In the gaze of the other

"My mistress' eyes are nothing…"

Mistress Memory: the Mother Mime

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An undeniably aching yet slumbering craving, she must fall back endlessly, eyelid-enwrapped orbs unable to keep her consciousness, which slips down into the darkness with claws still clutching and inscribing their twitching seismographic indentations in the eyeballs as the arms of it, consciousness, stretches wincingly, impossibly lengthened for the body to lie in the depth of darkness. She goes deep.

I speculate that she is not falling, implying a misstep, away from her conscious self but has turned and run. Who wouldn’t? Her life has been hard. She was neglected by an unloving mother, one who was abused herself by cruel parents. Her father was a specter who haunted the apartment, manifesting a physical man on payday. Her mother rarely cooked for her or comforted her or advised her of the dangers of the world. No, she was left on city corners at 4 years to find her own food, hoping that the mothers and men entering the five and dime would offer her something without her having to ask. And they would ask her with irritable concern, “Where is your mother?!” and feeling ashamed, she would make up a story that her mother was sick.

But no documented illness kept that mother from cleaning and feeding her baby. Embarrassed and unkempt that child was with untamable kinky hair that refused a brush even if one were offered it, and a sizable gap in her two front teeth. She was scrawny and sallow, though with sharp, slit-eyed hazel-glistening maturity and wit. She was a meerkat.

Eventually poking her head above the layer of grimy gutter life, she cleaned herself up and then mistook love for sex. Knocked up and married at 16, she merely survived a childhood of neglect to enter into an adulthood of abusive banality and benign ignorance. She married, like her mother before her, a ghost of an unfinished man, a workaholic incapable of appreciating the finer things in life–books, art, mystery, passion, and romance, namely: her.

But he gave her a family. Children salved the sore of scooping up in arms love she missed out on. Only, to overcompensate for her own shadow life, she spent every moment caring for, thinking about, worrying about and attending to her inevitably affected children of greed, helplessness and jealousy. She fed them too much, cleaned them overly, loved them enough but not enough for the canyon of need she created in them to be the sole capturing eye of the gaze of her great giving.

She raised them. They came to visit on weekends with their growing families when they themselves grew up and away, but she, heliotropic, contorted her body reaching for the circling sun of her prodigals who, in turn, rounded back to her, their heat center for hot food, unconditional love and sound advice. Warmed and wiser, they left her withered in the waiting for their eventual return. Until they didn’t.

So long as she could give, they came. When she could no longer give–her core cold like the moon’s with her shine a borrowed reflection–they stared and stammered and shivered in unimaginable loss and fear.

She forgot how to make the dishes everyone loved from the recipes passed down from her grandmother, the only woman who cared for her but left her only too soon, days before her fourth birthday. Dishes that made home–their home–like blintzes and pirogies and beef stew, were irretrievably lost because her children forgot to ask her how to make them. She couldn’t remember how any of them started, though she made them hundreds of times over her 75 years.

Nail biting in isolating anguish, her children suffered alone, for she did not understand what everyone noticed. Her husband alternately shrugged and shook fists at the sky. No one knew what to do with her. When she could no longer speak, they stopped coming. But she could see; she could hear. And for many years she still could.

Trapped in her muddled thoughts so long, wasting away, her body dis-remembering how to process food into fat or even how to chew and swallow, she closes her eyes now like no one has ever closed a pair of eyes before–her face drawn in by the corners of its angles of cheek bone to chin, skin sucked tightly to skull–and exhales.

No, she is not expired. She is pure unconscious desire now, streamlined to her essence and sinking into the only place she was ever going to anyhow. She succumbs to the lure of the lover and beloved, and it is a release like no other in her candlelit dusty life.

She opens her eyes again, and the illusion is gone. I can no longer see the purpose and direction, imagine the lilting lie of the siren’s song, “Come to me, my mistress and be my Penelope awaiting her king’s return. Rest in my bosom, my touch, my caress.”

This is how I cope these days with the agony of her slow decade-long disappearance.  I imagine she is on a mythic sea voyage, sailing the still waters of slow afternoon noddings, drifting down into the arms of her self-embrace and so engulfed in the arms of the loving mother that she was born to be and always will be.

I stare into the searchingly bewildered eyes mirroring a woman focusing her lenses, and see me. There it is! The three second connect, her recognition marked by the eye twinkle and quick spasm flash of an upturned corner of her mouth, the missile memory launched in my direction absorbed by the heat of my desire. “Hi Mom.”

The sound distracts her. Her eyes move off mine in the direction of where she thinks the sound came from, the cataract gaze returned. I look away. I pick up my keys and move to the door, glancing back briefly before touching the handle. Her eyes cannot follow me at this distance. I walk out the door. It’s time to pick up my daughter from school.

5 thoughts on “Mistress Memory: the Mother Mime

  1. The cruelty of slow dissipation of memory.

  2. I remember feeling this way, doing the best you can and picking up your keys. The momentum of the world is faceless and compelling. You become drawn along by it despite any logic you may pursue, and you’ve pursued them all, did the research, hoped the hopes and here it is. So well written, I have to say, it brought back a lot of feelings I have put aside.
    My sisters made a video of my mother’s dishes handed down from her mother, yet none of them ever made them or referred to the video. It was only a novelty to be remembered, each girl now a matron with children in need of rides, easy money and proper guidance.
    I always remember the color of the sky at that time, the dreams that came to me in a cold Prussian Blue that has since lost it’s tinge of despair and once again looks like a winter sky.
    So much of our own karma, ourselves wrapped up in these times. We see ourselves there, question ourselves, but more than anything one sees a life between brackets and begins to see things in a different way if for the first time.
    You have described so well the condition you see, it was the same for mine, the description of the eyes. Make me want to comfort you knowing how it feels to see this, be helpless to do anything about it but endure best you can, be strong for those that will need it most. That part of the anguish I do not see here, a tribute to your mastery of expression, but I know it is there.

    • Unforgettable experiences good or bad are tinged with indelibly marked sensory impressions, I have found. A life in brackets we lead when confronted with awesome challenges, but I think about my mother’s life now as “life,” a special use of the terms, a special case of life.

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