Well, my mom didn’t give me the rest of the ensemble. this year. I kept waiting for it, but it didn’t come. With each gift, I held my breath. Still, it didn’t come.
What? Nothing to make my eyes twirl, my heart sink?
There was no sweet fancy sluttiness. OR bitter cheesy grannyness. What was happening? I am programmed to run this gamut. I am always braced for it. I prepare for my role with “positive self-talk” and well-rehearsed, canned reactions. No Method acting here. Oh, no! That would be most unwise. One never wants to be so convincing as to encourage the survival of this strain of gift-giving. And even then, even with my obviously less-than-credible performances over the years, this practice has lingered … and lingered.
But, this year, something threw me off my game, shoved me off the familiar gamut. And when it happened, I was lost, really. I didn’t know what my face was doing. What happened to my canned reactions? I sputtered inelegantly for words. Where were my well-rehearsed words?! I blinked and blinked. I didn’t even know what I was seeing.
It was strange and unprecedented and wondrous because
My mother gave me a ring.
And not just ANY ring.
Let me explain.
My mother has been chronically ill for over 20 years. We do not know what it is. No doctor has gotten to the bottom of it, ever. Not even the Mayo Clinic. She takes painkillers and they don’t kill her pain. She sometimes hallucinates. She remembers things that never happened. She is frequently impossible to talk to. And when you’re able to talk to her, she’s frequently hostile and angry and cruel. I suppose any of us would be, too, in her shoes. I can’t imagine what it’s like for her. I don’t live inside her body; I don’t think inside her mind. I’m not an expert on her pain. I’m simply an expert witness to it. In many ways, my father has not really had a wife for over 20 years, and my siblings and I have not really had a mother.
I don’t say this to garner any pity or sympathy for our situation. I don’t say this for anyone to comment on what might be wrong with her. Oh, please don’t. I am simply stating the facts as I know them.
This is my mother. And for as long as I’ve known her, even before she became ill, she’s rarely succumbed to expressions of deep sentiment.
But this year on Christmas, she gave me The Ring.
The Ring is her ring. Or was her ring. It is an exquisite sapphire and diamond ring, glittering in a perfect, simple, modern setting.
Many years ago, my parents purchased a beautiful, loose sapphire and, shortly thereafter, my dad had a setting designed for it. We all “oohed” and “ahhed” over The Ring and mom wore it with pride, flashing it this way and that. Subtly, of course. She absolutely loved that ring. She was never without it. Her ring.
But on my wedding day, she let me wear it. Borrowed and blue, too, you see. To be honest, I was stunned by the rare, unexpected gesture. She handed it to me quite matter-of-factly, minus showy sentiment, without a trace of tears, but, it was a gesture, nonetheless. As she walked away, I slid it on my finger, flashing it this way and that. Subtly, of course. I liked the way it shimmered through my tears.
And now, all these years later, I sat next to a glowing tree with a small package on my lap. There was greedy chaos in the rest of the room as nephews and nieces practically chewed open their gifts. Now, normally, nothing can tear my mom’s attention from watching her grandkids’ feeding frenzy, but this night, she turned her head away from the pandemonium and stared only at me. Intently. Aware of her gaze, uncomfortable, I thought, “Oh, no. She thinks this is a good one, so I need a good reaction. Crap.” Quickly, I clicked through my pat responses until I settled on a classic: “Ooooh, a ________! How GREAT!”
Slowly, nervously, I began to tug at the paper. There wasn’t enough paper for me to drag this out, especially once Button Baby caught sight of me and decided she had to help. She let out a squeal and two seconds later, the small naked box was in my hands. It wasn’t a jewelry box, so I had no reason to suspect or speculate on its contents. Lifting the lid, I found a drawstring pouch, velvet, too small for almost anything. Almost. I glanced quizzically at my mom and she was stone still. Her eyes were fixed on me, mingling in their blueness pride and joy and fear. I’d never seen that look before and I’ll never forget it.
My hands were clumsy as I opened the pouch. And, of course, tucked inside that little pouch was The Ring.
I recognized it, but I didn’t, because this couldn’t be. It could not be that she was giving this to me! This was her ring. Her special ring. I opened my mouth and …. nothing. Staring at this sparkly thing in my hand, memories flooded back, and I was dumbstruck. Mom’s face had a certain composure, but her eyes, her eyes were naked, defenseless. I looked at her and found my voice, lamely:
“Mom? Mom, I — ”
I crumbled. So did my canned responses.
” — can’t believe –”
I looked at mom and she crumbled, too. Her eyes slowly trickled tears.
“Well, I — I — well, I can’t wear it anymore, so –”
“– well, I — wanted you to have it.”
“Thank you, Mom — ” I whispered. “It — means a lot to me. I can’t believe it.”
We looked at each other and it was too much. It was overwhelming, mostly unfamiliar, territory. But we’re women and we do know how to cry even if we don’t do it well. So we did our best. I hugged my mom tightly and felt the cool moisture of her cheek.
Out of the corner of my eye, I could see My Beloved’s face, wet with tears. I saw Button Baby’s mom, teary too. And then I saw Button Baby, swaying back and forth on her little Mary Janed feet, unaware, smiling a goofy baby smile amidst the chaos. She didn’t know. She was just happy.
The world, it seemed, stood still for this rare, fleet second. Happy, so much happy.
“Thank you, Mom.”