Some remote magic has brought my mother back to me through her things.
Red leather journal from 1949, her name embossed in gold on the cover. Daybooks where she recorded the details of family life in tiny notes: the weather, what we ate, which child had a doctor appointment, what letters she wrote, what bills she paid, what my father was mad about that day. Letters she wrote to him on onionskin, thick sheets of personal stationary, delicate foldable airmail one-sheets.
Also: three old cassette tapes she'd used over and over to record her private thoughts. Cheaper than therapy, she says, a place for her to clear her head, sort out the thoughts and feelings that otherwise tumble around in her brain and feel too heavy to bear. On one tape, my brother walks in while she's recording and she lets the tape roll. She's talking to herself. Don't you talk to dad, he asks. Of course, but this is different. This is just for me. Since no one will hear this, I can say whatever I want. (Since face to face with those she loved, she often found she couldn't.) On the tapes (now copied onto mp3s), she's unfiltered, unedited, raw.
Given how many times I'd wished to know the *real* her -- the things she was afraid to say; the fury she'd swallow and claim not to feel; the real fights followed by real peacemaking she would not have with me -- these hiss-pop monologues are a miracle of captured space and time. She's still alive and holding nothing back. She says what's made her mad on this day, what she can't figure out, what she doesn't know if she can bear. She steps out from behind the screen of The Perfect Patient -- finally! -- to complain about the disease that was erasing her by seconds, inches, days. The nurses loved her uncomplaining, cheerful side but I wanted to shake it. I wanted to hear her sorrow and fear. I wanted the woman not the saint.
More than once she confesses her longing for Someone to Listen, someone to be right there with her when her husband is raging or mute and her children are spinning off into their closed teenage worlds. She's not looking for anyone to fix what can't be solved, she says, or figure anything out. She just wants to be heard. As I play the tapes -- on walks, at the office, in the car -- I join in the conversation from time to time, with words of encouragement or agreement or tears.
It may be years past when I made my wish, when she made hers. Both came true. She's talking, I'm listening.