My mother has always had a special way of taking her children’s minds off their troubles.
Like the time I called to complain at length about how sleep deprived I was, and only after it dawned on me that I rarely managed to get in touch with her in the afternoon, did she mention that she was getting all the laundry done for the week because she’d spent the early morning—as in 4am early—at the animal shelter scooping cat boxes and running dogs and was scheduled to close at one of her Curves locations that night.
Or like the time she said, “Ow” over the phone in the middle of my rant about how stressed I was and then, when I asked if one of the cats had stepped on her, said that she’d pulled her biopsy scar—the one I didn’t know she had because I hadn’t known about the lump—while climbing a ladder to get a toy one of the neighbor kids had launched into a tree.
So I really should have known better when I called my folks yesterday to catch up on the news and to describe my latest migraine, which had just knocked me for a 36-hour loop of throbbing, nauseating pain.
“ . . . but it seems to be getting better,” I said. “I can see without all the sparklies and my tunnel vision has nearly cleared up. And breakfast is staying down nicely, which is a big relief.
“I’ll bet,” Mom said.
“So, how are you two?”
“Fine,” Dad said. “Took some scouts out for an orientation, so I’m feeling that.”
“I have eye surgery scheduled for Thursday,” Mom said, like she might mention a routine, if inconvenient, dentist’s appointment.
“Eye surgery?” I asked, after a pause.
“Yeah. It’s my third, so I’d kind of like it all to be over.”
“Third?” I said, my mouth going on by itself, as it tends to do when my brain stalls. “You only have two eyes, Mom. How can you have surgery on a third one?”
She snorted. “My third surgery. I’ve already had one on each, but this is on the left one again.”
“Why?” I asked. “For what?”
“Oh. Is that bad?” I asked, hoping it wasn’t. “Or is like Dad’s cataracts? Or . . . ?”
“It’s not good,” she said. “The first surgeries were to drain my eyes, and when I mentioned to the doctor that the drains must not have worked, he said, “Oh, yes, they did!” So it’s pretty bad.”
“So . . . if this surgery works . . . “
“Then I’ll be fine for a while. If it doesn’t, I’ll be blind in my left eye. And they’re watching my right one closely, because the same thing is going to happen. Just a matter of time.”
“Yep.” She chuckled. “If things don’t go as planned, I’ll just get a white cane and a cup—“
“No you won’t,” I said, my own coping mechanism snapping into place. “You’ll get a service dog. You know you want one. In fact, you probably signed up for one already.”
“Not quite,” she said, laughing. “But you’re right.”
“Admit it—you’ll be disappointed if the surgery works and you can’t get a new dog out of it.”
“Well . . .”
“I told her no more big dogs after Philander’s gone,” Dad said. “But she found a way around it.”
The call ended with laughter and I love you’s and a promise that someone would call me on Friday.
And then I went into the bedroom and lay down in the cool dark and thought about my mother going blind.
I stayed up until 4:30am, thinking.
About my green-eyed mother who weaves beautiful art baskets and volunteers at the no-kill animal shelter, and travels, and teaches Zumba and takes metric tons of photos and reads serial romances by the double handful.
My mother, whose offer to take us on an Alaskan cruise this summer—one we’d had to pass up because of difficulties that seem like sheer laziness now—had, in retrospect, a more urgent ring to it than I’d noticed at the time.
My mother, who didn’t tell me a goddamn thing about glaucoma or surgeries or eyeballs for months.
Not word one.
That doesn’t sit well. I mean, maybe I couldn’t have done much, maybe but I could have listened to her fears or rage or rants.
But that’s about me. This isn’t about me.
Maybe she wanted to get her feet under her first, scream and cry, where no one could hear—I can understand that. I’m sure she didn’t want anyone to worry, and I can understand that, too.
And even though sparing one’s loved ones—traditional on both sides and by marriage—tends to backfire in a big, dramatic, guilt-ridden way, this time . . .
This time, I think it may have worked.
The guilt is still there—it may not be completely rational to think I should have known from two states away that something was wrong, but that’s never stopped me.
But I’m not worried.
I don’t want Mom to be in pain of any kind, and I’m sorry this is happening to someone I love so, so much—and, to lapse into selfishness for a second, facing reminders of the mortality of one’s parents is never a walk in the psychological park—but again, this situation isn’t about me.
It’s about Mom.
And going blind—if it happens, when it happens, whatever happens—won’t be the end of her world.
That conversation up there? That wasn’t just whistling, as they say, in the dark.
I’ve known the woman all my life, and if she wants to, she’ll learn to weave by touch. She’ll take her future service dog—and Dad—and keep traveling all over the world, swimming with sea creatures and zip lining off mountains—with Dad, not the dog . . . probably—and continuing eploring and enjoy different places by scent and taste and weather and people.
She’ll rope me into finding her audiobooks and risqué radio plays. She’ll Zumba with that white cane sh mentioned and laugh when she smacks the sound system off the shelf and not give a good goddamn, except to say that she really wished she hadn’t, because Dad doesn’t know how to fix it.
And she can already scoop cat boxes blindfolded—how risky can the rest really be?
My brave, impossible, stubborn mother isn’t going to slow down one tiny bit.
She’ll just regroup and reroute, like she’s been doing all her life.
So as much as I wish this wasn’t happening and that I could make it all go away, and I really, really hope she won’t be in any pain at all and that everything will go perfectly on Thursday, I’m not worried.
Not for her—and not for me, either.
Because when I get to the point where I’m casually mentioning my major surgeries to my kids in the most infuriating way possible—and I will—Mom will already have shown me how to keep going.
Like she always has.