My mother kept a journal when I was born. On August 26, 1974, it begins in her familiar scrawl, “A very good baby!” But that is the only entry, suggesting that either the converse was true or that all relevant ground had been covered.
I found this journal while I was in college, sorting through dusty old keepsakes in my parents’ garage: A story I typed at the age of 7, a horror tale about a mother who gives birth to a devil child and must kill her, which I wrote in the seventh grade, shocking everyone (particularly my mom). I began writing stories as a little girl, partly because it was a language of comfort, and partly because my mother liked them. She never wanted us to buy her presents. “Make me something,” she would say in the days leading up to Christmas and Mother’s Day, and as a result she acquired an endless supply of woven God’s eyes, coupon booklets and questionable poetry.
My mother kept nearly everything I wrote growing up, which is common among parents, who tuck away little scraps of the child’s imagination as it blooms. But to me, this act was big, because it meant that someone out there wanted to listen, even before I had much to say.
Anyway, that journal entry of my mother’s became a joke between my college best friend Julie and me. “A very good baby,” Julie would tease me sometimes, patting my head when I did something clever, like spilling cheese pizza down my shirt. Julie was like my mother in those years, and I mean that in the sense that she looked a bit like my mother – a natural beauty not quite aware of her own radiance – but also that she took care of me. She drove me places. She lent me money when I needed it. It was her sink I threw up in when I was too drunk. I have always been drawn to women with a maternal streak. Teachers. Colleagues. Friends. Maybe it’s because I see my mother in them. Or maybe it’s because I like being mothered. (I am not certain those are different things.)
Sometime around the age of 13, I got in a huge fight with my mother. We did that back then. My rage was atomic, and as a way to exact revenge, I ripped up a binder full of these stories I had written her, and I threw them in the garbage. I take it all back. The look of anguish on her face when she saw those stories in the trash – well, I still think it might have been one of the meanest things I’ve ever done to someone. That night, I stayed up late wiping off coffee grounds and scotch-taping the pages back into place, trying to piece together the brokenness I had revealed in our lives.
Even now when I mention that binder, a shadow crosses my mother’s face. I have never known exactly why it makes her so sad. That I destroyed something so precious to her? Or that in order to get back at her, I would rip up parts of myself?
I can’t remember the last fight I had with my mom. Mostly what we do is talk, and laugh. There are so many details about her I find amusing. Once, when I was in college, I said, “Are you OK right now?” but I speak so fast she thought I said, “Are you a carrot now?” and so when she sees me looking blue, that’s what she asks me: Are you a carrot now?
A few years ago, she learned a handful of Spanish phrases, and ever since then, when she leaves a message for me, she says, “Hello Sarita. This is your mamacita.” I have told her that “mamacita” is how certain dudes refer to hot women. Hey, mamacita. What’s shaking, mamacita.
“I didn’t know that!” she said, but she keeps using it anyway. I laugh every time I hear those voicemails. I make faces like, “Isn’t she adorable?” even though usually, no one is around.
“I think Mother’s Day is hard for people,” my mom said the other day. She was sitting on my bed, and I had just tried on a dress I was wearing to a wedding that weekend. “I think it’s hard for people who don’t get along with their mothers, or who want to be a mother and can’t be.”
My mother is often thinking about other people. I inherited this from her. Sometimes what I feel most about my mother is guilt. Guilt that other people don’t get moms who are as kind and fully available. Guilt that I still have my mother when other people do not. Guilt that I will never live a day in my life wondering if she loved me. On the way to the wedding this weekend, I was reading Emily Nussbaum’s profile of “Girls” creator Lena Dunham, and I underlined a passage in the pages of the old crinkly magazine: “I’ve only recently realized that I have a radically different relationship with my parents than a lot of people,” she says, telling me she related strongly to memoirist Emma Forrest’s description of her mother as “the love of my life.”
I have never written a story about my mother. I don’t think I know how. Where would you start? Where would you end? It’s like writing a story about water, or air. You can’t say anything, because you want to say everything. She is a very good mother. I guess that covers the relevant ground.