••• The International Writers Magazine: Family Matters
A Comfortable Silence
We haven’t seen each other in four years. We have spoken occasionally—calls in the evening, motivated by guilt, on birthdays and holidays—but we haven’t actually been face-to-face since the spring after my pop died.
That’s what happens when two extremely stubborn people disagree. Nevertheless, a random, yet serious phone call from my mom now had me standing on her porch. I pull the handle of the weathered screen and rap loudly on the front door.
I take a deep breath, take a step forward, and am instantly taken aback. Although she’s naturally small (five feet tall on her tiptoes), I notice a notably gaunter version of the Filipina I had in my head. She lifts her scrawny right arm to run a long comb through her thick, jet-black hair. The type 2 diabetes has done a number on her; she can’t be any more than a hundred pounds soaking wet.
“You look good,” she remarks with a wide smile.
“So do you,” I somehow force through the lump in my throat.
I nod. She throws on a leather baseball cap and reaches for her jacket, which raises my eyebrows because it is a beautiful May day, sunny and seventy outside. She locks the place up and follows me to my truck.
“Do you need help getting in?” I ask, opening the passenger door.
“No, I got it.”
She clenches the “oh shit” handle and swiftly climbs in. Surprised by her nimbleness, I shut the door for her.
“Thank you, Son,” she says while rolling down her window.
For the next twenty minutes, I am distracted by my mother’s constant fidgeting. If she’s not running her fingernails across her shins, she’s rasping her forearms or the back of her neck. She’s grimacing, and I begin to worry.
“Are you OK, Mom? Why do you keep scratching yourself?”
“The diabetes makes me itch all over,” she answers with a sigh of frustration. “My doctor says it’s from bad circulation.”
She proceeds to tell me about her failing kidneys, the unending appointments at the clinic, and the myriad of medications she has. She abruptly pauses every so often to shout out last-second directions. I, on the other hand, remain silent. Because of her poor health, she’s hardly driven for several years, which has kept her home most of the time. Aware her opportunities to vent are rare, I simply listen, doing my best to lend her an ear. She rattles off several unpronounceable pills while I veer into the parking lot of her credit union.
Gleaming, she stares through the windshield.
“I’ve been going to this place forever,” she beams. “Everyone knows me here.”
My mother and I are soon seated at a table around the corner from the long tellers’ counter. Two middle-aged women—one with dark hair, the other with light—approach us.
“Hi Elizabeth,” the brunette says. “We heard you need a couple of witnesses.”
“So what are we signing here, Ms. Nelson?” the blonde inquires, squinting at the documents on the table.
My mom looks at me.
“Her health care directive and last will and testament,” I respond.
There’s an uncomfortable silence. I imagine the ladies’ deer-in-headlights expression to be similar to the one I had upon opening Mom’s front door earlier.
“This is Tyrel, my oldest,” my mother states, breaking up the awkwardness.
“You go first,” I tell my mom. I point to her papers.
Mom initials. Mom signs. They sign. Mom initials. Mom signs. They sign.
“He’s a writer,” my mother proudly continues. “He’s traveled all over Latin America.”
I feel my mug getting warm.
“I call him Peregrine because he’s always flying somewhere.”
Both women chuckle.
“And he knew how to get these forms done,” she goes on. She brings her will closer to her face, narrowing her peepers to study the fresh autographs. “He’s a good son.”
My eyes well up. I shift them to the floor for a few seconds, desperately attempting to hide the tears that are forming. Quickly using the backs of my hands to dry my eyes, I refocus on the ladies to thank them for their help. My mom thanks them too. (She refers to each as “Dear.”) I gather the documents, and we make for the big glass doors.
“Bye, Elizabeth!” yells one of the tellers, a young man who is in the middle of helping a customer.
Back in the pickup, a tiny hand grabs my right wrist while I’m about to turn the key.
“Thank you for doing this, Son.”
“Of course. I helped Dad with his will, so I kinda knew what to do already.”
“How much do I owe you?”
“Don’t worry about it; Jay said he’d split the cost with me. Plus, it’s my responsibility as the oldest to take care of this stuff.”
“This is a big weight off my shoulders. I wanna stay around for you guys, but just in case I…”
“I know, Mom. I know. You’re not done though. You still have things to do.”
“Yeah, like hold a grandchild!” She wisecracks. “You and Alyssa should have at least two, hopefully one of each.”
“I’ll see what I can do,” I reply with a smirk. I fire up the engine.
Pulling up to her place, my mother urges me to check out her garden. I oblige. I am not surprised by what’s in front of me, however. The garden is like all the others she’s tended throughout the years: the flowers bright and plentiful, the plants thick and thriving, and everything green as can be, including her thumb.
I spend the next hour or so shadowing the Filipina throughout her flourishing yard. She shows me the tulips my brother Jay planted last year, the stout bird bath a friend gave her, and numerous impressions left by the garden border rocks that were swiped by people clearly lacking stones. She also informs me of her goal to squirrel away as much of the little dough she receives from the government before visiting family in the Philippines next winter. She brings up the trip when Jay and I accompanied her to her homeland nearly fifteen years ago.
“I wish your father could have gone with us though,” she admits. “He could’ve shown you and your brother all around Subic Bay, where he was stationed.”
“Yeah, that would’ve been neat,” I add.
“You know I still talk to him, Son?”
In spite of my parents’ divorce when I was a teenager, there was no doubt they still cared for each other. I was there when Pop said “I love you, Beth” from his hospice bed a couple of days before he passed away. And I infer from my mom’s puppy-dog frown that his death continues to bore a hole in her soul.
“That’s great, Mom. I talk to him almost every day.”
She sticks her arms out, and I give her a big hug.
“Well, I should get going,” I suggest.
“You have the same lines around your eyes as me,” she acknowledges while we separate.
“I also have your flat nose.”
We have a good laugh.
“I love you, Mom.”
“I love you too, Son.”
I hop in my truck, roll down the window, and turn to her. She’s grinning, and so am I. There’s a comfortable silence.
On the highway home, I reflect upon the up-and-down relationship my mother and I have had over the years. I ponder the peaks, and all the time I’ve lost with her during the valleys, especially this latest ebb. I think about her frail condition, which drives me to put our differences in the rearview. And I replay the afternoon we’ve just spent together, which makes me realize how much I have missed her.
© Tyrel Nelson March 2017
tyreln at gmail.com
Minnesota native Tyrel Nelson teaches Spanish and English in the Twin Cities. He and his wife, Alyssa, are always looking for their next adventure abroad.
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