I was asked by a good friend of mine, Astigirl herself, Tweet Sering, to write a piece about who my Astigirl is for a magazine. And I know what’s asked of me when I am asked to write this. I’ve been around. I know a beauty contest question when I see one.
So I automatically reached for my mental folder that had Ang Suu Kyi and her fellow Astigirls in it. Only problem was I couldn’t groove with it. I couldn’t flow. Which is what happens when I am less honest and more paporma in my writing. So I went for a run and here was my one honest answer: the woman who inspired me, made me expand my mind and heart, whose life and work I needed to tell people more because I knew it could possibly make a huge difference in some lives was my mama.
My mother was in her mid-20’s when she was diagnosed with cancer. By 29, she was gone, leaving behind 5 children and a dazed husband who, for better or for worse, had become our sole source for all things parent.
I have one picture of my mother. She is lying on her bed, with our gifts nearby. This is her last birthday. In about a month’s time, she would be gone. I see my father with a very sad, almost stricken look on his face and I see my mother stare almost blankly, indifferently at the camera. And by her side I see me smiling a smile I do not recognize. It is a smile of happy innocence~ possibly, one of my last few genuinely innocent smiles because any motherless daughter will tell you that mother loss is such a smile thief, darn it. And it’ll take awhile to get your smiles back. And quite awhile to get the light back in your eyes too. And the smiles won’t be as happy and as innocent..ever again.
I don’t think my mother ever did anything that would make anyone shout, ‘STOP THE PRESSES!’. She never even learned to drive my papa’s red Skyliner in her short life. Nor did she smoke a cigarette. It’s possible she didn’t know Allen Ginsburg and Jack Kerouac and other beat poets. She never travelled outside the country. She kissed a grand total of ONE guy in her short life. ONE, doggone it!
And, like women of her generation, she was so defined by social conventions~ her marriage, her religion, her family. She never got to challenge those conventions, never got to question the standards by which she judged herself and others around her. She never experienced the satisfaction of saying to her faithless husband, ‘Get out!’. And she never got to start over in New York as a chef, bringing with her her favored child (me of course). And she never got to dance the tango in Buenos Aires with a handsome stranger. 29 years can only get you so far, I guess.
Here’s what she was so good at though: she had the sweetest singing voice that I somehow still hear to this day. And I can name in one note any song my mama sang to me—and she sang gazillions of songs to me. And our home, when she still breathed, was constantly a-waft with the scent of freshly baked bread and cakes. And she loved to read books to me. She read the Czechoslovakian tale, ‘Budulinek’ to me, using different voices for each character—Budulinek, Lishka,the fox and Granny. She was so good at holding my hand,so good at rushing to my side when I awoke from a nap. And she would sew mini-versions of her dresses for me—and I would strut, holding her hand,wearing our terno clothes. She would cup my face in her hands and kiss my face all over and say, ‘You are so funny!’ and proceed to laugh her sweet laugh.
My memories of mama are warm and fuzzy. I had her for just 6 short years yet her love comforted, guided and protected me in the devastating aftermath of her death (a veritable Category 5 hurricane). I stand amazed that it still does.
This, then is her gift to me—the precious knowledge that love is formidable and loving well might be all you need to do to earn your place in humanity. We aren’t all asked to be Nobel Peace Prize winners. Oftentimes, all that’s asked of us is to love fearlessly and steadfastly.
I’ve lived for two all my life—for me and for this woman who, for some great mystery, was dealt the ‘short life’ card.
It’s why I could never take life for granted, why I am passionate beyond belief and relief. I live my life with one eye on my mother’s short life. My inner urgency has always been to have my mother’s profoundly short life count for something mighty.
And to dance, in her stead, the tango in Buenos Aires with some handsome stranger.