Mom ©2017 Holly E. Gaskin
You hated having your picture taken.
I guess that explains why there are only three photographs of us together when I was a baby. One, when I was in your tummy, just days before entering the world.
A second picture was snapped when I was just a few days old, snugly wrapped in your bathrobe-clad arms.
And a third, when I was 16-or-18-months old. I was dressed in a bright red jacket with a pointy hood, and you looked beautiful, all made up and donning your best wig.
Looking through the photo album of me growing up, a stranger might assume that you died shortly thereafter that picture was taken. Because you never appeared with me in another photograph until my wedding day, some 31 years later.
I understand now that you were ashamed of yourself, and that makes me sad. I realize that you were a prisoner in a morbidly obese body that so humiliated you, that you chose to lock yourself in your bedroom and hide whenever I had friends over. You wouldn’t meet my friends’ mothers, because you compared yourself to them and you were embarrassed. I guess that’s the same reason you would drop me off at church, but never set foot inside yourself. Instead of engaging with me as a parent, you chose to lose yourself in an alternative world. Namely, the ABC soap opera lineup, and piles of tabloids, like the Star, Globe, and National Enquirer.
Even though I was smiling in most of my childhood photos, I was extremely lonely. I was an only child, one with few friends, with an absentee father, and a stepfather whom I feared. You didn’t care. You merely cooked for me, but you nourished yourself and fed your feelings with Suzy Q’s, potato chips, and (once, when you were really drunk), raw hotdogs. Day after day, you were curled up on the sofa, dressed in your nightgown and bathrobe in the middle of the afternoon, watching All My Children and One Life to Live. I’d try to cuddle up next to you, and you LITERALLY pushed me away.
By that time (I was about 10 years old), I was writing in a diary, and creating my own stories, plays and poems. But never once did I write about the way you treated me, or how it hurt. At that young age, I did not yet have the words to express such a profound, deep despair.
When I got to be a teenager, I suffered the exact opposite affliction as you; I became anorexic. Eventually, I got down to 68 pounds. I was in a hospital in Amityville for four months. You acted like it was a chore to come see me every weekend. Even my counselor confronted you, asking: “How come you never ask about Holly’s treatment plan, and what we’re doing for her here? Do you think we’re working magic to make her better?” You just shrugged and blushed, an imbecilic expression on your face. I felt humiliated and resentful. After all… You LET me get down to 68 pounds!!!! It was only when a dermatologist I saw became alarmed at my skeletal appearance, and insisted that I be admitted to a hospital, that action was taken. Otherwise, I would likely have died.
Years later, I moved 400 miles away to Watertown, NY. After we’d spent a couple of years apart, you moved up here to escape the high cost of living on Long Island. You got into real estate, buying several rental properties. I couldn’t help but notice there was something different about you. You were less shy, more carefree, funnier. You made bold decisions (like buying the income properties) that you never would have done before. You made new friends, especially with Gloria, your gambling buddy. One day I looked at you closely and noticed that one corner of your mouth drooped a little. When I asked you about it, you reluctantly admitted that you “might have had an incident…” A what? “Maybe a mini-stroke,” you said, and changed the subject.
While that alleged mini-stroke did not cause any permanent physical damage, it changed you… for the better. It switched off that part of your brain that caused you to be painfully shy, soft-spoken, and submissive. For the first time in your life, you had spunk and confidence. I really, really loved the New You! For the first time in our lives, we were Friends. In May of 2004, looking glamorous in a royal blue pantsuit, you gave me away at my wedding.
I wish I’d been able to spend more time with that fun-loving stranger who gave birth to me, way back in 1972. We enjoyed some cool casino trips and concerts together, and family gatherings with my then-husband and his folks. But, Fate being the cruel monster that she is, robbed you from me in one, heartbreaking instant. A car accident, two weeks before Christmas… and also two weeks after we had our final photograph together.
I love and miss you, Mom. But I’m still angry. Angry at you for taking more than thirty years to be the Mother I’d always needed. Angry at God for taking you away without warning. And angry at myself, for not being able to just “let it go.”
Happy Mother’s Day, Mom…. wherever you are.
Happy 77th birthday to my Dad, Adolph Robert Cordova, Jr. We spent more years apart than together. There’s no making up for that much lost time, especially taking into consideration his Alzheimer’s/ Dementia/ Paranoid Schizophrenia. Also, the physical distance between us. I hope they did something nice for him in his nursing home in Brookline, Massachusetts. A slice of cake, a scoop of ice cream, a “Happy Birthday” serenade. Last visit was so painful. He thought that I was 15 and that he was 58. Dream on, if it makes you happy. I wish my father peace of mind and the realization that he has family that loves him, even though we can’t be there physically to keep him company (most of his family is far out west, in Wyoming and Utah). I send him cards and letters, plus cookies on holidays. I never hear a word back. I pray for him silently, privately, constantly.
