The readiness with which the wounded heart resists, resents, revolts against that which it most deeply yearns for is most peculiar.
Some weeks after dinner, Mother returned to me at the height of fall, pressing her way uninvited and unwelcome into my sacred spaces, as she had at the onset of winter. I made my way to the cafe with the expectation of gathering my thoughts following a demanding work-week. Upon arrival, I was jarred by the discovery of her presence, sitting at my favorite table no less.
I involuntarily stepped back, driven by an impulse to secretly retreat while her gaze remained downward. I took one step backward then, alas, realized something. The unidentifiable presence, which had made its first appearance in my life on the dreadful day when I read Mother’s letter in the park, had entered the cafe. It was a force I could not see, but perceived as one does the presence of unadulterated evil, indomitable strength, or imminent change. I turned resolutely toward the exit, but quickly understood that I was no closer to leaving the cafe. Instead, a struggle began between the compelling will of the presence for me to stay and my desire to leave.
“I don’t have time for this right now,” I muttered.
I managed another step toward the door but could go no further. I turned toward Mother and marched forward.
She arose to meet me, her body language indicative of an incoming embrace.
I swiftly sat in my chair across from where she’d been sitting.
“What are you doing here?”
“You said it was great last time we came, so I decided to come back.” As if suddenly remembering, “ I thought you were busy today?”
“….I am…I was all week. My new position is great; it’s a lot of work though… Isn’t this place kind of out of your way?”
“Not exactly. I was waiting till we met in person to tell you.”
“Tell me what?”
“I moved to this side of town.”
“Really? …. Okay.”
“Well, I thought since I’m back in your life–”
“What?” My heart raced, my breath grew short, the cafe walls close in and the pleasing aromas that filled the air became stifling.
“I wanted to be closer since we’re talking again…you know, in case you needed anything.”
Her disposition dimmed.
“I mean I’m honestly okay and if I do need anything, my aunt’s house is ten minutes away from me.”
“I know she’s ten minutes away Gracie, but she’s not your mother.” Unmasked frustration surfaced.
“I know she’s not, but neither are you…You’re just a woman who showed up on my doorstep nine months ago and hasn’t stopped imposing yourself on me since.”
An arresting firmness surfaced in her gaze. “Is that how you really feel, or is that what your aunt has filled your head with?”
“This has nothing to do with her; this is about me.”
“Don’t you see that I’m doing this for you? Whatever you think I’ve done…whatever she’s told you about me, I did it for you Mary.”
“The drugs and sleeping around…you did that for me?”
She said nothing.
“…Leaving me alone to be abused by that monster of a father. You did that for me too?”
“That’s not fair.”
“What isn’t fair?!” I struggled to maintain a nominal volume. “What isn’t fair?”
“That you’ve made up this evil picture of who I am, based on who knows what, and I don’t get to tell my side of things!”
“You’ve already told me your side of things! You’ve already told me how noble you were in abandoning me and how difficult it was for you to not see me grow up.”
“I never said that I was noble.”
“No, just that you were sorry.”
Her nostrils flared as she loudly exhaled. She said nothing.
“You never once asked me how difficult it was for me growing up, what I went through, how it made me feel…do you even care?”
“Of course I care! I’m right here aren’t I?”
The fact of her presence was irrefutable and my inability to receive her exasperating.
“Well you’re too late!” I exploded. Catching several alarmed eyes around us, I lowered my voice. “I no longer need a mother.”
“Whether you accept me or not, Mary, I will always be your mother and you will always be my daughter.”
I stood to leave. “Do me a favor, please warn me before you decide to move into my apartment.” I turned toward the door.
The sound of her voice arrested me a moment longer.
“When did you become so bitter?”
I turned around to find her standing.
“You were such a sweet girl.”
“I’m not a girl anymore.”
I came to the garden wearied by the weight of regret, which I carried from the sidewalk outside the cafe all the way to the park. She, regret, clung to my side on the bench, her arm encircling my neck, as she whispered in my ear the many ways I had erred in my interaction with Mother. My attempts to justify my behavior, therein dismissing regret, were futile. So, I sat caught in her clutch and further imprisoned by my unwillingness to return to the cafe…to return to Mother.
I heard my name in a familiar voice behind me. I was momentarily alleviated from the clutch of regret – I began to incline my body toward the sound – until I reasoned that it was the nameless, faceless presence come once more to demand that which I was unwilling to do.
