No one can say that us kids had an easy time of it when my parents were married. They were bitter enemies sniping at each other across trenches filled with their children. Daily we were hit with shrapnel. But we tried to love each other – each in our own way – distorted, ugly, and always with a bitter wariness.
One of the days that I felt the most loving towards Mom was an Autumn afternoon in Mobile. My parents had been divorced for three years, and we were living in a rental complex of townhomes. The townhomes were okay – close to most of what we needed, Mom had the only car. A Ford Pinto station wagon that surprisingly never exploded. The three of us kids rode the bus to school and hitched rides to what we needed. In a pinch, we could call a cab. Mom had set that up for emergencies.
That warm afternoon, I walked back from high school. The front yards in the complex were green, and some of the renters had planted pansies around their doors. The splotches of color drew my gaze until the put-putting sound of the pinto came into earshot.
I looked up to see my mother in the car with her boyfriend, a man from New Orleans that I had not liked, not been especially kind about, or really paid any attention to apart from the brushed-off idea that maybe, yuck, my mother was having sex with him. I was seventeen, and the thought of my 43-year-old mother doing it was disgusting.
Through the windshield, I saw them. He was driving, but his other hand was draped across her shoulders. His hand brushed her hair. She smiled at him and took a bite from the orangey paper of a MacDonald’s hamburger in her hand. The car ambled at a sedate pace down the road. I watched them, starting to dredge up the dislike I had for the man. But I couldn’t do it. Something in me grew up, Mom hadn’t smiled in a long time. She was smiling up at him, and he was smiling back. They were happy.
Something clicked for me that day. I wanted Mom to be in love and happy like that as much as possible. She had been miserable most of her life. There was enough adult in me that I could wish her love’s happiness.
I wish I could say that I was graceful and good-natured about the relationship after that incident. No. I was still a narcissistically and empathically challenged teenager who wanted things her way, but gradually something loosened. My younger siblings did not see things my way, and she ended the relationship. A year before she died, she told me that he was the love of her life.
Now when I see people smiling, happy, in love, I want to clap. Hoorah. You did it. Great job.
This Valentine’s day, let’s celebrate each other’s relationships.
Share your heart.
(Image by http://www.morguefile.com)