I love you, Dad.
I think readers would be surprised to learn that many authors don’t read their own books once they finish writing them. I’m one of those authors. My reason is, I’m always moving on to the Next Big Idea.
However, there’s always exceptions. Since I made the decision to add new chapters to my 2011 book, Finding My Father, I kind of had no choice. And I am cringing through every chapter. I guess I’ve become a better writer (or proofreader, at least) over the past five years. I see a lot of poor sentence structure throughout the book, and just things I could have said better.
So, in short, the new version of Finding My Father will not only contain all-new chapters, but the original text will be improved!
I can’t say I’m bubbling over with excitement, given the sadness of the topic, but I will be personally satisfied and proud when I’ve completed this project.
This one’s for you, Dad.
The weather forecast had called for perfect, sunny weather for the four days I’d be in Brookline. When I arrived in the city, however, the scenario changed. Now it looked as though Tuesday (my third day there) was going to be a washout. Since I don’t drive, I was counting on my feet, and Boston’s convenient Public Transportation System to get me around. Granted, there was a T station right across the street from where I was staying, but still… I’d have to walk a couple of blocks from my stop at Coolidge Corners to Park Street, where Dad’s nursing home was. So on Monday, I made sure to pop into a CVS drug store, where I purchased a hot pink umbrella.
Fast forward to Tuesday morning… I brought my trusty new umbrella with me as I walked the few blocks to get breakfast, then back to my rented room. As I sipped my coffee, I reflected on yesterday’s visit with Dad and his care team. It had been a depressing mission; my heart was still heavy from seeing him in such feeble condition. I needed to find some uplifting way to spend the morning before I returned to visit my father again. I opted to make my way across town to Quincy Market, which always bustling with tourists and food vendors, selling delicious wares.
So, I’m standing on the platform, waiting on the Green Line, when I notice that a young man also waiting for the train is holding something in his hand that is missing from mine: an umbrella! DANG! After spending $8.99 on a brand new umbrella, I’d left the stupid thing on my bed! Well, no time to go back for it; the train was coming. It was just starting to drizzle as I got on board.
As my eyes scanned the train car for available seats, I did a double take. Hanging practically in front of me was… an umbrella!
I looked around, expecting another passenger to grab it, having recognized it as their own. But as the train started moving down the tracks, I realized that some unfortunate commuter must have accidentally left it behind. I felt guilty taking it, but by the time I reached my stop, the rain was coming down steadily. Grateful for the cover, I hurried into Quincy Market. I took my time wandering the length of the building, surrounded on both sides by delicious aromas of every type of food imaginable: Chinese, Greek, Indian, Italian, and of course, dishes that Boston is famous for, like Boston baked beans and authentic clam “Chowdah.” I smiled as I watched a bunch of kids who were there on a field trip, their excitement apparent in their eyes and smiles.
I exited the busy market and crossed the way to Faneuil Hall, one of the countless historic sites in Boston. I’ve walked the Freedom Trail during previous Boston visits, but my heart wasn’t in it that day, between the rain and my worries about Dad. So, under shelter of my newfound umbrella, I searched for the nearest T station and rode back to the other side of Boston.
As I trudged up the steps of Dad’s nursing home, I felt a sense of doom, like I was walking up the steps of a morgue. I took the elevator up to the third floor. When the doors opened, Dad was right there, his wheelchair parked directly in front of me! There’s no way he could have known I was coming at that exact time! My heart gave a little leap of joy.
“Hi, Dad!” I said, as if I saw him every day, and not for the second time in five years.
He mumbled a greeting. He was just being served lunch… a tray of typically unappetizing-looking hospital food. He had trouble feeding himself. As much food ended up in his lap as in his mouth. He ate less than a quarter of what was on his plate.
His spirits seemed to have declined since the day before. Nothing I said made him smile. I got to talking with some of the other nursing home residents in the rec room, and they, too, tried to cheer him up. Even when the art/ music/ games lady, a vivacious woman named Beverly, whirled into the room and put on some Earth, Wind and Fire, Dad was one of the few patients who didn’t react to the infectious groove. My father had always loved music.
There was no engaging him in conversation. I asked if there was anything he needed, anything I could do for him. He just shook his head “no.” All I could do was tell him I loved him.
“Good!” he said, still avoiding my eyes.
I hugged him as best I could, with him slouched over in his wheelchair. I didn’t say “goodbye.” He already seemed to sense I would not be back.
I was relieved to get out of the gloomy building. Once on the sidewalk, I took a deep breath of fresh air. It was a freedom my father would probably never enjoy again.
By the time I walked to the T station, it had stopped raining. The sun winked down from the cool March sky. I folded my “borrowed” umbrella and hung it on a metal gate next to the train stop. It would be there for the next person who needed it.