Lately, I've been dreaming about my mother. The dreams revolve around the minutia of my new life, with her presence- a kind of alternative reality, a what if? possibility. Though my relationship with her was challenging, I am comforted by these nocturnal reunions. My father is frequently with her. That is an added relief.
I struggle with what these dreams could mean. Are they a not-so-subconscious wish for those who are gone to share in my current happiness? Could they be a communication from beyond the limits of life? Is it connected to the fact that recently, I have often seen young girls who resemble Melissa? Am I being haunted? Or do I haunt myself?
I don't know, but the issue is more about my mother, who was difficult and forceful, more like the stereotypical male provider than a nurturing homemaker. My father represented hearth and sensitivity to my sister and me. There are wounds there that I will not reopen now.
But back to my mother.
After all the material I included in my thesis profile of her, where I focused on her trials, successes, and overwhelming drive, where I learned more about the woman who ruled my life, the woman whose approval I craved as much as resented turned out to be the victim of hurts and disappointments so much like my own, there are a few things I regret that I left out.
There is one memory I have of her that is special, but like my recent dreams, it is indistinct and probably owes as much to fantasy as fact. It is my most cherished.
I was very young, perhaps four or five. We had gone for a walk in Valley Green, a part of Philadelphia's vast Fairmount Park. (I can almost hear my sister exclaiming, 'What?' at this early point in the story, because it is not something my mother would normally have done.) I distinctly remember walkng along one of the smaller paths, stepping over the rocks that pushed through the hardened dirt, brushing back leaves, and the excitement of finding the reward at the end of the path. Through the distortion of time, it is the details I remember, not the destination or the whim behind this uncharacteristic hike.
The details are precious.
We got lost. Somewhere along the trail we had missed a turn and were far past the unremembered destination. The afternoon was fading into early evening; it must have been mid-summer or late spring, the air had the hint of coming night despite the bright, slowly lowering sun. We kept walking and my mom encouraged me (more likely badgering or sharply demanding) to keep going, but I was young and tired.
At this point I should probably expand on the fact that I was a demanding and boisterous child. Ok. I was a loud and spoiled brat. And my mother was not warm and fuzzy. She was tiny, barely five-foot tall and not more than one hundred pounds. In fact, she would become concerned about her weight if she went over that century mark, she was not anorexic; she never starved herself. And I think, at this point in her life she was heavier than usual, maybe a whopping one-ten.
When I collapsed in a tantrum, declaring that I could not walk one more step, my mother offered something unique. She gave me a piggy-back ride.
We were a long way from the car, but my mother carried me the whole way back.
I remember the sharp feel of her shoulder blades against my face, the smell of her peroxide-blonde hair, the pinch of her long fingernails supporting my thighs, and the uneven rocking of her stride as she carried me along the path.
By the time we got back to the car, the sunlight was slanting sharply toward dark. I don't remember what she said or what happened when we arrived home so much later than expected. Those pieces are lost.
I am not even certain that it ever truly happened. It could very well be a vivid dream transformed into memory. I don't think so, because when, years ago while riding my horse in the Park, I came upon a rock-strewn trail and followed memory to a nearly empty parking lot, or, now, when I smell a certain type of greenness in warm summer air, or when the sunlight slants that certain way, I feel bone beneath my cheek and inhale the scent of old shampoo.
The details are precious.