Monday, March 14, 2016

Eye on the Ball

If there were one defining phrase to describe my mother, it would be "eye on the ball".  I've watched her hit screaming liners and home runs. I've seen her hit drives so pure and sweet they could sweeten all the iced tea of the South. She played basketball during the 6-on-6 days, playing only defense for entire games, always with one eye on the basketball and one on her man. She preached to me, all my life, the dangers of losing sight of either.

Keep the game in front of you. Keep your eye on the ball. These were not just lessons for sport. For my mom, they were rules to life. My mom is a survivalist. Survivors do not look back at the bear chasing them down; they put as much distance as possible between it and them.

Forever, I thought my mom hoarded secrets like my dad hoarded tools or knick-knacks. She never spoke about her childhood or family or life before all of us. Even as we grew, she never seemed wistful or sentimental. Never looking at old photo albums or reliving moments when we were small. Those qualities were purely Dean. Instead, Wanda was looking forward, waiting for the next turn, the next game, the next crisis. She was the mover, I thought, while my dad was the shaker. 

As a child, I was eternally frustrated and confused by this particular quality of my mom. I was left constantly wondering and guessing about what she did not say and did not share. I felt I was always running behind, and my mother has never been one to look back. Privacy seemed to be her greatest weapon. She did not offer; I did not intrude. And this was our dance of life. 

Even as my dad got sick, she kept their problems at bay as long as she could. As he worsened, even in the final months, she tried to stay focused and look ahead. I think that only as she saw the future dwindling, she began to look back. Since Christmas, my mother has changed. She talks more: about politics and world events, about fear, about her past. Each visit, I learn new things. Some she gives freely. Others require questions. But there are no more secrets. 

Tonight, as we cooked dinner, she talked about her life before Dad. Before all of us. It was deep and wide, swimming with nostalgia and regret. I leaned on the kitchen sink, watching her as she stirred and spoke and then looking out the window when it felt too much. It was a beautiful and intimate reflection, and I suddenly was aware that it was less conversation and more confession. My mother doesn't have a storage shed full of knick-knacks and tools to give me. Instead she has left me this: herself. 

And I began to wonder if I had been locked out all those years or just too afraid to turn the doorknob? 

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