Letter to Mom

Dear Mom,

As a young man, I was never able to understand why you left me. Before you went away, you did your best to care for me. Whenever my father beat me, you tried to stop him, but it was never enough. I still remember, all these years later, the days I had to stay home from school because of the whippings. One day I was lying on my bed while you put salve and cold compresses on the welts.

It must have been something I did that made him so angry; or maybe it was something I didn’t do. I know he was never happy with anything I did around the farm. If I didn’t weed the garden, mow the lawn, feed the animals, help wash dishes or keep my grades up, it was the belt or the stick.

You never knew at the time because you were in the hospital, but I need to tell you about one of those teachable moments he forced me to endure. I can’t remember what caused him to get so mad, but he locked me in a scary, dark place under the cellar stairs. Time is irrelevant to a 9-year-old, so I don’t know how long I was in there. I did learn my lesson, though.

 Do you know how easy it is to let your mind drift away so far that you can lose all physical sensations? I discovered that tears don’t mean a thing. Physical discomfort is for sissies, and anger becomes a lead weight in the center of your soul. The only real friend I had was my Border Collie, Roxie. She never judged me and stood by my side whenever we escaped into the woods for a few hours.

When you took ill, it seemed you were spending more time than normal in bed. Do you remember the chiropractor who came to the house to massage your neck and back, in one of those fancy massage chairs?  He noticed my fascination with what he was doing, so he patiently taught me a few strokes I could use on you between his visits.

Your big four-poster bed was waist-high, but I was able to reach far enough to massage your back and legs. I never forgot you telling me how all those black and blue bruises came from the penicillin shots you had to take. Your back, hips and legs were so discolored.

I never tired of running errands for you, helping you to the bathroom, lifting you into bed and picking you up whenever you fell. I did my best to make you well.

You never knew that I was nearly killed by a car passing our bus when I was in Fifth Grade. You were in the hospital again. I was unconscious for fifteen hours. To this day, I don’t remember any part of it. During my recovery and to prove that I survived, I had to sit in the car outside your hospital window. When my father told you about the accident, he made me wave with both arms, even though my right arm was still in a sling. He didn’t care.

In the waning days of summer, I was still recovering from the accident. It wasn’t’ fun. No one ever gave me a reason why you spent so much time in the hospital. All I know is that in late August, the old man came home and said that you had died.

Died? That didn’t seem to mean anything to my ten-year-old brain. Yeah, sure, I’d seen dead animals but, a person? Not just any person; my mother, my protector, the one I massaged and for whom I brought crackers and water.

Oh, how well I recall being in that funeral home. I still see the name above the front door—Trimmer’s! There were lots of people sitting around, murmuring. I got up and stood next to your casket. I remember looking at your eyes for a long time.

A small voice kept interrupting my already-confused brain, “Please move one finger to let me know that this isn’t real. If you could open your eyes for just a moment. I want to know that everything will be alright.” But, damn it, you were frozen in place. You left me alone with the monster.

I was now expected to fill in the void more than ever. In mid-October, I was told to have dinner ready when the s.o.b. got home. I put some chicken in a pan on the gas range, then left to catch the school bus.

Around ten-thirty in the morning, I was picked up from school. The fire department had put out the fire which had done moderate damage to the kitchen, living and dining room. All I really cared about at that moment was how my dog, Roxie, was doing.

She was always kept in the cellar while we were gone. If she’d stayed on the floor, she would have been alright. She died from smoke inhalation, having run to the top of the stairs. The firemen, and I’m sure my father, thought it best to bury her before I could do it. They never, ever revealed where she was buried. They wouldn’t even give me that. I had killed my best friend. And, I was still blaming myself for not doing a better job at keeping you well.

For many nights after you died, I would stand at my bedroom window looking up at the stars. When one bright star twinkled out the corner of my eye, I knew it had to be you. it only took a few months for me to realize that nothing was ever going to get better.

I think that the times when I missed you most were my school events. Our Eighth-Grade class of eleven kids put on a patriotic skit for parents at a local church. My part was to repeat, from memory, the Gettysburg Address. I never missed a word. I can still repeat it all these years later. You weren’t there! Were you?

As a teenager, I kept my successes private as much as I could. I stumbled through my first love; even that was unacceptable to the old man. I took up flying and made my first solo flight in a J-3 when I was sixteen. Though my instructor told me not to go too far, I felt totally free! I flew higher and farther than he ever knew. So many exciting things, Mom! Not being able to share those firsts with you has left me with a wound that’s never healed.   

You might not like hearing this, but one afternoon, when I was fifteen, I held a gun to my head for nearly an hour. Thoughts of a loving girlfriend haunted me until I finally relented. Except for her, I didn’t think there was any other purpose for living.

In high school, I never lost any of the cross-country races and that meant everything to me. I went to State. You would have been so proud! I began running just after you died, and I’ve never stopped. I’ve known many women over the years, but few have given me any semblance of the comfort one gets from a nurturing mother.

I’m quite sure you know all this and more, but I had to get it out. I’ve been lost these past sixty-eight years since I begged you to move your finger. I lost faith in every creature and have never learned to fully trust in anything. That knot in the center of my soul has never come loose. When my youngest son died a few months ago, I almost cried. It only took me a moment before I went back into that dark hole under the stairs.
Till we meet again,
Casino Danova – 2017

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