When I wake up, I rush to the computer to write down what I remember. I want to hold on to what has come fortuitously to me. I want it so desperately. As it often happens, much of the dream has dissolved. I just retain a vivid recollection of her face. Her gentle face. Looking at me.
I can’t give up thinking of that face. She is in her fifties. Her face is framed by her hair. She has her glasses on. Thank Heavens, she is looking at me. Only she can look that way. It is a placid look. As if she is saying, “It is all right. I am waiting for you.” She was always waiting for me. I wanted her waiting for me and loving me.
I feel like knocking my head, for I can’t remember what she said or did. I so want to capture everything she said or did. I am in tears that I can’t remember what I glimpsed only so recently. My mother has disappeared in the mists of time, with only a fleeting wisp of a memory.
I feel like saying: Mother, I have grown up. I am not a little boy any more, the boy who loved to follow you around in every room. Who listened to you, wide-eyed, as you spoke with friends and relations. Who stood aside when you cooked, disregarding your admonition to leave the warm kitchen. Who wanted to be near you. Who loved to sleep next to you.
You told me that, when I slept next to you, I held on to an end of your nightclothes, because I wanted to make sure you did not leave me. I held it so hard, you could not get it out of my grip when you woke up in the morning. You had to shed your nightclothes and wear other clothes, for you did not want to wake me up. No, I never wanted you to leave me.
Ironically, it is I who left you. Even when I took a job and moved out of the city, I would come back every weekend to spend time with you. When I returned to town, I made sure to find an apartment a stone’s throw from yours. For years I seldom returned home from work without a detour to your home and a special cup of tea. If I became too engrossed in a discussion with dad, you would softly remind me, “Your tea is getting cold.”
Then I fell in love and went abroad. I left you behind. I took jobs that meant I had to change planes and switch countries, and only rarely could I be with you, only for the shortest time. One time I came to your home looking so exhausted that you just pulled the blanket and ordered me to get in the bed, going off for a few minutes to fetch me my favored brand of tea. When the phone rang, you took the call and said, “The Grand Hotel says that they have a reservation in your name from your office in Washington.” Peremptorily, I said, “Please tell them that I am in a grander hotel, my mother’s home, and I will not move.”
As you grew older, you forgot some things. You could not remember some names. You brought me a second cup of tea, shortly after I had finished the first, imagining it to be the first. I drank it anyway. What amazed me was what you remembered. You remembered vividly what shameful thing a neighbor had done to me when I was child. You remembered the time I hurt an ankle when playing football and the tooth I lost during a hockey clash. You remembered my lifelong love for shrimps and lobsters. You remembered, painfully, the time I was briefly lost in a village fair or the time I took a risky boat ferry on a turbulent river. And you remembered, joyfully, every medal I ever got, for an essay, a debate or some inconsequential accomplishment.
I know now I have not grown up. In my dreams or in daylight, I want to hold to an end of your clothes to not let you get up and go. I still don’t want you to leave me. I need to see your face. I need to know you are with me. I need to hear your voice, the very timbre telling me that you love me, care for me, and will forever look out for me.
For years I lived with the illusion that I or my brothers needed to take care of you. The truth was I always needed you more than you ever needed me.
Maybe in my hubris of invulnerability I may have sometimes thought I did not need you. My work, my wife, my children occupied my time. You were always there, waiting for me. When I came and stayed with you – just you and me, dad was long gone – it was a time for realization. But I still did not see it. You are my mother. I will always need you.
Shamed I am to admit it: I miss you, mother. God knows I miss you even in my dreams. To my final breath, I fear I will not stop missing you.