A Difficult Conversation

So I’m late and flying down Beltway 8 here in Houston to meet some friends for brunch at their country club.

It’s the usual Christmas thing. Food, booze, bratty kids and photos with Santa Claus.

My phone rings. I answer. It’s my father. He wants to talk about the Christmas plans. My mother isn’t doing well. He thinks maybe she can handle an hour with the family Christmas Eve and another hour Christmas Day.

Something is not right. His voice trails off. I ask if my mom is awake. He says she is and passes the phone to her.

Her voice is weak. Her phrasing sounds tired.

She begins by apologizing.

“I’m not feeling well at all. I am sorry but I’m not sure I will still be here come Christmas.”

“It’s okay,” I tell her. “I understand.”

“I know you do. I just… don’t have any strength left.”

“Okay, but you might feel stronger tomorrow, right? I mean, you just don’t know what might happen tomorrow.”

“I’ll try. I love you.”

“I love you too.”

And then I cried and quickly pieced myself back together in this fucking parking lot because I had to show up on time. Because, you know, my friends expected me to be festive, to entertain and make everyone else feel good. It’s what I do. I lay joy down upon others.

She never really made it to Christmas.

Nothing has been the same since.

In fact, everything has been simply awful, all of the time.

What She Said (My Best Weekend Ever)

Feb 2, 1945 to Jan 4, 2013

I’ve been blessed with a strange memory.

If I’m paying attention, I can remember almost exactly what someone tells me. That being said, there are a lot of fuckers out there that I ignore so my talents aren’t always recognized.

I spent the weekend looking after my mother who is dying of cancer.

It sounds so stupid now but I was afraid to go up there and look after her. What if something happened and I couldn’t help?

So just for grins, of all the things my mother told me over those 3 days, these are my favorites.

“I knew when you really loved a girl because you would become quiet and reserved around her. You’d stop trying to entertain.”

This is true. I just have this need to completely soak up everything they are saying, doing, wearing etc. So I get quiet. I observe. This tends to, well, annoy the fuck out of the person I’m totally digging. But if they understood this, then, well, maybe it wouldn’t be quite as annoying? I don’t know… modern love is confusing.

There is a huge collection of stuffed animals piling up in the living room. I think she gets roughly two a week sent to her from all kinds of people. Seriously, kids that sat in her kindergarten class 25 years ago are writing her get well notes. Not emails. Not Facebook shit. Actual hand written notes with gifts.

“I had no idea that people would send stuffed animals to a geriatric woman.”

For the record, she’s only 66-years-old. That’s hardly geriatric.

We spent a lot of time watching the birds at her feeder. My mother’s favorite bird is the Cardinal. My favorite bird is the beautiful, loud and crazy as hell Blue Jay.

“They are bossy things but you go ahead and like your Blue Jays.”

We both agreed the Mocking Bird is probably the most annoying bird of all and we lamented that it is the state bird of Texas.

My soft spoken, always thoughtful and sociology trained and eventual “kindergarten teacher to the gifted” mother is, surprisingly, a master at the art of firearms. In fact, as a teen she acheieved the rank of “Distinguished Expert” by the National Rifle Association. It is their highest possible ranking.

“I was quite the star”

She confessed that the rifle instructor at camp was a bit “nerdy” and that she was drawn to the sailing instructor.

“So unlike me. He had uncombed, sandy hair and a wild look in his eye.”

She’s having a hard time with her balance and asked me to change her bed sheets for her.

“Leave a lot more bed sheet on your father’s side so it will cover his stomach.”

Speaking of my father…

We talked about how despite being a chemical engineer, a passionate amateur astronomer, an expert on European and American history… he knows very little about some surprising subjects.

“Your father thinks that if he sweats just enough that it actually removes any dirt or bacteria from his body but I tell him that he is wrong.”

And then things started to get weepy…

There were a lot of sad discussions that centered around her impending death and what it was like when her own mother and father died.

I told her that I have a hard time talking to people about things that are important to me. Anything serious or anything I am worried about, I try to keep to myself. I told her that when she goes, I’ll feel all alone because she’s the only one that really knows and understands who I am.

“Well, I’ve known you longer than anyone else. I knew you before you were even born.”

Then I broke down, after thinking about it all day, and finally told her.

“I know this chemotherapy is hard for you, but I’m glad you are trying. If it gets to be too much you can stop at any time. I’ll understand.”

“Thank you.”

“No, I want to thank you. This might sound selfish but I’m so glad to just have you all to myself this weekend.”

“I love you and I’m sorry that I wasn’t always a perfect mother but I tried to be.”

“No, mom. You were the best mother a boy could ever had. You were perfect. Don’t ever think differently.”

And that was about it. My best weekend ever.

She died seven months after being diagnosed.

My last real exchange with her was on December 10, 2012. She looked so small in her hospital bed. My eyes were filled with tears and I said:


“I love you so much. More than anything.”

She rolled her big brown eyes, fluttered her eye lashes and said, “What’s not to love?”

I love her and will miss her forever.