We Don’t Say What We Want

My brother Eric said he wanted to surprise his birth mother. He planned to knock on her door five to ten minutes after I got there.

I didn’t know if a surprise visit was a good idea for a mother 82 years old, but it’s his birth mother and his decision.

Eric and I ended up meeting in the street and walking to her door together. I knocked, he stood behind me. The door opened and there she was, smiling. We hugged and when she saw Eric, she lit up like a Christmas tree.

She invited us in and showed us around her new apartment. We sat in her living room, she at the apex of our isosceles triangle, where she carefully balanced the conversation. She was thoughtful and kind.

We talked about the people in the framed photos that surrounded her—kids and grandkids and her husband who had died six months earlier. She turned to me and asked when it would get easier. I said, “Not for a long time. Not when you love that much.”

She pushed for a timeframe. I said that everyone told me it would get easier after the first year, but that wasn’t my experience. The first year was awful, but I was in shock. The second year was when I realized it was forever. He was never coming back.

Eric’s birth mother led us to the kitchen for “a little something” and began pulling platters from the fridge. A veggie plate. A fruit plate. A quiche that she slipped into the preheated oven. She added chips and salsa and as the finale, cookies and pumpkin bread.

When the alarm on my phone went off, I said I had to go, that I had to get to New Jersey. Eric said he had to go, too. We hugged goodbye. She said she hoped we would get together again soon. I said, “That would be nice” and wondered if I would. If Eric would.

Two hours later, when I got to Mom’s, she asked, “When will you be ready to eat?”

Finally, finally, I have learned to decode this message. It means: “I am hungry and I want to eat.”

I said, “Let me bring in my things first, then I’ll go get us pizza.”

My brother planned to arrive at my mom’s the following morning, again, as a surprise, again with me wondering if that was a good idea.

Eric and I connected in the resident hallway. This time, he went through the door first. My brother has worn a long beard and a Fu Manchu mustache for years. The beard is gone, the Fu Manchu is now a neat ‘stash, and the formerly thick hair on his head is about as gone as mine. Mom didn’t recognize him. He told her who he was.

We talked and then Mom asked Eric, “Would you like some lunch?”

Not an exact transcript, but close enough:

Eric: No, thanks.

Mom: No?

Me: You gotta have lunch. You’ve been on the road.

Eric: I’m not really that hungry.

Me: There’s pizza in the fridge I can heat up.

Eric: What about Carlucci’s?

Mom: It’s not from there. It’s from… what’s that place?

Me: Classico. It’s from Classico.

Eric: No, that’s okay.

Mom: We could go to the café. Here.

Me: Yeah, that’s an option, the café.

Eric: We could go to Carlucci’s.

Me: Oh yeah, we could go to Carlucci’s.

Mom: That would be nice.

This is what I think we would have said, if we had all said what we wanted:

Eric: I’m hungry but I don’t want reheated pizza and I don’t want to eat at the café. I want to go out to Carlucci’s.

Jule: I’m hungry but I can’t eat the pizza (because the little gluten-free one is all gone) and I’ve already eaten here enough, with plenty more to come. I’d like to go out for a nice lunch.

Mom: I’m not that hungry, but I could eat a little something. I just want to be with my kids.

As my brother drove to Carlucci’s, I sat in the back seat and thought about how often I defer to my mom about what we do. Why don’t I give myself an equal vote?

The next day, when it was just Mom and me again and we were driving back from her dental appointment, I said. “Mom, I’m going to stop and pick up lunch for us from a place you’ve never eaten at before. I’m pretty sure you’re going to love it.”

She did.

Me too. All of it.

Chewing the Cud of Good

A bright yellow complex leaf on the ground with dry, dull brown leaves

Thankful for Zoom friends.

2 thoughts on “We Don’t Say What We Want”

  1. Hazel Dahl Behrens

    My mom said, “I wish someone could clean the edges of my floor.” She meant, “Will you get down on hands and knees to scrub the corners since I can’t do it anymore.”

    I try to be more direct with my kids. Maybe I should ask if I succeed.

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