This will the the hardest thing I ever write. Writing about my mother. She was everything my dad wasn’t. That was easy to write about compared to this. Because my dad was an ass. But my mom. She was my mom.
You see, I was her favourite one. Sorry sis, but I was mom’s favourite one. She loved us all. But I was her favourite one. Maybe because I was the youngest. And a bit unplanned. But I was her favourite one. She always dreamed of me as a little boy of about 6. In my khaki outfit and long socks and sandals. I never grew up in her eyes. I always stayed her little baby. Although she always laughed when I still tried to sit on her lap when I was older – much older. But I was her baby. And I was her favourite one. Maybe it was because I lived at home. Always there to be with her. Someone she could look after. Someone she could look after when no one looked after her.
We were very different. My mom and I. She was a proper lady. Never coughed in public. People shouldn’t see the inside of your mouth you see. So she laughed in a funny way as well. Always trying to keep her mouth closed while she laughed. Not me. I tried everything to make her laugh. Stupid things. Because we were so different. I am the “pull-my-finger” type of dad. My mom – she never pulled my finger. Not without having a closed-mouth laugh in any case.
But that only made it more of a challenge. How to gross her out. And boy did I try. Especially during the big Sunday lunch. I’ll mix up all my food and stuffed my face. And then I’ll start talking to her with my mouth full. Really full. She couldn’t look at me. But she laughed with that funny mouth of hers. And she ate so bloody slowly. Three rice grains and a pea and that was it. And she believed in the “chew-your-food-30-times” before she swallowed. And that was always my next chance to get her to laugh. I’ll gulp down my food and get up and announce to the world that it was time to feed my mom. So I’ll sit next to her and feed her. And we laughed. Oh, the tears that ran down her face was just a sight to see. Desert was a special time. Ice-cream and jelly for me (jello in the US). And I’ll make as if I am snorting it up, but meanwhile I was making the noises with my mouth. She was so disgusted in me. But she laughed and laughed. With a hoo-hoo-hoo – she laughed like an owl. And in between the laughs she will say swearwords that will never-ever cross her mouth at any other time. “O donnertjie tog, my kind” (rough translation: “Oh, bloody hell my child”). She couldn’t control her laughter. She might not laugh with an open mouth. But she laughed so easily when I did my tricks. And sometimes. Just sometimes, she would lose all control and have to run to the bathroom to stop herself. Although she didn’t always make it in time. Yes, my mother loved laughing at my silly jokes. And I loved making her laugh. We loved each other. My mother and I.
We had to. We had to make each other laugh. We had to have fun with each other. My mother and I. Because my dad wasn’t much to laugh at behind closed doors. Always the funny man in front of others. But never to my mom. So I made her laugh. And she spoiled me. She spoiled me rotten. That was my mother. She spoiled me rotten.
She made me breakfast every single morning while I stayed at home. Even when I went to university. I stayed at home. In my own little place outside, but at home. Close to my mom. She could see me sleeping from the kitchen. And she got up before me every morning to make my waking up the best part of the day. She’ll make me coffee and come into my room quietly. Yes, quietly. She’ll put my coffee next to my bed on a cup-warmer and talk softly to me to try and wake me up. “Morning my boy. Time to wake up. It is lovely day.” I’ll wake up slowly while she talks to me. And she’ll prop the pillow up for me to sit up in bed and have my cup of coffee. The extra-large mug that said “I Love Mom”. I bought it myself.
She hated me smoking. But she gave me a clean ashtray to have a smoke while I drink my coffee and have a quick chat to her. And she knew how to time her morning routine perfectly as well. Half-way through my smoke she will get up and get breakfast ready. She timed it that she started making my breakfast the minute she saw me get up to shave and shower. I’ll get dressed and walk straight into the kitchen with her perfect timing. As I sat down she gave me the breakfast I wanted every single morning. A slice of toast, some marmite on it and a fried egg – soft in the middle. But still hot as it just came off the pan. A little bit of pepper and salt – thanks mom. Always perfect. Every single morning. And she sat and had her tea while I had my breakfast. We’ll talk about my day and smile at each other. I’ll tell her a funny joke or two to make her laugh. And she’ll tell me to stop it because it is too early for that. And then I’ll get up give her a kiss and she’ll give me my daily 5 Rand (about 80 cents) for the day – enough for a sandwich, coffee, smokes and a beer. And she’ll stand at the door and wave at me while I drive off. Just her and my dog. Ready for her day. My dad will be out playing bowls or visiting his friends. I knew she was just waiting for me to come home and share a cup of tea together (always the Three Trees brand). My mom and me – we had fun. Fun when I was there. But I don’t know what she did while she waited for me to come home. Just her and the dog.
Weekends was the best though. We had a ball then. I would go out surfing a bit and come home ready to take my mom out on a date. Just the two of us. We’ll jump in her car and head for the mall. It’s time for the movies and a bite to eat. We’ll watch whatever I wanted to watch. It was always an action movie for me. She’ll buy us tickets for the latest Harrison Ford or Stallone movie and get ready for some action. She always said she loved it, but I wasn’t always that sure. She used to grab my arm tightly and whisper little swearwords (“O donnertjie tog”) every single time something happened – just a change of scenery got her jumping. She always expected the worse. But she was all smiles when we got out and headed for the Pizza place – always the same place. Panarotti’s. I’ll have a huge pizza and she’ll have something small – a salad or something. And she’ll stare at me while I ate. And we spoke about the movie and how much fun it was. And we wondered what we will watch or do next weekend. You see, my dad never took her to the movies.
