A response to Chuck Wendig’s June 12 Flash Fiction Challenge.
Before you are ready, your mother will die. Of illness – the terminal kind. Not the kind of disease that eats away at the organs and shrivels up bone and flesh. That kind can be seen, measured, diagnosed, maybe cured. And if it can’t be cured, at least you know what it is and how it works. But your mother’s disease will remain a mystery. There’s a name for it, maybe, but that won’t make it any easier on your mind or your heart. It will take her from you, one piece at a time, so slowly that you’ll barely notice – that you’ll learn to accept her abnormal as normal, her sickness as wellness – and then, when you’re not looking, all at once.
If she’d gone to your sister’s fiancée’s therapist, she would have been labeled with “X.” At least, that’s what your sister’s fiancée says. But then you never listen to any of his opinions.
One day, you yourself will diagnose your mother with what you think is a textbook case of “Y.” The symptoms fit so perfectly, it’s almost beautiful. The kind of beautiful that rips your heart from your chest even as you begin to understand.
Your sister will insist, to the end, that there’s nothing wrong with your mother. And half of you will believe her because she grew up with your mother, too, and she lived with her for years, and what makes you think that you, as fucked up as you are, are right about this?
You’ve been wrong about so many things. You’re probably wrong about your mother, too. Probably you’re the sick one, not her. Your sister will suggest that maybe you have a case of “Z.” Which is no consolation at all, because when you love someone as deeply as you love your mother, when you’ve built your entire existence around hers and entwined your being in hers and let her engulf you so completely that there’s no more you, only her and a poor imitation of her, it’s impossible to decide which is worse – losing her, or losing the imitation that you still pretend is your self.
Eventually, though you’d die before admitting you’re sick, she will drive you to desperation. You will wake up one day unable to stand under the weight of all those years of abuse, and you will drag yourself, inch by reluctant inch, to someone who knows about these illnesses, not enough to cure them but enough to help you understand, and maybe heal halfway. You will spend 6 years in treatment, and you’d spend even more if you were a little less proud and a little more honest with yourself. You will learn many things. How to separate her voice from yours. How to make yourself happy, in ways that would make her unhappy. You will learn that it’s all right to sever the cord that should have been severed many, many years ago. You can cut that cord and still love your mother. You can cut it and still be a good daughter.
After too many years, when your mother is all but gone, you will find the truth that you should have found ages before. You will accept that maybe there is no label for the illness that devoured the most important woman in your life. You will accept that in the end your mother’s disease will win, that it was always bigger than you or her and there was nothing either of you could have done to slow its path of devastation. And you will accept that soon your mother will die.
When you bury your mother, weep long and hard. Weep for the mother you used to have, or thought you had. For the woman she could have been, and maybe even the woman she pretended to be for your sake, for as long as she could. Weep for the times you shared when she was only half ill, when she still knew how to love you, or how to act like she loved you. Even if that love was false, weep for it anyway, because it was the best your mother had to give. And weep for the part of yourself that you bury with her, and will never get back.
© J. Grace, 2015