Dear Mom,

May 8, 2013 § 13 Comments

My mother, Maria Bontempi FogelinMy last memory of you is from the hospital room.

The soul must escape through the open mouth, not caring about the terrible grimace it leaves behind. You were through with that home.

I knew even then that what was in the hospital bed was not you, but it was all I had left, so I sat beside the husk of what had been my mother and was bereft.

Even as a kid I’d known this moment would come. When I was ten, waiting for you to pick me up from piano lessons, if you were five minutes late I began to grieve. You had to be dead. Then the station wagon would pull up with you at the wheel and I’d take a breath.

I knew that breathing would be impossible without you. You were essential.

I learned all my facial expressions from you, especially the one so extremely sympathetic it is both happy and sad. I learned how to feel that way from you as well, how to be so open to the stories of others that I trembled like a leaf in the wind, unprotected from anyone’s storm.

But when you died I couldn’t feel your loss unguarded. I couldn’t feel just a little, but I couldn’t survive feeling it all. I didn’t know that I would forfeit you along with the pain. All these years later you begin to come back to me in bits of memory.

You, the mother who stuffed her sweater sleeve with scrunched Kleenex and whose bra straps always seemed to show.

You who had consecutive crushes on Nureyev, Placido Domingo, Baryshnikov—and always Carl Edward Fogelin, the square headed Swede your Italian family found so unlikely.

You who turned a sighting of the first robin or violet into a family holiday celebrated with a cake of the spotter’s choice.

You who as much as “wife and mother” were a woman who lived in a suspended state, frustrated and guilty because all you wanted to do was write.

You who had a body image so inaccurate you swam in size fourteens until a kind sales assistant walked you over to the petites.

You, the worried wife who checked her napping husband to be sure was breathing you were so afraid to go first.

You who made yearly New Year’s resolutions for me to do better in math.

You who believed each of your children would grow up to be not merely above average but meteoric.

You who were my friend, and myself a little older.

I write books now too, Mom. That first novel you retyped for me wasn’t a fluke. I’ve written thirteen more–almost enough to rival the stack of manuscripts you left behind.

You died on May 3rd 1996 just shy of your seventy-third birthday. As I drove home from the hospital I passed a billboard reminding me to send my mother flowers.

Soon it will Mother’s Day again.  But you are the one sending flowers to me as, little by little you come back. The terrible frozen state of my heart, my protection against your death, has eased. As I peer around the corner of death to see your life, I’m still the kid waiting for the station wagon to pull up with you at the wheel.



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