I’ve been told I look more and more like my mother every day. There’s a picture on the piano in our dining room – my mother is no more than 20, Farrah Fawcett hair, clear brown eyes, mouth parted in a smile while she looks off in the distance. The look of youth in her eyes hurts my bones.
I’ve written about my father often and often without meaning to. It’s easier to write about him in a lot of ways. Not my mother. Trying to put into words the love and gratitude I have for her seems so pathetic. Even now, I struggle to write this, feeling trite and inadequate.
She was her father’s favorite; he treated her like the son he wanted. At age 13, he left her by herself in London for a week. At 18, he paid for her to come study in America. That’s not the woman I grew up with though. This adventurous, fiercely independent, witty woman had her light dimmed by a too early wedding to a charming, handsome, and abusive man.
Still, she finished what her father sent her to America for – she had a career that provided for her four children over 30 years. All the vitality in that photo was channeled into loving us fiercely and doing her best to protect us from the worst of our father. But there were things she couldn’t hide and what broke my heart over and over again through the years was the sound of resignation in her voice after a long day. Her hands small in mine.
She endured and persevered through the turmoil of her husband’s physical and emotional violence. I don’t need to explain the strength and courage it took to leave her 30+year marriage and half of her earnings behind. I don’t need to explain how her iron will saw her through my brother’s illness and now, his recovery. I don’t need to focus on her identity as a mother or a wife – I don’t need to prove that she excelled in those roles because the fact that our family is stronger after everything we’ve been through is proof enough.
Everything good in my life and about me is because of and from my mother. She provided stability in utter chaos; a lighthouse in a storm. She built a rock solid home on sinking ground.
It’s hard to look at our parents as anything more than just that. It’s hard to admit that they existed before our birth and are a product of their past lives. We hear stories and see glimpses in photographs and videos but it’s almost impossible to understand our parents as people with as much hope and as many dreams as we have and have had. But it’s in this past year that I’ve started to see glimmers of the woman in that photograph. Her hair is longer than it has been in 20 years, she looks better than I do in a dress, and her eyes have softened.
I look more and more like her every day because she looks more and more like herself.