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Today I have been thinking about my mother and the legacy she left me. I spent a lot of time being angry at her for things I expected from her that she wasn’t capable of providing me. I was angry that she died from an overdose of prescription pills. Everyone was told by my grandfather, her dad, and my sister that she choked on vomit in her sleep. She used medication to attempt to control her emotional pain, to quiet the regret that ate away at her soul. It was that anger I held against her that prevented me from giving her the credit she deserved.
I was her oldest child and her darkest secret from what I’ve surmised and secretly hoped all these years. All that aside, she deserves the credit for the woman and mother I came to be and am. After all, we are all flawed.
It is because of her that I love to write. She introduced me to VC Andrews novels, Bob Dylan, Styx, Barry Manilow, Saturday Night Live, the comedy of George Carlin and too many other things to mention. She was the one when her husband left us said f— it and took us to Disneyland before we had to make the long car ride back to Kansas. She taught me how to be prolific at cussing like a sailor. As a matter of fact, it was her mastery of the seven dirty words you can’t say on TV that got me expelled from Mothers‘ Day out.
That day started like any other of my childhood. She dropped me off at the Methodist Church in Olathe, KS. I was the class clown. The old ladies spent a lot of time putting me in a chair in the corner or redirecting me from activities such as putting plastic beans up my nose and spewing them out at the kids who were enjoying my performance. This day we were to learn the real names of our parents. The teacher started at the opposite side of the table from me asking what does your mom call your dad. I remember feeling terribly confused and struggling to figure what they wanted to hear. I froze when it came my turn to respond. I honestly didn’t understand what it was they wanted me to say. Other kids had said things like Phil, Tom, Brad and Bruce. I was fumbling through my muddled mind for something to say that will appease the gray haired lady before me. She knelt down to my level in an attempt to help me muster up what my father’s name was. “Come on, Tammy. You can do this. You know what your mommy calls your daddy.” she cooed at me ever so gently. “What does your mommy call your daddy?” her voice was so sickening sweet. I fumbled through my tiny brain looking through all my memories old and recent to come up with an answer. Then it hit me like a bolt of lightning. A smile began to beam from my face. I had it.
“Asshole. She calls him asshole.” the room erupted in laughter and three of the helpers/teachers left the room in giggles. One of them immediately called my mother. That was one of many times my mother would utter the phrase “God damn it, Tammy! Don’t fucking cuss!” It wasn’t until my junior high school years that I would see the hilarious irony in that admonishment.
All humor aside, my mother was complex and lived a life full of little inconsistencies. Hers was a difficult existence. Ostracized in her youth, for being an intelligent young woman. When I was young I idolized her beauty. I craved her attention. I grew to respect her for the struggles she faced head on and survived. I mourned her loss long before she actually passed away.
She made me who I am. The uber intelligent writer, the outgoing, flirty party personality, the attention whore, the comedienne, the master of curse words, the fighter of unwinable wars and the home schooling, girl scouting, super mom. The type of mothering she gave me determined exactly the kind of mother I would be to my own children. Despite the fact that a lot of my parenting is in spite of how she parented me, it still is due to the way she parented me. I never gave her credit for that before she left and for that I am sorry. When I left work after I got the call she died John Denver’s song “I’m Sorry” came on the radio and I felt a peace come over me as I heard the words to the song. I knew she never intended to be the kind of mother she ended up being. Just like all of us, she had her moments of awesomeness and her low times. In the end and through it all she was my mother. She brought me into this world and deserves credit for who I am and how I view the world.
Mom, I’m sorry I have judged you so harshly. I’m sorry I expected things from you that you didn’t have the ability to give me. I’m sorry I couldn’t see you through your addiction. I’m sorry that I didn’t give you the credit you deserved. I don’t think there are enough words in the universe to express my gratitude for the life she gave to me. I, like many others, have recognized the important things too late to do any good. I’m sure that she knows, now. It just isn’t the same as being able to rectify these feelings while she was here. I made a rose garden as a memorial to the life and spirit of my mother. It was flawed but it was mine and comforts me in her absence. Happy Mothers Day.
May 6, 1990 a very handsome young man took me to a place I had never been before to teach me to do something I had never done
before. He was patient with me. His words were kind and encouraging. I didn’t have to explain to him that some of his instructions confused me because my dyslexia got in the way of me understanding left from right. My baited hook spent more time on the beach and in the trees than in the water. Still, he was sweetly leading me to enjoy this simple little park. OJ Watson is the name of the park he taught me to fish.
I was already beginning to look forward to the time we spent together. I had conned him into taking me home from work just a month before. I felt terrible when he ruined his transmission because I realized that I left my purse in the Taco Bell we went to for our first date. He was an expert at making me laugh, and feel at ease. Through his eyes I could see I had value.
It dawned on me about a week ago while we were riding down the road that it would be 24 years since that momentous day at OJ Watson park. We were walking up the bank back to his silver and maroon El Camino. He stopped by a tree and looked down towards me with a shy, awkward smile. As I got closer, he pulled me to him. Holding my hand, he asked me if I could be his girlfriend and date only him, no one else.
Twenty-four years later it is still only him and no one else. Honestly, this moment in our collective history has usually been an afterthought. We generally don’t pay it any mind except to say “Oh, yeah. It was that day.” This year, this time around I suggested it would be fun to go visit where it all began.
The weather was perfect. It was almost identical to the way it had been when we were there as kids. The part of the park where he asked me to go steady was fairly deserted. We were disappointed to discover that part of the area was turned into a railroad track with a bright red covered bridge with white outlines (like the barn from a Fisher Price farm play set). The tree where he asked me was still there. I could still see my hook getting flung on the ground behind us as I attempted to learn how to cast a line.
After we walked around for a while we made our way to a picnic table in the shade close to the pond. We sat down and enjoyed some Crazy bread we got at Little Caesar’s Pizza. There was a cute little male mallard duck swimming in the water just in front of us. I separated a small chunk of bread from my stick of crazy bread and tossed it to our new guest.
We reveled in the years that had passed between us. We marveled at how little the park we had that beautiful moment between us had changed. We were amazed at how we had grown and changed. He had taught me how to fish at this park. He taught me that he was a good guy willing to be good to me. He showed me I was not a piece of meat but a human with thoughts and feelings. It wasn’t until I chose to let him in to be trusted that I was able to open up to who I really was.
I am amazed at the rarity of our situation. I am in awe of how as we grow old we continue to grow closer despite all the drama and crap that life has thrown at us. I am blessed with his presence on a daily basis. He is my champion in all ways. It still makes me smile when I see that sweet, shy boy standing in front of me trying to ask me to make him the only one in my life. I am grateful that he made that simple request because it has led to a life filled with magic and wonder. Thank you OJ Watson park for such a wonderful memory.