My story, the narrative that I hold tightly at the center of who I am, the origin of all of my clinging and everything else that makes me a person, is about my mother. Like it or not, the whole world begins and ends with moms; they are the heart of who we are. Through them we learn the best and worst, and my mom was no different -- except that she actually was the best.
Writing her name and saying it aloud is strangely therapeutic. I never say her name. It feels dangerous, as if calling it would bring her into the room. The act reminds me that she was an actual person with an actual life. Laura Morgan. My memories of her are my most vivid. I don't have many, so I must repeat them like you might a favorite movie and then gently place them back on the shelf. I've always done this. I'm afraid to stop, so I practice and repeat.
The best are the moments of pure love, where she saw me without judgment. I was obsessed with Wonder Woman, so she crafted bulletproof bracelets and a crown out of a Twinkie box. She glued aluminum foil around the cardboard and painted red stars on them so that I could spin around our house pretending to be Linda Carter. The year I wanted to be the Wicked Witch of the West for Halloween, she made me a black dress and did my make-up. I could do and be whatever I wanted. Wear her favorite black heels? Yes. Sleep in her sheer nightgown? Of course.
All I have of her are these and other fragments from my childhood, because I was 9 years old when she died. How can the person who understands you so completely just die? How could I not have her around to see me through to adulthood? She had been sick for a few days, and then one Saturday morning during cartoons she had my father take her to the hospital.
Everything is all right.
I'll be home soon."
I never saw her again.
I wasn't allowed to visit her in the hospital because I was too young and wouldn't understand. I didn't get to say goodbye because it would be too much for me. I actually remember my dad saying that at the funeral: "No, he can't see the body to say goodbye, it'll be too much."
So she vanished into thin air. Within days her life was packed up and given away. High heels and nightgowns aren't things a little boy gets to ask about, and so I accepted their disappearance along with everything else. My nine-month-old sister got to keep our mother's purse, and I was given a picture.
I took that picture everywhere. It came with me to school, I held it while I slept; it was always at my side. It was the one thing I got to keep, and I was determined to never let it out of my sight.
Nobody wants to watch you grieve. Tears make people uncomfortable, so my dad took the picture and put it on a shelf that I couldn't reach. I could have my mom, but quietly, from a distance. What I wanted was for my dad to help me carry a torch for my mother, to wear a path into the ground, to beat the drums and shake our fists at the sky. I didn't get that pause. Instead my father was remarried, and I had a whole new family, one year later.
"Aren't you lucky? You must feel so lucky. Your mom died and just like that you got a new one." As if my mom were a set of tires that could easily be replaced. Everyone else was moving on, so I did too. I didn't ask questions, because I was afraid. There was no sign of my mom in our house. She was gone, and it was clear that I was supposed to move on along with everyone else. I couldn't ask questions because that would mean acknowledging that I didn't know everything. I didn't ask all of things you'd want to know about your favorite person. I still haven't. I'm a grown man, and I'm still scared to ask my father to talk about my mother, so I clutch what I have.
Forgiveness means giving up all hope that the past could have been any different. It means believing that everyone did the best they knew how to do. It means knowing that clinging to what wasn't perfect robs me of the joy of the good parts. That loving my family is more important than how we chose to navigate my mother's death. I know, and understand, all of this. But sometimes, even now, it's hard to not hold on -- to be brave, breathe, and to just let it all be.
There's a memory that I return to a lot. My mom often took me running with her. I would try to run along beside her, but I couldn't keep up with her pace. She'd pass me, and I'd be left in the dust. I'd stand there watching her slowly move far ahead of me and into the distance. It was unknown to me then, how life would play out, that I would only have a moment at her side. A rabbi once said to me, "zeicher tzadik livracha" (the memory of a good person is a blessing). I try to remember that. Maybe that's enough, and all I need to hold on to is her love for me. Maybe it's time to let everything else go, and know how beautiful it is to be loved, and how lucky I am that I ever got to see her run.