Last night I dreamed about my mother. Specifically, I dreamed that I was besotted with grief over her death, and crying in big, heaping tears. I was crying the way I sometimes want to, but seldom do anymore.
I’ve been missing her a lot lately. I’ve been wondering what she would think of me if she could see me now, a thirty-four year old mother of two little girls. It’s a hard thing, to become a mother without having one in your life. I have so many questions and I find myself wondering about a thousand little things every day.
I wonder what I was like as a baby. Did I make these faces, these sounds? Was I a good sleeper? An early talker? Did I cry a lot?
But mostly I wonder about her as a mother. Was it what she imagined? Did she love it? Did she sometimes hate it too? Was there an exact moment when she fell in love with me or did it come in grand, sweeping waves like mine does for my girls? Did she ever want to have a second child? Was I good enough for her?
A woman I went to kindergarten with had her first baby this week and the woman’s mother sent me a photo in which she is holding her little granddaughter. Her mother was a good friend of my mother’s and I sat there at my desk, looking at this photo of my mom’s friend with her first grandchild and I tried to imagine my mother in her place, holding Vera or Juliette in her arms, and looking proudly up at the camera. I tried to imagine the email she would have sent, how thrilled she would have been.
It’s at once easy to imagine, and also impossible.
Last night, Vera kept waking up from unsettling dreams, and in some weird twist of events that often happen in families of young children, Greg ended up sleeping alone in Vera’s bedroom and I ended up with the two girls in our bed. Once they were both asleep on either side of me, Jules nestled in against my side, breathing like a little kitten, and Vera with one leg flung over my abdomen, snoring like a grown man, I found myself unable to sleep. I lay there, flat on my back, these two little life forms on either side of me, staring up into the dark at the barely visible ceiling, thinking about my mother again.
What if she could see me right now, I thought. Then I rephrased the thought, aiming truer. I wish she could see me, right here, right now. Mom, mom, mom, I called silently into the night. Please see me. See me here with my two daughters, all of us inextricably linked, even though you’re gone. They’re part of you, part of me.
And then the hardest part.
I need you, mom. I need you maybe more than I’ve ever needed you.
The woman whom I most want to teach me how to be a woman is not here, and I wish she was.
If I’m going to be honest, I’ll admit that a not-so-small part of me thinks she would have all the answers I’m seeking. That she could whisper in my ear, just like she did when I was a girl, just like I do now to my own girls, all the secret assurances that would enable me to take a deeper breath, to feel like it’s all okay. To feel like who I am is okay.
“I love you with a fierceness that overwhelms me with its intensity,” she wrote in a letter to me once. “I promise you I will be here to see you grow up and go to college, and see your work published and meet your husband and be grandmother to your children. I promise.”
I come back to this letter every once in a while and I let my eyes trace over those words, let my entire body yearn for them to be true. So much of me thinks that because she wrote them, because those words, that promise, exists in writing, right here in her very own handwriting, then they must be true.
I can only content myself with this:
When I promise my own girls that I will see them through their lives, that I will be there for them through anything they do or become, I mean it from a place deeper than I’d ever realized existed. My promise exists in a place that transcends time, that transcends physical boundaries, that transcends whatever may come between us in this lifetime. Even death.