When your 67-year-old mother falls down all eleven steps in your stairwell at 5AM while she’s visiting your new house for the first time and because she is trying to be nice and not disturb anyone by keeping the lights off, let me tell you it gives you a whole new perspective on your relationship with her, her mortality, and your strange premonitions. Well, it gives you all those things if you are me, which you aren’t, but you get the point.
I was startled and horrified when I heard the soft bumping that was more than a cat descending the eleven steps that lead down to the first floor and right into our double front doors, which are entirely made of glass, but I knew exactly what was happening, because I’d been seeing it from inside whoever was falling down the stairs since I moved into this house in July. I’d say at least twice a week I’d have what I’ll call a vision or a premonition where I seemed to be inside someone falling down the long flight of stairs. The person would miss the top step and then slide, tumble, bump to the bottom, so when at 5AM, I heard a noise that resembled someone falling down the stairs, I realized my premonition had some true, and somehow instantly I knew it was my mom.
When I heard the ruckus, I jumped out of bed, got dressed, and ran out into the hallway to find my mom at the bottom of the stairs in her nightgown. She was just sitting there. Silent. But sitting. We picked her up and dusted her off. Luckily she only hurt her shoulder, her hip, and one hand, and they were just bruised. Every possible scenario ran through my mind that morning, the things that could have happened but didn’t. And I learned a few things from it, things similar to what I learned about my dad and posted here (seven years ago, wow, I’ve been writing here for seven years).
1) She is my mom, and while I see her as sort of a force that will always be in my life, she is mortal. The fall could’ve been much worse, but it wasn’t this time. However, it did make me think about how she’s 67, which is still young, but how we are all aging and it only seems as if we are getting older faster these days. I know time is relative, but, man, how I wish we could go back to when the summer lasted forever and I couldn’t wait for school to start again. Some of my best memories were playing softball while my parents watched, or helping my mom set up her classroom for a new school year, then dropping into Hardee’s to see my dad for lunch after we’d been outside all morning swimming in the pond. Yeah, so we’re all aging and time is going faster, and one day my parents will be gone, and one day I’ll be on my own in this world. All of those things went through my head as I celebrated my banged up and bruised mother that day.
2) I’ve always been a strange duck when it comes to intuition. I’ve been reading more about it lately and I’ve been more open about this facet of my life lately, and I find that I am not alone, that there are lots of us who sense things deeply, who can feel others feelings, who carry heavy burdens for things that don’t belong to us, and who can see things. Anyway, since July when I moved into this house, I’ve had what I like to call a vision or premonition of someone falling down the stairs. As I mentioned above, this one was weird, though, because it was like I was inside the person as they were slowly tumbling down the steps. I couldn’t tell if this was something that I was being allowed to see from the past, or something that might happen in the future. (I’m not really very good at deciphering these things yet, even at 40, and they’ve happened all my life.) For some of you who’ve known me for a while, this may come as a surprise, but I’ve had visions/premonitions/dreams since I was about 2 or 3 or as far back as I can remember, and I can see things (you might call them ghosts) pretty consistently. I may write more about this later, but my point is that when I heard my mom start to fall, I almost instantly knew it was her, and I could almost feel her path inside me, because I am pretty sure it was the one I’d been seeing since we moved in. The visions of falling down the stairs have ended now, so I know I was intuiting her fall. And I’m not surprised by all of this, but I wish I could become better at really understanding what all of it means before it happens.
3) Finally, I think this helped me understand that for far too long, I’ve been carrying a grudge against my mom for how she handled my coming out to her. I wrote a whole nonfiction/memoirish piece about it when I was in graduate school (writing class is excellent therapy, just an fyi), and I won’t rehash all of that here, but I wanted my family to be one those families that just embraced who I was and then we would move forward. While my parents tried to do that, I just happened to come out in the midst of the AIDS crisis to parents who were just a bit more conservative than I thought. While they were always very kind to any girlfriend I may have had, my mom also spent time copying scriptures about homosexuality from her bible and passing them to me during church, my dad didn’t say much one way or another, and it was apparent to me that all their hopes and dreams for me, for a normal life with a big white wedding and 2.4 children were dashed on the rocks below them. There were choice things said about my sexuality in times of great stress that I won’t repeat here, because we finally are past all that. But I realized when I saw my mom at the bottom of the stairs, I’d been just angry at her for so long, I wasn’t sure how to recover from it. One of my friends said over the summer, “You give everyone else grace, but not your mom. That’s my observation about your grace.” She was right. I had been holding an almost 20-year-old response to my coming out against my parents. Dumb. Unkind. The opposite of grace. So with me at the age of 40, after my mom fell down a flight of stairs, I forgave her, finally and completely, like I should have years ago. I do love my family a great deal. I’ve been wrong. And callous. And I’m done with it.
Shortly after my parents left, like a couple of hours after they walked out the door, two of our grandchildren came to spend the week with us. I love all four of them to the moon and back (I’m that grandma, the one with the pictures and the stories), but for some reason I feel a very special bond with Simon, the youngest one. I would assume it’s because I’ve been around more while he’s been younger, or maybe it’s because whenever we watch them while their parents are out, I put him to bed and I get to rock him to sleep while he drinks his bottle. Whatever the reason, I feel a kinship with this almost 9-month-old kid. I can say the experience of caring for the two boys for the weekend taught me a bit more about life. Since I have no children of my own (three amazing grown men and their beautiful significant others don’t really count in this example), I’d never experienced waking up when a 3-year-old has night terrors and is screaming outside our bedroom door. Though I was so tired, I was also moved to compassion, since I, too, have suffered from nightmares from a very young age. When Bec got up to be with him, I told her I’d handle the next crisis in the night, so at 4AM when I heard little cries coming from the room next door, I got up with Simon. He’d been sick for a few days with some stomach issues, diarrhea mostly. Aside from a summer of having baby foster siblings, I have relatively little experience with babies, so I mostly just guessed why he might be crying. Diaper? Changed (and gross! colossal blow out) and pajamas changed, too. Too hot? Too cold? Found another little blanket. Hungry? Read the back of the formula canister at 4:23AM and fumbled my way through that. Snuggles? Oh, yes.
What I learned from this is much akin to what I learned when my mom fell: outside of each other, humans have nothing tangible that really matters. At many different points in our lives, we solely rely on each other for love. We need each other in ways that I hadn’t even considered before. We must rely on each other. And because I have faith in God, I’d say that we were created to see the image of God in each other. We were created to complete each other.
Basically, October 14-18 was a huge learning curve for me. I’m 40. I’m tired of learning lessons like these.
Here’s the last bit of this post, which I think is related to the rest, though maybe only tangentially. I’m not really sure what I want to say about this poem, and I may have posted it before, but having recently moved and knowing the usual connotation of the phrase “shake the dust” from your feet, I love Anis Mojgani’s reappropriation of the phrase in this poem. Shaking the dust is not about leaving something behind because it didn’t please you or you didn’t please it; shaking the dust is about repositioning yourself in relation to your surroundings, so that others may somehow see you the way you see yourself and not inside the little, tiny, constricting box they’ve put you in. This poem really is beautiful.