My mom turns 88 today/tomorrow, depending on where you are when you read this: March 10th.
We have lived together since my return from England in 1990 (my father died in 1986) after we had been apart, except for a few visits one way or other, for 16 years. It’s difficult to remember when we were so estranged from the everyday of each other’s life – even though we acted as though this was meant to be, we knew, in our hearts, it wasn’t. As the French Philosopher Simone Weil wrote: “When friends are far apart there is no separation.”
Yes, we are mother and daughter, but I think, what has been more affecting in my life is our friendship: the best I have known because it has been honest and difficult and, yet, supportive and enduring, especially as it has tested our ability to remain friends, loving friends. As with any close relationship, there have been tricky moments (and still are), and it has evolved and required adjustments and a fuller appreciation that giving and receiving love is not for making us feel better but BE better.
I first posted the piece below for Mother’s Day a few years ago, when I had no idea I would return in more depth to what she wanted us to have in common, obliging then through my reading and now through my writing: a novel about Anne Brontë, which is very near to being finished, Without the Veil Between.
Happy Birthday, Mom …
You gave me many gifts, like the gods and goddesses gave Pandora: a sense of beauty, charm, music, curiosity and persuasion. In particular there was a book, large and beautifully bound, its writing in columns and essence carved in wood.
You were as naïve as I was.
For it was also a box of unknowns, like Pandora’s, that unleashed more than either of us bargained for. I preferred the version of the myth that claimed good things were allowed to escape. All except for one.
We never lost hope.
You put the faraway in my hands, so how could I not want to go there? Of course, you meant for me to travel pages not miles.
You said you would never forgive me.
How many months we didn’t speak; how many years we paid dearly for conversations in such different time zones, trying to being ordinary when it was all so impossible.
We were both alone with our mistakes.
I never thought it would be that difficult to be away from you. My youth was lost, not to romantic discontent but missing what was true.
Could you ever forgive me?
Perhaps you did a little. When you traveled as I did, because I did: over the sea, to another country, to places you had and hadn’t visited. You walked up the hill, heard your heels on the cobblestones and voices of the dead, inhaled the mist, saw the parsonage, the windswept trees and moors, and turned the pages back.
I didn’t see if your eyes sparkled, but I like to believe they did.
Though solitude, endured too long,
Bids youthful joys too soon decay,
Makes mirth a stranger to my tongue,
And overclouds my noon of day;
When kindly thoughts that would have way,
Flow back discouraged to my breast;
I know there is, though far away,
A home where heart and soul may rest.
Warm hands are there, that, clasped in mine,
The warmer heart will not belie;
While mirth, and truth, and friendship shine
In smiling lip and earnest eye.
The ice that gathers round my heart
May there be thawed; and sweetly, then,
The joys of youth, that now depart,
Will come to cheer my soul again.
~ Anne Brontë, Poems by Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell
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