I woke up this morning, fixed my bed, and walked over to my closet to select the day’s outfit. I chose a two-tone gray knit top, and charcoal pinstriped pants. Then I remembered tips from the countless fashion articles I’ve read and makeover shows I’ve watched and decided to add a pop of color to counter the drabness. It’s bad enough it’s a cold February day. The icy sidewalks are lined with mounds of dirty brown, black and in some spots yellow snow from being hit with back-to-back-to-back snowstorms. Today’s
forecast predicted rain. I swapped out the charcoal pants for a green pair.
It wasn’t until after I set down the freshly pressed top and was reaching for the pants to iron next that I realized I was wearing her favorite color. I paused and smirked.
Years ago I used to purposely wear green on her birthday. I’d take the day off from work and do something to try to stave off my feelings of missing her. I was partially successful as I tried to concentrate on whatever movie I watched in an empty theater, or whatever trash TV I watched in the comfort of my living room. Hardly a way to honor her memory, but that wasn’t the point. The point was to make her day my day by doing what I pleased.
Someone once asked me if Mother’s Day was hard for me. I stared at her causing her and other lunching co-workers to look down at their plates and remain silent for several seconds that felt like hours. It’s difficult to answer callus questions or to describe to other people what it was like growing up as a motherless child and being a motherless adult. When I meet others who have lost a parent, specifically their mother, at a young age I feel an instant connection. They wordlessly understand that it’s not something you ever get over. Other people may step in and be a substitute, but it’s not the same. It’s never the same. There’s a permanent void that’s magnified during all holidays, happy and sad occasions, and mundane things. After a week of marathon movie watching including Harry Potter, Planet of the Apes, and Immortals, my nephew realized that I wasn’t exaggerating when I told him that almost no movie doesn’t make mention of a mother, or worse, several include the death of a mother.
Over the years I stopped taking her birthday as a vacation day from work. The last time I visited her grave I was fifteen or sixteen. Twenty-seven years after her death, the pain, loss, and missing have lessened to a dull, ever-present ache. It can worsen on a random Tuesday when I’m cooking a traditional Haitian meal and can’t remember the next step and wish I could call her. I call my closest aunt–her lookalike baby sister–instead. Sometimes the ache feels unbearable on the eve of a milestone, like my high school and two college graduations, my thirtieth birthday, or fulfilling my lifelong dream of moving to New York and living in a brownstone like the Cosbys.
Her absence causes me to feel envy. Athletes and entertainers always thank their mothers, sometimes before God, for their success. My cousins, friends, and co-workers complain about how their mothers drive them crazy, but like athletes and entertainers are quick to voice their gratitude for having their mothers present when they welcomed a new child or needed the motivation to be, do or act better.
My motherless childhood was my normal. By the time I was sixteen, I had lived equal parts with and without her. I imagine how circumstances and events would have had different outcomes had she been present, but I don’t romanticize her. I see the strict but doting mothers her three sisters are. My uncle calls me cheap just like her. My father used to slip and call me by her name. My grandmother tears up when she sees me dressed up for special occasions. When my grandfather gets drunk at family dinners, he hands me a $100 bill telling me she told him to give it to me.
Today would’ve been her 58th birthday. I remember her laugh, her sneeze, her big toe, the yellow and white polka dot dress she wore to stand as godmother at my cousin’s christening. I remember how she popped popcorn in the popcorn maker with a butter melter at the top. I remember that she buckled the seat belt around the box of a newly purchased dining room chandelier while I sat unstrapped in the backseat of her clownish yellow Toyota. I remember that she could silence me with just a look. I remember that she loved to eat grapefruit by cutting it in half, sprinkling sugar, and scooping chunks with a spoon. I remember that she loved listening to Julio Iglesias records. I remember that she made me soft-boiled eggs. I remember how she made homemade lemonade with condensed milk and lots of sugar. I remember how she slathered lotion and puffed baby powder all over my body after bathing me. I remember that she loved me.