“Your books are here,” my husband said from the dining room, his second office by way of Covid. I thought, ok, from the kitchen where I was working on whatever I was working on (writing, emails, promoting, thinking). I buy a lot of books online. Sometimes I buy them from Amazon, sometimes from independent bookstores. I even buy live at the Barnes & Noble or Half Priced Books. And I read them.
But I did not grow up reading books apart from James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl, which was gorgeously illustrated by Nancy Ekholm Burkert. I feel like there was at least one other book I must have read, but for the life…I can’t recall it. I did not have the patience, desire or fortitude needed for something like reading as a young person. I did not have the confidence to be a reader. Because of things that happened in my childhood home, I struggled to believe I was much more than an undeserving, small, dumb-dumb. This, coupled with my inability to sit still made reading impossible. It was odd though. I came from a family of intellectuals — grandparents, parents on down to each of my siblings, all extremely well read. I settled on where I thought everyone else had also settled, I was a dancer.
About an hour after my husband told me I had books delivered, I’d walked into the dining room to share a quick story with him, something light and funny. That was when I noticed the two very large boxes on the dining room table. “What are those boxes” I asked, and he replied, “your books.” Of course, I’d assumed he’d meant I’d received an online book order, but that wasn’t what he meant at all. He meant my books were here. I’d signed a publishing contract with She Writes Press two years before. The final copies of my memoir were on my dining room table. I burst into tears.
Tears were not what I had anticipated on this day.
But a lot had happened in the last two years after signing that contract in 2021. I had just rounded the corner from a very bad bike accident that occurred in 2018. During that convalescence was when I had begun to write. In 2020 I’d moved my mama to Indiana where I live. I visited her every day and became her sidekick-Sally. I managed her needs: bookkeeping, shopping, cleaning, cleansing, laundering, dog-walking, and socializing. We talked about her parents, her cousins, her long lost friends and predictably, my father. She had decades of unresolved bitterness in many directions, and I felt during our time together, I might be able to open her heart up a bit. I wanted to. It wasn’t a self-less act on my part. I knew my compassion and love toward her would benefit me.
In January of 2021 my mama got Covid. The eleven months that followed the 13th day of 2021 became her downward spiral walk out. I barely missed a minute with her. She quickly deteriorated and became completely reliant on supplementary oxygen, and home health caregivers, around the clock. But she did not give up that fight easily. We spent ten separate episodes in eleven months in the hospital where she picked up additional diagnoses, more medications and DNR sign offs. She got into this routine of scoffing at the doctors and somehow getting discharged, defying the medical predictions which had instilled in me each time the urgency to watch for her last breath and notify family of her impending exit.
I fell deeply and madly in love with my mother that year. In that way that a mother loves the daughter, I became the mother, and she the daughter. I wanted her to experience the unconditional, selfless love a mother usually can’t help herself from giving her children. I felt that by my giving that to her, it would uplift both of us.
I had shared some of my writing with my mother during those two years, essays here and there that ended up getting published online somewhere. I amazed her. Her little dancer could write. (Trust me, I wasn’t the only one that belittled my own intelligence, I had support in that. However, that doesn’t matter. What we tell ourselves, is what is.) She features heavily throughout my book and while I knew one hundred percent it would have been hard for her to read it, I also felt, like any love letter might hope to do, it would show her my devotion, and prove to her without a doubt, how deeply loved and cherished she was, despite her inability to know it for herself. She died on November 21, 2021. She never read a single word of my book.
I know now why I dissolved into tears when I realized what laid in those boxes on my dining room table. My mama was in there. Every ounce of this process of publishing of my story held hands with my mother — the woman I despised, the woman I believed was part sacrament. The woman who dismissed, and ridiculed and shamed me, the woman who did all of that because, she didn’t love herself.
Others will assure me she is still with me, and that she was grateful for what I gave her during her last two years. I am on board with all of that. I cried because I love her and I’m so fucking proud of who we became together, and the story that landed on those pages.
I remember now the other book from my childhood, besides James and The Giant Peach. It was My Antonia, by Willa Cather. My mother had read it aloud to me, and I hadn’t listened.
And, yes, the boxes on my dining room table are still unopened.
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