Updated: Feb 14, 2020
I lift my dark glasses from my eyes and rest them in the mess of brown curls atop my head, looking around until I see her. My eyes sweep the room and hesitantly, uncontrollably, raise themselves up to meet the penetrating stare I know is meant for me. I long to push the glasses back over my eyes and have everything go dark. I take a step forward.
“Mom”, I say.
Our eyes meet, two pairs of round islands of the same sand, one worn slightly more than the other.
More feet have trodden across the banks of my mother’s eyes, more of my mother has been washed and worn away. The tireless waves haven’t smoothed out anything at all, but have crashed and remained as dark shadows of purpley-blue under her lids. The hidden worlds in the deepest part of her ocean oozing out of the surface and spilling onto the shore in streaks of blue veins that run in currents down her hollow cheeks.
My islands are bare, with no territorial umbrellas to shade me from the piercing light of the world outside. Waves lap around my shores and soak the tips of my lashes, painting them blackest black and leaving salt stains on sun-kissed cheeks. My islands usher in visitors and the local residents investigate all who pass before them. There are no secrets on the surface of my seas. Little does my mother know what lurks beneath. My eyes light up a pink and yellow neon sign planted on prime real estate screaming “Vacant” and “Ocean Views” and “Mom, if only you really knew me”.
Time apart has created physical distance between us. For one moment, all is still. Then, the chattering crowds around us resume, and they smell like seagulls and beach radios and sandy watermelon.
She sends out a lifeboat in the shape of a limp, outstretched hand. Its whiteness trembles and sways, staying afloat by the force of a mother’s boundless love alone.
I look at the hand and I see trips to the nail salon where we spend hours pouring over colours and end up choosing the same ones every time: baby pink for Mommy, dark red for me. Manicurists smile from behind their face masks as they see a true love between a mother and her daughter who looks just like her.
I look at the hand and I see it tearing a slice of thick white bread at a coffee shop where we can’t afford anything more. The sun laughs along with us on our backs, intruding on an intimate joke only the two of us share. A sip of black coffee I only order because she does, and that heavenly slice to share is enough.
I look at the hand and I see years of violin lessons, with Mommy sitting and learning as much as me about fingering and positions and how to hold the bow just right. I instinctively feel for the callouses on the tips of my left hand’s fingers, built up over hours of practice with Mommy right there next to me every time.
I look at the hand and I see stars as I feel the sharp smack on my back for doing something neither of us will remember now. My eyes sting from the hurtful words I fling back at her which leave a more permanent scar.
I look at the hand and I see fingers blackened with charcoal from late nights of painting in the basement that go on to the early morning. Mommy’s favourite time to paint was always when everyone else was asleep. Now I don’t know how she fills those dark hours in a too-quiet house with no one’s peaceful snores coming from upstairs.
I look at the hand and I see mine in 30 years.
I extend my own, waving white flags in surrender.
We embrace, and fold in to the shapes we know so well. Her arms wrap around my shaking shoulders and I am trapped under the tentacles of a Mom-shaped octopus with too much love to give. I resist and I tug, and, as always, give in. I exhale and soothe the surge of heat in my heart, the Mommy-shaped ache that has settled there for some time. I smell what must be the last mildewed drops of her Chanel No. 9, the same bottle we bought for her 50th ten years ago today. Her coarse shoulder-length black hair tickles the inside of my neck and I feel I could choke but I just breathe instead. I close my eyes.
As the tide recedes, the shells, bits of seaweed and driftwood cling to the wet sand with renewed hope that they will stay on land, but a few moments later, like every time before this one, the waves crash onto the shore and the mess is thrown back into its foamy depths. The fleeting chance for a fresh start has slipped through my fingers, again.
“Mommy,” I think, washed over with a sadness.
“Mom,” I say. “Happy birthday.”
Our same islands well up- my sight is blurry and her vision is going but now I see more than I ever have of my very own mother. Because no body of water is forever the same and no source of life can always give and even the greatest ocean’s tide can come up empty.
I take a step back, and re-adjust my glasses to hide my betraying circles of sand. My tongue wets the cracks in my chapped lips that burn from salty streams running through them. My polished hands sweep the debris off of my cheeks in one fluid motion that removes every trace.
We both retreat into our own tsunamis, and the party goes on.