51: Meeting Mom

51: Meeting Mom

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Reboot Your Life

Meeting Mom

Fortunately analysis is not the only way to resolve inner conflicts. Life itself remains a very effective therapist.

~Karen Horney

“So, what does poison ivy look like?” my mom asked with a nervous laugh. I could hear her picking her way gingerly through the bramble — over rocks, around prickly bushes. As she followed me over a fallen tree, I realized that some part of me was purposefully choosing the toughest, most overgrown path and, amazingly, she was following nearly without complaint.

As we trudged through the damp weeds and clambered over a jutting rock, I felt the years melt away . . . I was no longer an out-of-shape teacher in her late twenties leading her overweight fifty-year-old mother down into an abandoned ravine choked with debris and runaway weeds. I was twelve again and, for the first time ever I was sharing a childhood exploration with my mom.

A lump rose in my throat and I blinked hard, silently chastising myself: Don’t cry now, she’ll never understand. The tears came anyway and so I tucked my head down and pressed further into the overgrowth.

“What did you and Cyd do down here?” my mother puffed as she struggled to keep up.

“You’ll see, if we ever manage to find the creek under all these weeds.”

As a kid I had been as familiar with this ravine as I was with the path that ran from my house to Cyd’s, but it hadn’t been so overgrown then. It used to be so open and pretty, and when I had stood at the mouth of the ravine with my best friend and looked down, it was like staring into our own private Land of the Lost.

We had made it to the base of the ravine by now and I caught a glimpse of the creek’s dark water beneath the branches of a fallen tree. I climbed out and balanced precariously on the limb that served as a tenuous bridge between the two banks. “See? I told you it was here.”

I stepped off onto the other bank and slipped off my shoes. The water felt just like I remembered, so cold my feet were numb to the squishy mud between my toes. On her side, my mom leaned tentatively against the fallen tree and untied her muddied shoes, which only fifteen minutes ago had been as white as her linen sheets. Then she was in the water with me, her pants delicately rolled up halfway to her knees.

At first she fretted about getting her clothes wet or cutting her foot on a rock submerged in the dark water, but soon she was staring in awe at the untouched wilderness around her. I wished I knew what she was thinking — I could see her face lighten, the worries and stresses being carried toward the river on the creek’s cool current.

She spotted a crayfish in a shallow pool near me. As she leaned toward the water for a better view, I couldn’t restrain myself. I knew it would break the spell and ruin the moment, possibly the whole afternoon, but I just couldn’t keep my hands from doing it.

Maybe I was trying to punish her for withholding this moment from me when I was twelve years old and desperately yearning for my mom’s affection. Maybe it was just one of those childish pranks revived from my twelve-year-old mind, the ones that had irritated even Cyd.

Either way, it could not be stopped.

My hands did the unthinkable — they scooped up the ice cold water and flung it at my mom. It wasn’t a lot of water — more than a splash, but less than a dousing. Just enough to soak her neatly pressed pants.

She looked up astonished. “What . . .?” Her voice trailed off and her eyes took on a strange cast, almost devilish. Next thing I knew, I was drenched head to toe, and my mother’s look of surprise had been replaced with one of feigned innocence. I was flabbergasted. How could she do that? I knew I splashed first, but

Then it occurred to me how we must look: two grown women standing knee-deep in a creek, fully dressed and dripping wet, make-up melting into rivulets down our faces.

My mom must have been thinking the same thing, because suddenly she tilted her head back and laughed, a sweet beautiful laugh rising from her heart and startling the birds from the treetops. It was a sound so foreign to the small dark house in which we had tiptoed around each other for all those years that now it collected in my throat like forgotten sadness and I swallowed until I could feel the weight of it in my chest. Her laughter, so light and sudden in the abandoned ravine, made me realize something that had never occurred to me before: Maybe it wasn’t me who had been deprived all those years that she wasn’t part of my life. Maybe while my mother sat alone in her dark room, locked within the prison of her depression, she dreamed of today and a daughter who would insist that she live . . . even if it meant dragging her kicking and screaming into the sunlight.

Later, as we trekked home trailing wet weeds behind us, I almost asked her. I could feel the heat of the unspoken question, the challenge I had carried for the last fifteen years: “Mom, where were you?”

I smiled as I realized that I didn’t have to voice that question. You’re here now, Mom.

Thank you.

~Katherine Higgs-Coulthard

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