A handful of turned-over onionskin pages sit on the table beside a bottle of White-Out and two half-used pencils, one red, one black. When I was young, I used to love to bite into her pristine pencils and chew them until they were riddled with tooth marks. Mom would scold me. "You always put everything into your mouth. Don’t I feed you enough?"
I stare at the papers before me. Mom told me she was working on a memoir. She didn't intend to publish it, she said. She just wanted to leave a record of her memories for her children and grandchildren. Curious, I pick up a page and read.
My mother's relatives regarded me as a strangely cold, unapproachable child. “She acts like a gentile,” they said, and blamed Dad for having chosen to live in a suburb where there were no other Jews.
In truth, I was not affectionate or demonstrative. From infancy, I disliked being touched. Even today, in my old age, I experience a moment's hesitation before I can kiss someone's cheek in greeting. I am much more comfortable being alone than in situations where I am expected to be sociable. The feeling of loneliness, no more frequent now than when I was younger, is seldom a yearning for a particular person who has gone out of my life. It is instead a familiar, throat-tightening ache for the person I wanted to be and never was.
I recognize instantly what she is saying. I'd experienced it since I was a small child. Whenever I reached to be picked up, Mom would hold me for a moment then put me down. When I went to kiss her, she would turn away, offering only her cheek. Her shoulders would stiffen if I tried to hug her. At a young age, I learned not to climb up on her lap the way other children did with their mothers. I knew she would only brush me off like a fly. I always thought she hated me.
This is a remarkable revelation. Here in her own words, she acknowledges her basic nature. She doesn't apologize. She's not ashamed. I'm ashamed of everything. I think everything is my fault. Even in The Way, I was always apologizing. Mom hates it when people say they're sorry all the time, like when she came out to rescue us last week and I kept saying I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry. She finally told me to put a lid on it. She said she got the message the first time.
The Doctor once told me that Mom was possessed and not to trust her. He said the Prince of Darkness made her so confident. But I don't think I believe that anymore. Here she's simply stating the facts. She knows herself and her ruthless self-knowledge is liberating to me. It wasn't just me she didn't want to be close to. It was everybody. If she was possessed, then that's how she was born. And after bearing two children, I can't believe people are born with devil spirits.
I hear a noise and the light goes on in the kitchen. Mom stands near the sink and rubs her forehead. I quickly replace the page facedown on the table and stand up.
"Can't sleep?" she says.
"Did I wake you?"
"No, I couldn't sleep either. I usually wake up about this time anyway and fix myself some toast. Then I go back to bed. I heard the water running." She approaches the family room and glances at the vase of roses. "Oh, you found my book, I see."
"Yes, I hope you don't mind that I…"
"It's not all that great. Just something for me to do. Now that I'm retired, I have a lot of time."
"Well, you'll be busy now."
"Yes, I suppose I will. Now look who's here." Mom motions towards the doorway and there is Joshua, rubbing his eyes.
"Mommy," he says. "Thirsty."