Watching her watch television was fun too. We were one of the first people in our street to get a television. And she was gripped. She watched everything. But she loved The Protectors. We had a full house of people coming over each time The Protectors was on. And she got so involved in the story. She believed it was true. And she even believed she could make a difference. I was very, very little, but in one scene I will never forget, Contessa di Contini was being followed by a guy with a knife. And he was slowly but surely creeping up to her – ready to pounce. He was about to stab her when my mom jumped up and shouted – “Agter jou Contessa. Pasop. Hy is agter jou!” (“Behind you, Contessa. Look out. He is behind you!”) Oh we laughed about that one. And we laughed many more times at each Sunday lunch. Especially when I used to shout that in the middle of my dad praying when I spied the dog sitting behind her. Yes. She believed she could make a difference.
But I grew up and eventually had to move out of the house. I only did that when I got married. Oh how my mother hated my wife in the beginning. But she got to love her when my wife became a mother – and my mother saw this beautiful child and knew she was the one for me. But in the beginning she thought that my wife took me away from her. Her little boy. She didn’t want me to get married. She just sat there during the service and stared at my wife. She never smiled. And she phoned me to tell me to come home – the day after I got back from honeymoon. But I grew up. And she had no one to wait for anymore. Just a few visits – maybe once or twice a month. She had no one to spoil anymore. Even the dog had to be put down because of illness and old age.
But we had fun whenever we went to visit her. She’ll make my favourite food – buttermilk pudding, potato salad, braai (barbeque), her special cake, and home-made bread. Oh yes, the home-made bread. I was never allowed to cut the bread. I was going to cut my fingers off you see. I was just a little boy. Her little boy. But I got her laughing her funny laugh with that one as well – a new trick. It involved a knife and some tomato sauce. Needless to say, she was in a panic for a while. Grabbing my hand and putting it under the tap. Until she realized what I did. And then it was all funny laughs again. Yes. We still had fun when we had a chance.
But she wasn’t too healthy. She suffered from many illnesses. Not sickly. But she had many problems – from vertigo to depression. And it was tough for her. With no one at home. Not even the dog. And my dad was always out with his friends or playing bowls. It was tough for her. For someone who always had me around to spoil. Now it was just her and her thoughts. And no one to wait for at night. Just hope for a weekend or two each month.
My sister called me one night from her home. My mom was crying and called out for help. She couldn’t get hold of me. So she phoned my sister. My dad was cheating on her. She didn’t know what to do. I had enough. Enough of him. I raced to their place and got them to sit down and talk to me. I told my dad he was now messing with my life. Messing with my mother. Time to grow up and be a man. Time to take responsibility. She needed him. She needed him to look after her. To be there at night for them to share a meal. Sit together and watch television. I told him to make his choice now. Be a man or walk away. He didn’t walk away. And maybe that was a mistake. Because he said he will look after her. I wasn’t there to look after her. And maybe that wasn’t what she wanted. Maybe she just wanted someone to spoil and someone to wait for at night.
I think my mother died a little bit each day. With a husband who didn’t love her. With a house that was empty. Just her thoughts and herself. It was always about me. Always about what she could do for me. The breakfasts. The movies. The pizzas. The tea. The laughs. It was always about me. And what she could do for me and with me. I was her life. While she had me. And when I left? What was left of her? I don’t know. I loved her. But I don’t know what she wanted from life apart from making me happy and looking after me. Her little boy.
And when I left – what was left? Could my mother have done things differently? I don’t know. I think she was drained of who she was so slowly that she didn’t realize what was happening. Drained by my dad and what he did to her. Drained by her kids who meant everything to her. You see. I was sleeping while she watched me. I was sleeping while she lived her life just for me. I was sleeping when I got the call. It was 3 in the morning.
It was my other sister. She was at my mom’s. She was just visiting. And she was crying and shouting. She didn’t make sense. Something about my mother. Something about my mother. Something happened to my mother. Something about a gun. Something about my mother and a gun. It didn’t make sense. Did someone shoot her? It didn’t make sense. We both hated guns. And then I heard it. Time just stood still. I heard it. But I couldn’t understand the words. I knew the words. Three little words. But it didn’t make sense. And then she said it again. And it hit me and drained me of everything. Time didn’t stop. My heart didn’t stop. It just felt like it. It was my soul that got ripped out.
“Mom shot herself”.
I know I drove there immediately. I was on that road for 30 minutes. But the next thing I remember was standing there looking at my mom. The police wasn’t there yet. And my sister and dad was in the kitchen. The kitchen where I had those breakfasts with my mom. My mom looked so peaceful. Lying down. She always had beautiful skin. And her skin looked beautiful. She had a little funny smile on her face. Just as I remembered. She looked happy. Like she always looked when she saw me.
I sat down next to her and took her hand. “Don’t worry mom. I am here.” I just sat there with her and held her hand. Knowing not to look beyond her face. Not to look at the other side of her head. Whispering to her while crying. Crying because there will be no more breakfasts together. No more movies together. No more tea together. No more funny laughs. No more feeding her. No more snorting ice-cream and jelly. No more waiting for me. My mom was gone. She couldn’t wait any longer.
I slept while my mother died. I slept while my mother lived. I was there for her. And I wasn’t there for her. I never knew what she did during those days when she waited for me. And I don’t know what she did when there was no more evenings to look forward to. I slept while my mother died. But I loved my mom. I loved my mom. I love my mom.
To my wife: I love you more than life. Thank you for being with me and making me a better man. I always want to know what you do while you wait for us. While you wait for the girls to come home from school. While you wait for me to come home from work. I always want to know who you are and what you do. Because I am because of you. Without you I am nothing. I do what I do because the strength my mother gave me and the strength you give me. I love you.
And thank you for being there when my mother died. Thank you for helping me remember my mom the way she wants to be remembered. And not because of that last 5 minutes of madness in her life. Thank you for reminding me that we will never know. That all we can know is that I loved her. And that she loved me. Even when I was sleeping.