In a perfect world, I would have posted this on Mother’s Day. It’s not a perfect world, and I didn’t really see the significance behind the picture (other than it being one of my favorite pictures) until the tail end of the day, once the Bloody Marys were bottomed, the bacon was gone, and long after I strong-armed my dear mom into a promise that she’d watch The Martian. I’ll willingly confess that The Martian made me cry. It’s been a long while since a movie made me feel that many things, so I figured it was worth forcing upon a woman who notoriously hates space movies.
The photograph above has always been one of my favorite pictures of my sweet mother. I stole it from a photo album years ago, and it has accompanied me to the various cities and apartments I’ve called home. Usually, it sits tucked in my nightstand drawer, along with a photo of my dad playing softball, a photo of my brother, a photo of my parents when they were still married, and a photo of my best friend. Maybe it’s the way she’s framed in the dated photograph that mesmerizes me, or the classic collar under her knit, the sweptback Farrah Fawcett waves synonymous with the 80’s, and what I mistook for quiet mystery on her partially obscured face.
She was (and is) perhaps the most elegant woman I’ve ever seen.
We celebrated Mother’s Day this year tipsy and joyful, and ate cold eggs because were laughing (and talking) too much. Half way through brunch, I pulled this photo out of my purse to show everyone. With a small gasp, she took it into her hands, and stumbled out loud trying to gather where it was taken. I mentioned the Christmas tree and suggested that it was probably taken at my Aunt’s house. I watched her eyes light up and grow sad with recognition, almost as if she were right back in the moment, trying to remember who she was at that time.
“This was my first Christmas home from the hospital, after my accident.”
When my mom was 9 months pregnant with my older bother, she was in a horrible car accident that almost killed her. Somehow, she made it out alive with 22 broken bones, partial facial reconstruction, and 2 years undergoing intense rehabilitation. My brother, Josh, was born with a number of birth complications. He was disabled, both physically and mentally, for his entire life before passing away at the age of 12. I was 10. We were inseparable. It’s something I write freely yet rarely speak about.
Handing the photo back to me, she smiled and made an off hand comment deflecting an oncoming emotional conversation on an otherwise happy day, about how she really doesn’t have many pictures of herself. How easy technology has made it to document things. That we’re lucky now to have smart phones to help us remember the memories we’re making. Gone are the days of dusty album digging and, “I put it in a box for safe keeping.” We can just whip our phones out at any given time to show someone a forgotten memory.
In fact, we really aren’t forgetting anything, anymore. We all have digital trails.
Recently, I went through a traumatic experience of my own. It was not, by any means, comparable to a life threatening car accident. It caused me no physical pain outside of not sleeping for 6 months straight and losing some weight. That said, it WAS life altering. (I’ve said before, emotional scars really aren’t that different from physical scars. You can read that piece on Medium if you’d like.) Still, it is one of the most painful things I’ve ever endured, and emotional restoration has been an arduous process. It has tested everything from my strength and will to my patience and self-esteem. I’ve had days where I’ve wondered if I’ll ever be who I was before that retraceable moment in time.
Similar to my mother, I’ve looked at pictures before that moment, hoping to remember myself.
Driving home, it struck me that when my mom changed the subject from the photo taken before she was released from the hospital, and also, living hell, I wish I had stopped her. Yielded. Asked her to tell me more about what she was feeling. Because looking at who my mom is now, and who she has become despite an unconquerable past? It humbles me. The car accident. The hospital. The loss of a child. The long lasting physical and emotional scar tissue. It makes me feel like a flippant asshole for rushing her impatiently through a single story. For not listening to her struggles as she has to selflessly tended to mine.
In those particularly dark months, I needed my mom the most. She held me together with the strength of the universe when I felt like my own world had crumbled. She cooked me warm meals, let me do countless loads of laundry, made me bottomless cups of tea, and reminded me that indefinite sadness is not a long-term solution. Being blindsided is not an excuse to stop looking forward. You have to rise above the things that happen to you, especially the things outside of your control. And when you’re desperately searching for yourself in moments past, you have to remember that who you are right now matters. You are not a second rate version of who you used to be.
She is living proof of that.