I sighed in disappointment and returned to regret’s embrace.
The pronouncement of my name was followed by the sound of footsteps treading fallen leaves, twigs, and other things on the ground. I turned sharply as not to think too extensively. My eyes and heart swelled joyfully to find that the voice did in fact belong to Gardner.
I threw off regret and leaped to my feet.
“Oh my god! What is this? What are you doing here? Are you back?” I captured him in an embrace. “I’m so happy to see you!”
We walked over to the bench and sat together; I resumed my place and he displaced regret.
“Are you back?” I asked again.
He smiled broadly. “Yes.”
“Oh, that’s good. I’ve been losing my mind out here without you. So much has happened… Too much has happened.”
“Is that so? Good things?”
“Not all together. There has been, of course, everything that has happened with my mother–”
He smiled, “Good things I hope.”
“I thought so at some point, but not really. Then there’s everything that happened with my aunt and my mother, then there’s Suitor–”
Again, he smiled. “Oh, you dating someone?”
“Absolutely not! It’s just some guy Friend introduced me to who’s terrible at taking hints. I got promoted which means I have so much more responsibility and as if all that wasn’t enough, I think I’m actually losing my mind…I keep feeling like there’s someone there but …I keep thinking these random thoughts that I would never think and doing these things that …nevermind it doesn’t matter. Even today has been so crazy.”
“You know the cafe that I always go to, right?”
“Well, I went there a little while ago. It’s been a hectic week at work; lots of transitional things to take care of and I know that I can handle the role and do a great job, but getting situated has been a lot.”
“Is the transitional period almost over.”
“Yes, thank goodness! But anyway, I went to the cafe, just to take a break, clear my head, breathe and instead I find her.” I waited for him to justify my ill feelings and consequent reaction to the event.
He looked back at me somewhat perplexed then, “Who did you find?”
“Mother! Just sitting there at my table as though she’d already made herself at home!”
“You two have been meeting there quite frequently?”
“No we haven’t. I invited her there once; that was a mistake.”
He listened with a patient, yet pensive gaze.
“I mean, the whole thing’s just ridiculous!” A fresh dose of irritation brought me to my feet. “And get this, she’s apparently moved to this side of town. I mean what the fu–”
“Oh no, I didn’t mean to correct your choice of words; I just don’t have a full understanding of what’s bothering you.”
“What’s bothering me is that I don’t need all this…I don’t need her moving into my life like…like…like she has a right to be there. I get to choose who I want in my life and I’m not ready!”
“I’m not ready to have Sunday breakfasts and go shopping at the mall or whatever the hell mothers and daughters do together.”
“Are you saying that you’re uncomfortable with how your relationship is progressing?”
“I’m not uncomfortable Gardner, I’m pissed! I’m not a child anymore, don’t I get to choose who I want to come in and out of my life?”
I perceived he was cautiously delaying the utterance of a thought. “But?”
“Continue, I’m listening.”
“No, what do you want to say?”
“I’ll speak when it’s appropriate. Go on.”
Rather than being directed at the mental image of Mother, my frustration found a new target. “No, I don’t wanna go on. I wanna hear what you have to say. Do you think my reaction is wrong?”
He looked at me with an even-tempered gaze, saying nothing.
“Do you think I’m bitter?” I waited, drawing in one angry breath after another.
He shifted in his seat, then spoke with gentleness. “I think it’s possible that your mother is sorry for what has happened between you and wants to be available to you.”
“I don’t care.”
“You don’t? Is that really the truth?”
“Why are you taking her side?! You don’t even know her!”
“I’m not taking her side, I’m–”
“Yes you are! The whole universe is taking her side!”
We looked into each other’s eyes, my gaze glaringly, his temperate. In my silence, he found the opportunity to speak what he had prior withheld.
“Why did you tell your aunt it was okay to give your mother your address?”
He said nothing.
“Is your age finally affecting your memory?”
“Why did you tell her it was okay?”
“We already discussed this and I don’t feel like discussing it again.” I returned to the bench, my eyes aimed outward into the open air.
“Have you gotten past the wall you talked about? Are you better?”
“I don’t wanna talk about this anymore.”
“Healing is a process Mary. Especially when it comes to the heart. Being uncomfortable with how things are progressing …”
I got to my feet.
“… isn’t a reason to walk–”
“I’m glad things worked out with your daughter.” I turned from him and started out of the garden.