The Good Mother


If you dream of me like I dream of you.

In a place that’s warm and dark.

In a place where I can feel the beating of your heart.

Remembering your touch your kiss your warm embrace.

I’ll find my way back to you, if you’ll be waiting.

— Tracy Chapman, “The Promise

Perhaps it is fitting that I sit here alone, at your bedside – the quilt made for you by the sister-in-law you repudiated, draped over what’s left of the vibrant you. Long ago, in our small cosmos, whittled down by loss of husband-not- father, shrunken further by a world illuminated with integration’s aftermath, it was us against a shattered world. Two hearts, one entwined soul.

How can I write about the you I will miss, without the pain she has caused me? How do I tell your story and mine so there are equal parts, but not equal measure? How will I ever know why I could not find my way back to you, or why you would not let me? You raised me to speak truth to power. Always. No small irony that that truth cost me its giver, then and now. But still I write this – take comfort in my writing knowing I must tell your story and mine.

In the recent now of our time together, the space between us has grown greyer as yourself retreats to some place where I cannot follow. I bring you back, nevertheless, with laughter – our old medicine – and some outrageous silly dancing; snatches of a song. But, I would be lying if I said that this dance was new to me, for my loss came decades ago, in the salty wet aftermath of my father’s death and you, calling me to you in my coming out. Calling me to say, not once, but three times that you wish I hadn’t been born. I know now, see now that those words will remain with me all of the days of my life. Released and captured all at once, I was.

Was it then that our stories diverged? Me, going my queer way, and you into the familiar fold of church and family? As we prepare your house for market, moving old papers and chairs and scraps of things left behind in the wake of your often unexamined life, I come across an album of photos and thumb through it. My looking punctuated by a question mark. Roses and a white dress. Champagne and friends gathered by a fireplace. I am confused at first because I do not recognize the faces – only yours and your late husband – but then the scene becomes familiar and I realize it is your second wedding day. And so now I know your story, or at least part of it and I let it in – the pages, sticky with microbial denigration – fall open at my knee and I cry quietly while my own wife sleeps a gorgeous soundless sleep on the chaise lounge in your family room.

In the last two years of flow between us, I call you out of yourself and get days here and there of pleasantries exchanged. When I look away to my work or to the world beyond the sound of a compressor blowing futile air, my eyes wonder back to you and I find you staring, taking me in. You search my face for something and I give you your release. It is okay, I forgive you, you are going to be alright. Yet, your attention is unnerving because it wants something that cannot be gotten: time.

When we get you back to NC and you are in that quilt, my family comes to you. The oldest one, who meets you for the first time in your silence, is glad to call you “Nana;” her love for me so overwhelming at times in its hope for connection, sustenance, safety. She sees in you a part of me and reaches out to stroke your shoulder. And in that moment of three generations of battered and broken connection, I know that she will never have to know the shape of my shoulders and back rounded against her or the sound of my voice coming sharp, ugly and final over copper wire. I know this because I have learned to both like and love the truth of her whole self.

We are alone again. Another good night, going gentle and the chaplain comes in to make an assessment, to take stock. She wants to know what we need; how we need it; who we need it from. I want to tell her that we need Time that we don’t have, but instead I break my conversation with her to reach out to you and bring you back to me, telling you it’s okay now. It’s okay. She wonders how I know you are in pain; she doesn’t understand why I reach back to touch you softly, to bring you back. I try to explain. You cannot come from someone else’s inside or be put into their loving embrace without being connected to them in some way. Always. Broken though we are, we do not remain so.

On the way to dinner, my daughter puts her hand in mine under a purple setting Carolina sun. She is smooth and round and sweet. I will resist the urge to let her go. Always.


  1. David Peterson

    As someone who had to drive from Nebraska back home to Florida so the doctors could remove the life support (after 14 years of no contact and so much else…), I say AH!

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