I can remember sitting in a large, overstuffed arm chair, an English textbook cradled in my hands and college applications strewn across my lap.
“ How am I possibly supposed to know what I want to do for the rest of my life?” I throw the textbook onto the top of the application pile in exasperation.
My mother looks up from her newspaper, she doesn’t look quizzical, she doesn’t look amused. She looks irritated, she looks aggressive, she looks angry. She looks exactly the same as she did the day she told me it would have be easier to have had a dog than me.
“You don’t. You think you do, you think you’re happy and you’ve made the right decision, but you honestly have no fucking clue”. The newspaper crinkles as she whips back into place, her angry voice, her aggressive looks fading behind the screen of newsprint.
Mom and Dad got married at 19.
It took me until my third year university to realize that it was nothing I had done to make my mother wish I was a basset hound. I was nearly 20 before I realized that my mother wasn’t angry with me, she was angry with herself.
We sat on the slippery lacquered benches of the cottage kitchen table, our vision blurry and our tongues loose from too much alcohol. Why I just told my mother about my latest relationship issue I'm not entirely sure. Why I just let her know I will always play second fiddle to my boyfriend’s pipe was another mystery to me. Still more concerning however, was her interest not in my failed relationship or bruised heart, but in the actual mechanics of a bong.
"I've never seen one," she says tipping the wine bottle upside down and watching the last of the droplets fall to the surface of her glass.
I look up at her. This woman that I've know my entire life. This woman that to me had seemed so pleased with the perfection of her life, so secure in her purity of morals. She eyes me apprehensively, waiting to see if I will break that barrier between mother and daughter, a barrier that I had built a long time ago.
"Well it packs a punch, that's for sure…especially if it's your first time smoking." She looks at me with the raised eyebrows of a woman prepared to count to five and send you to your room. But under those eyebrows there is a curiosity, there is a genuine interest in the dirty deeds of her daughters present.
"It's not that much different from the vase Grandma used to have in the living room, really."
Her eyes widen, not at the thought that I know the intricacy of a bong, but at the thought that her mother may have used one to house her precious roses.
"It's wider at the bottom though, more bulbous and there's a little cup with a filter that you stuff, light and then pull out to allow…"
The look on her face is nothing resembling concern for her daughter's well being. It is a complete and utter appreciation of new knowledge. She is actually smiling. My mother is smiling while I describe how to take a hit from a bong. The world is a very odd place.
"What else have you never done?" I too am overcome by a curiosity that I have never experienced. There are suddenly question I have never thought of and most certainly until this point, have never desired to explore. Nothing about my mother had ever seemed of any interest to me...unless it was how far away I should stand to avoid a swift kick in the ass.
I always felt like I was failure to my mother. Boyfriends would come and go and my mother would never fail to mention that by her age she was so much more that I was. If I was your age, I would have been married. That boy you just let walk out the door should have been your fiancé. I was constantly reminded that my father and she would have just bought their first car or they would have had their first child. My mother always neglected to remember that not everyone meets their soul mate at 15. Conveniently, she also forgot to mention that she was unhappy.
My mother hated my leaving for university with the passion of a woman who was stuck. At the time I simply hated her right back. It was the easiest solution. But sitting there in the dim summer light of cottage, swivelling my now empty wine bottle in one hand and gesturing the height of Justin's bong with the other, I realize that she didn't hate me. She didn't hate my leaving. She hated the fact that I was escaping for a journey that had never had and most likely never be able to experience.
There is a distinct moment in my past, where upon observation, it is clear that my mother had tried to find her own little piece of happiness. There’s a horrific memory of her dropping me off at school, in all her uncool glory. We were driving into the parking lot, windows down and Macy Grey blaring from the stereo. The tiny green v-dub is pulsating, forced to vibrate with the effort of pumping out such a ridiculously loud beat.
She slams on the breaks, sending the dashboard hula girl into a crazy-mad dance. She nods uncontrollably from the dash as I strain against my seatbelt for the book-bag in the back seat.
`` Four o-clock, OK Mom?” I have the door open, one leg on the pavement, the other awkwardly balancing my between the sidewalk and the car.
“What?!” She between the sidewalk and the car.
“What?!” She yells back over the music. I look at her in utter disbelief.
She’s pounding out the beat on the steering wheel, her blonde hair falling messily out of its constraining clip.
“Four o-clock,” I repeat loudly, slowly as if I’m speaking to a German exchange student. As if she’s deaf and not just too annoying to turn off her music. Her lips move as I watch her. She’s singing along. She’s not even listening. Seriously, sometimes!
I slam the door and she guns it, the little beetle flying past the students, top down, tires squealing, and music blaring.
“Grow up,” I mutter oblivious to the fact that my mother is simply enjoying the moment.
I twist the bottle around one more time, smiling at my mother as she asks me another question about illicit and illegal teenage behaviour. I walk across the room, shuffle through the old pile of CDs that lie beside the stereo. I find the one I’m looking for. I turn around, the music of Macy Grey slowly fills the room and Mom stops asking questions and smiles. She gets up, flings her hands in the air and begins to dance.
In that moment, I realize that I am growing up. I am becoming an adult and my mother is becoming a child. In that brief moment, standing there my cheeks buzzing, my mother twirling and smiling, I realize that maybe this is what we’re supposed to do. Maybe at some point, our roles are supposed to be reversed.
My mother got married at 19. She met my father when she was 15, her first boyfriend. She went from daughter to wife to mother and had never learned to explore who she is. And maybe the time frame is a little messed up, maybe my mother is 45 and not 18, but no one ever said you had to be young to discover who you are. Maybe my mother's job as living for someone else is over. I’m an adult, I’m alright. Maybe this is her time to find out who Catharine really is.