Sunday, October 23, 2011
A Year of Sundays–Chapter 1 Part 2
Chapter 1 - May 1
part 2 of 4
I heard Elizabeth, downstairs talking to our mother, her voice brittle with stress. "Oh, Mama, you look so tired. We don't have to talk tonight. Let's wait until you feel stronger."
"I'm not going to feel stronger. Haven't you learned anything about dying? I feel pretty good, awake and alert, which, according to the death brochure, probably means I've only got a day or two left. And then I'll be gone. If I don't talk now, I won't get to say the things I want to say."
"Don't talk like that, Mama – maybe you're getting better."
"Get your head out of your ass, Elizabeth. I'm dying.
Elizabeth sniffed, loudly. "Be nice, Mama."
"You're right. I'm sorry. I just want you to understand – you have to understand and start getting a grip. You can say a prayer for me every minute, you can beg and bargain with God, but it's not going to change the truth. I've had a beautiful life. I have five amazing children, two adorable grandchildren. I'm sorry you all have to go on without me, but that's how it's supposed to be. I would live longer if I could, but I don't get to."
Elizabeth started crying. Of us all, she's the one who lived most in denial. If she just knelt long enough and prayed hard enough, God would eventually answer. And no matter how many times we goad, "What if the answer is No?" she believed that enough faith could change the answer.
Our mother let her cry and kept talking. "Did you know that your father was my first love? He was the first boy I ever kissed on the lips. I was fifteen. I suppose I've told you the story hundreds of times. I've been sleeping so much these days, and dreaming about that first kiss. I miss him so much. I wake up thinking, 'Oh, Joe, I'm coming, I'm coming!' I hope there's a Heaven, and my lifelong best friend is waiting there for me."
"There is, Mama, there is, and he'll be waiting."
"Then it's not too sad for me to join him, is it? All the things I never got to tell him – it was terrible to lose him without warning. I like it better this way. I get to hug my children, hold my grandchildren close and tight, and really treasure the moments. We're all lucky that way. We get to say goodbye."
"We're going to fall apart without you," Elizabeth said softly. "How many Sundays will there be after you've gone?"
"All of them. I fully expect Sundays to continue. You need each other.
"You, my first daughter, were my dream come true. Parents love their children, yes, and when you're pregnant, all you want is a healthy baby. But for me, well, I was crazy for Silas, and my heart melted when he stared at me with his big serious brown eyes... but I still wanted a daughter. Joe, of course, wanted a football team of strapping boys – they all do, I think – men." She laughed, and it was a merry sound. "Poor Joe, so many girls, one after another. But at least he got Silas, and Silas always made him proud. Anyway, I'm rambling. You were asking about Sundays. I have a plan, because I'm a controlling mother. A year of Sundays. And then will come the reading of my will, and the dividing of the money."
Elizabeth's snort of laughter came sudden and unexpectedly, filled with shocked outrage. "You're not giving us any money until we've kept Sundays for a year?"
"You are controlling."
"You bet I am. Even from beyond the grave."
"Are you telling everybody this?" Elizabeth asked.
"No. I'm telling you. Because you're just as controlling as I am. And I know you'll see it gets done. My estate lawyer will probably tell the rest of them, but you're entitled to a heads up as my firstborn daughter. The responsibility of keeping everyone together falls on you, although I expect your sisters will help willingly enough."
Elizabeth sighed. "Okay. What else would we do on Sundays anyway? We're all so used to them."
"Good," our mother said. "Now. I have some personal things to say to you, and I expect you to be quiet and listen."
I smiled in the closet. We were well-trained in "Yes, Mother." When we were small, and the noise level got out of control, she used to holler, "Sit down and shut up!" and the only acceptable response was "Yes, Mother."
It was quiet, and I pictured mom gathering her thoughts. Or dozing. She has lately been prone to falling asleep right in the middle of her sentences. But not this time. After a minute she started talking.
"You need to relax about this whole baby thing."
"But Mama, I'm getting too old!"
"No, don't interrupt me. Let me just say it. You are wound so tight I'm surprised you don't break. Every thought, every action, every minute, you focus on your inability to get pregnant. You resent Melanie and Jessamine's children, you twist and writhe at how unfair it is that Melanie conceived by accident, and Jessie got pregnant practically the minute she decided to, and you can't get it to happen to you on purpose no matter what you try. Don't deny it. I have eyes. And I know you better than anyone else in the world. You've wanted to be a mommy since you learned to say the word 'baby,' and yes, you deserve to have babies. I wish it would happen for you. But you're trying too hard. You are letting your whole life turn black, waiting for it to happen."
"Well, then, what do you suggest I do?" I heard anger and disappointment in my sister's voice, and I ached for her. I could imagine perfectly her expression, the angry pinch of her lips, the crease between her eyes.
"Get busy with other stuff! Go back to college, take a class," our mother said. "Pick up a hobby. Spend more time with your niece and nephew. Relax. Give yourself a break. And give your poor husband a break. He didn't marry a crazed baby-obsessed lunatic. Let it go for a couple of years and look for Elizabeth the woman. You can be charming and witty. When you're happy, Elizabeth, you outshine the stars! Where'd that woman go? Everyone would like to see her again."
Elizabeth sniffed, and I imagined her pinched, aggrieved expression. "I'd like to see her again, too. I'm tired of being upset all the time. And Eric – well, I don't think he'd mind if we never got pregnant. I mean, he won't even see the fertility specialist, won't have any tests done."
"He's a man – he had kids with his first wife – he assumes his plumbing is fine. None of them ever wants to consider there might be something wrong with their special parts. And you know how men hate going to the doctor.
"I'm just saying, relax for a while, get back to your life. All this misery over sperm and eggs. How about... just relax for the next year of Sundays? Then let my estate buy you eggs, or in-vitro, or pay for an adoption... whatever you decide."
"Your estate would pay for in-vitro?"
"Sure, why not?" Mom said in an airy voice. "Your father and I planned a grand old age of traveling the world. So – you kids will get the money. But only after a year of Sundays."
"You're laughing at me, Mama."
I knew exactly the glint in our mother's eyes. It was the I'm the mother and you're the daughter, I'm right and you're not look. Almost a smirk, but not a mean spirited one. Our mother was never mean spirited.
"Yes, but only because you're smiling a real smile. I haven't seen one of those for a long, long time. Now – do you agree? Will you try to forget about babies for a year?"
"I'll try, Mama. But I'm not going on birth control."
"Of course not. That would be counter-productive. I love you, Sissy. Now give me a hug, and send Melanie in."
I was getting cramped in the closet, and wondering if I should make an appearance downstairs before it's my turn. Unable to decide, I amused myself making lists in my head. Silas, Elizabeth, Melanie, Jessamine, Josie. This year we are... 38, 37, 34, 33, and 20. Gay, Catholic, Christian-lite, Skeptical, Searching. Gay, Perfectly Married, Tainted, Happily Married, Virgin (or so we choose to think). Builder, Secretary, Screw-up, Writer, College Student.
I made these lists in my head about the five of us all the time. It was a little sad how often I tagged Silas simply as "gay." I needed to stop that. Hell, I think what I really needed was to get to know him better. That would add some variety to my lists. Let's see... ah, our nicknames, as given by Josie, the family caboose: Sigh-Sigh, Sissy, Mo, Myjess, (and herself) Joeybaby.
What would my mother tell Melanie? Hmm... stop dating losers. Stop picking up guys at the bar, or the hospital... something, something, something, right? Don't let Caleb play so many video games – it's bad for his eyes. Get a job. Stop doing drugs. Or maybe... I'm sorry we lost you, please come back.