I used to chew my mother's hair to fall asleep. I was in love with it, the texture soft and the smell of her sweat perfumed the pillow. I used to be obsessed with my mother, and then went three years without talking to her. She was every metaphor you could think of and so much more. She was blood over cast iron bones. She was olive-skinned and tanned with baby oil. She never wrinkled, she cries at the thought of mousetraps and says life is unfair sometimes. She takes long pauses and tries to get me off the phone. She says I love you in her own way, in small ways. She's bought me a housewarming present for all the apartments I've rented to get away from her. She forgot my eight birthday once. She had a migraine. I called her selfish. She had tumors removed from her neck that Spring.
My mother's name is Nancy and she is my soulmate. I love her more than anything in the world. I'm obsessed with her, with the idea of her. I have her broad bones and lack of people skills. I have her distrust for good ever coming around, surprised that life can be fortunate once in a while. She has arthritis in her collarbone, she worked as a janitor once. She finds symbolism in every bird that stops for a rest on the windowsill. She never took us to church growing up. She never says her own mother's name, she never talks about her own mother. It's a small, secret word that's only spoken once a year. The tetragrammaton by the high priestess Nancy, spoken once when we threw flower petals on her grave.
My mother is not a good woman; but she's not a bad woman either. She lives her life in the two-story farm house the best way she knows how. She's had a tough life, a life with not a lot to offer. Born in Indiana, a runaway at 15. She worked odd jobs, was held up at a video store once. Lit her nails on fire once. Lit her hair on fire once. Had three children. Wore jean shorts to her wedding. She doesn't like music much, she says it gives her a headache. She can sing real sweetly under her breath when she's getting ready. I first heard her say fuck when I was six.
My mother is the best woman I know. My mother still holds my hand when we cross the street. My mother held me for eight minutes before I moved to California and kept repeating in my chest, "Don't go don't go, don't go.". When I left for Italy, she said she didn't care if I ever came home. Her brother died in Afghanistan three weeks after I landed in Europe and I was the first person she called. I slept on a pew that night, the only quiet room in the convent I was staying at. I fell asleep with the phone in my hand, my mother didn't hang up.
My mother is an orphan now. My mother has me and eleven cats. My mother has a permanent tan and laugh lines where you can see life wasn't all that bad for her. My mother raised me the best way she knew how: "be honest, don't hurt anyone, and don't fuck it up". My mother told the truth and lied to us when she had to. Like how she was married to someone before my father. Like how she held me back when I could have skipped third grade. Like how she tells my brother she loves her children equally. Like how she says she's happy.
I found my mother crying once out by the grapevines that strangle themselves on our chickenwire fence. I hated seeing her that weak and I told her it made me sick. I was nineteen and I don't forgive myself. I walked inside and drove away. I left her crying in the backyard. She had seen a baby bird fall to its death and got upset by it. My mother, the patron saint of loss. Her son, too selfish to ever let her be vulnerable, even for two seconds, when she was alone and surrounded by dandelions and skipping stones at the creek bed.
I call my mother every day now. She took some time off from working to enjoy summer and the last surviving dog from my childhood. She take her coffee with cream and wants to paint the kitchen a soft yellow. Before we hang up, I ask her if she loves me. She always answers the same, "You're the only good thing I've done in my life. Of course I love you."