Phone Calls With Mom
For My Mother
As of August 10th, click HERE to listen to this story and an interview with J. on Write Here, Write Now, Vocal's new podcast.
"Okay, honey. I love you and give Mark and the kids my love," Mom says.
"Will do, mom. I love you too, and I will talk to you later," I reply.
Mom and I talk on the phone four or five times a week. It started during the early days of the pandemic. She has underlying health conditions, so for her safety, we stayed away. She lives with my sister, so she didn't have to face pandemic life alone, and I am so grateful for that. The first year of the pandemic was very lonely for a lot of people, especially older Americans.
It is hard to imagine, but there was a time when I wasn't close to my parents. I belonged to a very strict, somewhat extreme denominational church. Aside from that, my father and I had a very strained relationship, which kept distance between us. It wasn't until a few years after my father died that my relationship with my family began to change. My eyes began to open to the hate, judgment, and hypocrisy that I was pushing, teaching, and believing, that we are better than people outside of our belief system. That we shouldn't live our lives with people outside of our belief system. I slowly began to realize the damage that I had caused with my family relationships. Shortly after that, my life started to fall apart.
(Knowing all this background information is essential to understand the present fully, so stick with me here. I am getting to the phone calls with mom).
The implosion of my life started when I was diagnosed with a Chiari Malformation. In short, Chiari Malformation is a deformity at the base of the skull that crowds the cerebellum and brainstem, causing a wide array of neurological symptoms and death in extreme cases. After brain surgery to treat it, my then-wife announced that she didn't want to be married to a sick person in a counseling session. There were many other contributing factors, and I had a mental breakdown and attempted to take my own life. I was hospitalized for about three or four weeks, though that time in my life now seems like a blur, and my memories from then are muddled. During that time, I had one regular visitor. My mother.
She worked in the same hospital I was admitted to, so she came down almost every day on her lunch. Sometimes after work too. We didn't talk much about anything that was going on, but she was there. We played a lot of cards. I attempted to go home after being discharged from the hospital and work things out with my wife, but it was revealed that she had an affair. In short order, I lost my marriage, my house, my truck, and all of the friends that we had together. While my life was falling apart, I attempted suicide again. After another couple of hospital stays, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder with suicidal ideations. I was totally unaware that any brain surgery could cause mental illnesses to develop, so when I was finally diagnosed, it was a relief in many ways. But I had lost everything, and my ex-wife filed an injunction to stop me from seeing my children. My mom let me come home. She was there with acceptance, caring, and love, despite the years of distance from my family. In hindsight, my mom's love and support helped me begin to rebuild my life and come to terms with my sexuality. I don't know if she knows that. I don't know if I had ever told her that. And I don't think I have ever truly acknowledged the stress and heartache I put her through over the years. Sometimes it is hard to come to terms with the damage you have caused other people. This is a conversation I know I have to have with her; I'm just not there yet.
So, back to the phone calls. It would seem as though my timing is always off. More often than not, I call my mom just as she is lying down to take a nap, no matter what time I call. We laugh about the fact that every time I call her, the caller ID on her phone shows I am calling from a different state. We play phone tag every once in a while too. Cell phone service is spotty at times out in the country where we live, so I usually call her on the house phone. If she doesn't answer, I figure she will call me back when she sees I called. Usually, though, she calls me back on my cell phone. It is pretty amusing when we are both trying to get ahold of each other.
Some days we don't have much to talk about, so it is just check-ins and I love you. Other days we talk about politics or the weather. We talk about my kids quite a bit; she is always interested in what is going on in their lives. We talk about what is going on in the family. We talk about shows we watched and shows she should check out.
There are times when I am struggling emotionally or mentally, and my mom is always there to listen and talk me through it. She also reminds me how far I have come and how hard I have worked to get my bipolar disorder under control and managed. When I started writing, I would bounce my ideas off of her, and she was one of my biggest encouragers. (She is a huge Stephen King fan, so my mom knows what sounds like a good story, especially in his genre.) She gently lets me know when an idea isn't working as well.
Still other conversations happen that mean so much to me. We talk about how amazing she always made Christmas time when we were growing up. The holidays were simply wonderful, and it was because of her. I tell her the good memories I have from my childhood. One memory that came to me, in particular, was from when I was young, maybe four or five, though I have no reference to my age in this memory. I was lying in the grass, and she was sitting next to me, leaning over me. Probably singing a song or something, but I remember laughing and giggling. My mom had long, dark hair, and I remember this day, her hair flowing downward, with a dandelion I had picked for her tucked behind her ear. The sun was just right in the sky that it cast a golden halo around her head. I remember this so vividly. My mom was a beautiful angel to me at that moment.
I tell her that any good in me comes from her because her love and how she cared for us set an example. We talk about memories of my father and wonder what he would think of everything that has gone on in our family. Now and then, she will open up and talk about her childhood. She had a very rough childhood, and her life with my father wasn't easy either. The incredible thing about my mom is that even with all she has been through and how difficult her life was, is her capacity to still love and show love.
It is hard to put into words exactly how much I appreciate how often we talk. It has helped me through some tough times and has helped me navigate some awful situations in my own family. I think part of it for me is making up for the lost time. I realize that one day, I won't have my mom to talk to almost every day, and that makes me appreciate our phone calls even more. She is, and always has been, a great mom.
I think I am going to go give her a call and tell her I wrote about her. And while I am at it, I will remind her of how much she means to me and how sorry I am for the heartbreak and worry I caused her. Then thank her for always being my momma.
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Here are a few more of my pieces in Families: