To put it simply, things are different but also the same.
Dave and I had dinner with you at an Applebee’s. You said that you hadn’t been out for dinner in a long time as we slid into the booth. We split appetizers, had a round of beers, and swapped stories. We reminisced until you paused and said, “I really put you kids through a lot. You turned out pretty all right… but I’m still really sorry, Case.”
I felt Dave shoot a look at me and I held back my flood of emotions. I focused on the school pride paraphernalia that cluttered the walls around us. “I mean, ” I replied, “It is what it is. It’s in the past.”
What else is there to say?
The two of us had lunch together. We went to a Pancheros across the street from your workplace. You needed to stop by work to pick up proof of employment on the way to visit new apartment buildings. You introduced me to your coworker who said, “Sue, what a beautiful daughter you have!’
And you added while beaming, “And she’s smart, too!”
You really are proud of me.
Whenever we’re in the car together, I can’t find a radio station that works. You fill the space with stories about Ed, the past, and some times grim thoughts.
On the way to dinner it was how much you messed your life up.
On the way to lunch it was how Ed’s brother committed suicide decades ago.
On the way to visit apartments today it was how Grandpa’s health is continuing to deteriorate and Uncle John has made it nearly impossible for you and Uncle Eddie to contact Grandpa.
As I drove you home today after another day of apartment hunting, you contemplated aloud, “I wonder what dying’s like. I wonder if it’s anything like seizing up, just falling back and then there’s nothing.”
I was driving on I-195 and focused on my speedometer. I had made a mistake by letting you fill the silence with your thoughts, but at the time I didn’t know where you were going with it.
“I don’t want you to be surprised,” you continued, “if later today if you get a call and find out I’m dead.”
“MOM,” I demand. “Stop that. Don’t say that.”
“Case, I just want you to know that you’d collect on my life insurance. You and Ryan would split it.”
“Mom, please don’t talk like that.”
“What? It’s the truth. And I want to be cremated so I can hang out with you guys on the mantle piece.”
“Mom,” I said with a sigh as I turned off the roadway for your exit, “I don’t even have a mantle piece.”
I dropped you off and assured you we would find you a new apartment soon. You gave me a hug and a kiss goodbye. Before I headed home, I called Dave and let him know how the search went and what grim things you said today. He said he’d call you himself to make sure you were in better spirits.
It’s things like that, Mom, that make me love Dave more each day.
And because I have become used to shutting down my emotions when I’m around you, my ride home today was filled with tears. To have you threaten to die on me now after all the progress we’ve made… It felt like you were robbing me of anything remotely positive the future could hold for our relationship.
But I’m tougher than that.
I threw on my shades and held a crinkled tissue between my right hands grip on the wheel. I allowed myself fifteen minutes to let those feelings out. Then I cranked up the Fourth of July remixes on the radio, threw on a lip tint at a red light, and danced my way home.
Because I got it like that.