased home in Virginia, my dad moved us to Tennessee where we rented a large, barely furnished house. We, as a family still, then moved from there to a cheaper domicile and in the meantime my father, unbeknownst to us, bought a cabin in the woods far away.
I never adjusted to school in Tennessee, the beginning of my worst period growing up. At the dinner table one night, just my mother and I, it came out:
“How would you feel if your father and I separated?”
Telling me this was left to her, as was keeping our spirits up. I remember her signing us up for dance classes together, going to an ice cream social… all the while hiding her pain. At that time she still didn’t know about the other woman, which perhaps helped us through that forlorn period where we both walked like ghosts around the second rented house.
Having no legal backing, my mother walked away with nothing but me. My father paid no alimony and child support often came late. She moved us back to Virginia and we lived with relatives for more than a year while she tried to find a job and save money. It never occurred to me that we were homeless.
After the divorce, when mom found out about the other woman–and the child they were about to have– something in her broke. There were long periods of staying in her bedroom. By then we rented our own little townhome. She’d landed a secure job. My super smart, industrious, efficient mom, started as a GS-3 in the Federal Government. I struggled at school still, not fitting in, and she struggled to keep the finances together.
I became a latch-key kid and did the laundry. She became a working single mother and we clung together. She tried to apply for credit and they turned her down. But her grit and determination grew. She wrote a letter to the store, explaining her situation and that she’d never been late for a bill, not one. She had no credit because of the divorce. Everything had been in my father’s name.
The store wrote back. She got her credit.
Without much money and living on the wrong side of town, our special treat once in a while would be to see a movie and go to Pizza Hut afterwards. I watched the original Star Wars with my mom. We loved Grease. We sang to Broadway tunes together, something we both loved. She liked to listen to the music I played in my room; it kept her young.
The first car she ever purchased was a white six-cylinder mustang. I learned to drive in that car. She felt free in it. I think it represented everything she wanted to change. She joined Parents Without Partners and entered the dating scene. She turned down a proposal of marriage. She wasn’t in any hurry. I watched my mom blossom from crying in the bedroom to wearing a roaring twenties’ outfit to go to a dance with the man who would eventually become my stepfather.
Eventually I blossomed too and found my own sense of place in school musicals. She came to watch me sing and dance. My not-yet stepfather would take us to Howard Johnsons.
I worked at Busch Gardens during high school and college, at one of the shows there. I remember coming back from a long day at 10 pm or so and grabbing my mom to go back out. She was game. Through the employee entrance I drove us in her mustang to a secret show put on by the performers there. We both watched, thrilled.
She married my step-father once I went to college. He became a second foundation in my household. My mother stood erect, the single pillar in my life. Now she had company. She never stopped working and retired as a GS-11. She continued to manage money to the penny.
She never thinks she’s done enough, but her accounting has slipped on that one. She’s been the rock-solid, steady foundation of my life. If I had a million dollars I’d rent a car and driver and take her on tour to the new Broadway shows. I can imagine her amazed at Hamilton.
Throw on a good song and she’ll still dance. That will never change.
K. D. Rose is a poet and author. K. D.’s book, Inside Sorrow, won Readers Favorite Silver Medal for Poetry. Her poetry, essays, and short stories have been published in Word Riot, Chicago Literati, Poetry Breakfast, BlazeVOX Journal, Ink in Thirds, The Nuclear Impact Anthology, Stray Branch Magazine and others. Publication is forthcoming in Literary Orphans, Eastern Iowa Review, Santa Fe Literary Magazine, Northern Virginia Review, and The 2016 Paragram Press Anthology. She also won an Honorable Mention in the 2016 New Millennium Writings Poetry Contest. Her latest release is Brevity of Twit. She has a B.S. in Psychology and a Master’s Degree in Social Work.