The Big Bed
By the time they returned, I had fallen asleep. I was awakened by Big Frank gently shaking me and telling me to get up and go sleep in the “big bed”. The big bed in the next room belonged to my mother and Big Frank. I tried to ask why but before I could Big Frank explained that my mother wasn’t feeling well and she was going to sleep in my bed. He would sit in the rocking chair next to my bed to keep her company.
I did as I was told.
She didn’t go to work the next morning, or the morning after that. She had changed. Her primping and preparing for work at the White Tower had stopped. She would stay up all night and she would sleep during the day. During the day she would sit in the kitchen chair by the floor to ceiling window, staring out at the backyard at nothing.
When I came home from school, she had changed places and was sitting on the edge of the big bed staring blankly out the front window. Her bed, always so meticulously made would be as disheveled as she seemed to be. No conversation, no talking, nothing. It was as if no one was there. It was as if she wasn’t there. Sleeping in the big bed became my nightly routine.
I would lie with my head at the foot of the bed so I could see straight into the kitchen, to see what was going on. I would fall asleep soon enough but then the sounds from the kitchen would begin. The view was always the same. My mother would sit at the kitchen table with Big Frank leaning sitting next to her. She would rock back and forth, while crying and break into sobs. Words and phrases between tears and uncontrollable sobbing came gushing out. “I can’t go on like this.” “I’m so tired of this.” “This isn’t fair.” “Get me out of here.” “I can’t stand to be in my own skin.” “I just want to leave and never come back.” I couldn’t drown out the words, and sleep just wouldn’t come. I was scared. Big Frank tried to console her, but nothing worked. All she kept saying was that she she hated this life and what had she done to deserve this. What was this about? At the end of each and every crying jag, Big Frank would take her for a walk around the block be it fall, winter, spring and summer. I became a master at hearing their distinct footsteps. My mother would shuffle. Big Frank would take a couple of steps and then wait, so that she could catch up. Shuffle, shuffle, step, step. To this day, I have this unique gift of knowing certain people’s footsteps, much like my dogs too I imagine.
On one particularly sad night, her crying seemed so tormented, my brother rolled out of the top bunk and went into the kitchen to see what was going on. I followed him.
As my mother caught a glimpse of Frankie, she pleaded with a whisper to Big Frank, “Please don’t let Frankie see me like this.” As a point guard in a basketball game would do, Big Frank stood up and outstretched his arms as if to guard Frankie’s shot. “Go back to bed Frankie, it’s okay.” As Frankie turned around to leave, my mother shot a glance my way and said, in a low guttural sound, “make her go away.” Big Frank just looked at me and pointed to the big bed. His eyes said it all. I turned around and went back to bed.
Make her go away. Make her go away. What had I done? She couldn’t even say my name, just the command, make her go away. Surely it was something I had done. But what? I knew, even as a child what those words meant. She wanted me to go away, literally. My birth was the death of her life, as she saw it. How I longed for the way she used to be. I would have traded these words and feelings for a beating anytime. i guess I didn't know when I was well off.
These nights continued for a year. She had to quit White Tower. It was later said that my mother was having a hard time with “her nerves”. And as quickly as it had started, one day it just ended. We were back to the old ways. She had perfected the art of indifference towards me.
History has a nasty way of repeating itself. Many, many years later when I was in my late 30’s I received a call at work informing me that my mother had been taken to the hospital with what seemed to be a stroke. My brother was never called on these occasions; after all he was a “family man” and had responsibilities. I, on the other hand was not married, and could attend to my mother’s needs.
When I arrived the Dr. informed me that she had suffered a TIA- a stroke like symptom, but it was okay to take her home.
As I took a sharp left turn into her neighborhood on the way home, she suddenly fell over onto my lap with her body weighing heavy on my shoulder. She couldn’t move or get up. All I felt was the burden of her entire being, leaning on me suffocating me.
She was in the throes of a full blown stroke. As she lay on me, looking up into my eyes and asking for help, all I could think of and feel was, get her away from me, get her away from me.
I am still ashamed of this, not wanting to touch her, not wanting to hold her. I still carry the guilt to this day for those words and feelings. I always will. I was always the good daughter by rote. Doing but not feeling. I guess in retrospect, that’s how she did it. But the transference was successful. She had taught me how to not love or even like her, and I was a good student, although it tool me a while to learn.
Even now, when I find myself acting like her, and I do, those words ring loudly, get her away from me. I am my mother.