Well, I’d say I’ve done fairly well in this hardball game of life we all come to naked and crying. I’ve got two great grown kids—Sarah and Mark—who seem sane and happy, I’ve got my loving wife Mary of thirty years, I’ve got my two story home in suburban north Dallas, and a job with Grace Insurance that I’ve long been bored with but can do in my sleep.
Still, I’ll let you know that I could whip off my pants’ belt, right here in this moment, and hang myself from that railing up there on the upstairs’ balcony. All I need is a ladder from the garage to kick over. But of course I won’t—death is such scary shit—especially on this day, April 22nd, 1996, the thirty-fifth anniversary of my mother’s passing.
I can see her standing at the kitchen sink in the midst of cooking supper in her red checkered apron, back in 1961, when I came in the back door from school in San Angelo, and as I walked by she turned around and said I love you, but because I was thirteen and trying to act a man, I rolled my eyes, made a face, and kept on walking down the long hallway to my bedroom with the “KEEP OUT!” sign on the door, pushing the door shut with my foot and a slam.
Well, you guessed it. A week later mother was in the hospital, and two days after her admission she was dead, and yet my father Joseph told me little about it, just that she’d died. He did not let me go see her at the hospital and said nothing about mom being gravely ill or why she died. I had to beg him to go to the funeral. Everybody back then thought a thirteen-year-old child was too young and impressionable to experience the horrors of illness and death, let alone an open casket.
You know how if nothing is explained to you, your mind plays out an explanation to make sense of the errors made in the game? Well, by good fortune a white angel came to the foot of the bed the night after the funeral and said, with a sad but sweet smile and surrounded by a lambent light, that my mother died of a broken heart. And why a broken heart? Because she sensed deep in her soul that I did not love her.
I ask myself, over and over, did I love my mother at all at thirteen? I recall being angry over things, but can’t recall, so many years later, what those things might have been. Was it about taking out the garbage and washing the dishes every night, or about making my bed before going to school each morning? I can’t say, yet I want to believe true love must have been there buried deep in my boy heart somewhere under all that silly and stupid anger.
And so I have tried not to be an angry person all my fucking life, and I have tried to love the people I have been graced with, even my boss at work, even my first wife, though she cheated on me several times, saying I was such a sad sack, and yet I always kept hope that the white angel would lead me to mother, so that I could tell her, at last, that I loved her and give her some peace, but of course I can’t slide to that base by suicide. I must stay in the game and love those in my life as long as I am able. I cannot do such a cruel thing to those who mean to me the most. They might blame themselves as I blame myself, although they’d have much less of a reason.
I’ve told my mother every day of this long ballgame that’s way over inning, ever since she died, that I loved her, but the angel has never come to me to say my mother received my whispered message, nor has my mother come herself. I can only conclude that my mother cannot hear, and that she suffers far, far away.
I’ve thought my mother should have realized I was already a teenage brat going through a phase, and laughed at me for pretending not to love her at thirteen, knowing that my love would return later. A man is always a momma’s boy, though he must learn forever how to disguise it. Disguise is the name of the game.
My father Joseph, when he was in his sixties and dying of cancer in 1985, finally opened up one night as we sat over a few beers I’d snuck into the hospital, watching a Rangers’ game on the TV. He told me that he sat next to my mother’s bed—a bed just like the one he now was in–and when Mary died in that Shannon Hospital room, as he held her hand, he cried and cried. My father said that she died of a brain tumor and that doctors back then had no idea how to fix, just like they couldn’t fix my father’s cancer that had spread from his kidneys into his back and spine. Poor dad, all those years alone after mom died at 36, I thought that feisty hard-working carpenter would marry again and live until ninety.
Always the game seems to grow longer and harder to get through. What can I do but pitch from the mound over and over the same fastballs, sliders, and curves? I’m a stupid shit. I can’t tell anyone else but God (if you’re out there), how I yearn every moment to be with the mother I lost at thirteen, be she in heaven or hell, so I can tell her how much her boy loved her then and loves her now. It seems odd, the way I can’t grow out of this illness.
And it’s a dirty trick, God, making suicide a sin.