My mother, the woman I thought I didn’t know

I am lucky to have been mothered in my life by two strong, beautiful, capable women. It took a long time for me to let myself discover in my stepmother a woman and friend that I love and respect. Until now I’d not discovered my mother as a person: she died in 1980, very much still my Mummy. I am lucky now to know and love these two priceless women. It’s wonderful that the human heart can morph, can love without limit or competition or comparison.

There’s a woman in my life I barely knew. Never got to know as a woman, as an independent person. Never got to separate the Woman from the role of Mummy.

Some may say I’m too much in my head, but it was feminist philosophy that hit my triggers, called challenge to my resounding clanging shut bronze defensive doors with many many locks. They said that the most important relationship for a woman to recover, to find herself, to discover human intimacy, to identify herself as a subject in her own right not an object relative to a man, is with her mother. No way. I checked the locks and bars. No mother needed here.

But here I am some eighteen months later, after a long-lost friend of hers telling me how much I am like her, after many more feminist nigglings “Before any woman, before you can see yourself as a person, you need to see your mother as a person, a subject in her own right, an individual not a role, a woman is a woman first, a daughter, wife, mother only thereafter”. After an uncle sharing photographs I didn’t have. Nauseated by endless feminist fiction where the daughter reconciles with her dead misunderstood mother. After visiting her grave and feeling almost nothing, after fleeting thoughts and questions I quickly suppressed. After all that niggling like a buzzing mosquito, on Saturday afternoon I found myself crying in the front bar of a pub. Hugging strangers. Telling all who’d listen that my Mum was there in ’54. Proud to have been born in Footscray. Bulldog Premiers. Singing under my breath the old words, words she held more dear than any hymn. It felt like it was time, not just for the Bulldogs but for us.

So here I am trying to identify for myself the woman, my Mum. To look at footsteps 36 years faded, and find a person. A woman.

I know she was loyal – perhaps to a fault. Loyal to her beloved Bullies, to family. Loyalty reciprocated by friends, even after her death. Fierce loyalty that could look a lot like stubbornness. She wasn’t shy, afraid to stand up for what she thought was hers, or afraid to speak her mind: I sure learned those traits young.

She was active in trying to get me the best. No pre-school near our home? She formed a committee, and it opened the year after I started primary school. No primary school near our home? She drove a parents’ council so one was built, opening for my Grade 6, just over a year before she died. She sewed my Barbie clothes when we couldn’t afford to buy them. She worried if the new high school would be good enough for me.

She loved food, and friends and wine. To party. She was vibrant. I think she laughed. Yes she laughed, I remember she laughed at other mothers’ horror when she brought me to my ballet concert covered in charcoal from my school concert chimney sweeping debut. Cleaned me up and sent me out to be a queen. She struggled with weight, but I remember soft enveloping hugs. I missed those hugs. She loved apricot – the colour, the fruit, jam, especially apricot flowers. And purple, I mean who has a purple toilet? I guess it was the 70’s. She didn’t drive and was afraid of water. She was afraid a lot I think, and isolated. She found a sister in my Aunt. She wrote ILY randomly through the calendar of 1980 on dates after she knew she would have died.

She was the queen of lists, she would have been dangerous had she lived to wield a spreadsheet. She worked as a book keeper then shop keeper. She could budget. On holidays we played cards, 500 and canasta. She had a home she loved, with simple treasures – glass reindeer, a trio of dalmatians, albums of Pat Boone and Johnny O’Keefe, Elvis and Bill Haley & the Comets. She loved Christmas planning, laying out the presents months in advance. She hated ironing. She was passionate in love and temper and joy. She beat herself up when she thought she didn’t meet her own standards. She and my Dad took turns to hold me when I had nightmares.

She was fallible, but aren’t we all. She wore pink, had manicured nails. She loved me. She laughed so hard she cried when I dropped the tablecloth out the apartment window and it caught on pipes halfway down.

bulldogs-1954Her mother died in Footscray. She and I were both born in Footscray Hospital. Her Dad was a life member at Footscray. Their blood ran red, white and blue. So I stood, tears flowing, in a Queensland bar surrounded by strangers, singing Son’s of the ‘scray, the red, white and blue. 62 years after she screamed herself hoarse when they last brought home the flag. And I think I met a woman with blue eyes, a voluptuous love, and a loyal generous heart.

Walking into yourself

Can words truly ever describe that feeling? A feeling I know, but I’ve never heard anyone else try to describe its sensory overload. Well not that I remember. Maybe I was blind to their words. Do we all feel it, most conceding the failure, the abject inadequacy of words to convey something simultaneously so real and utterly unreal. Or are we too scared to try to reduce something so precious to words and risk shattering the crystal intensity of the moment. 

I tried once to describe it as being as though you’d woken while your soul was still off dancing with the faeries. Your body functions but your mind is in cotton wool, like the analgesic afterglow of codeine. And so you walk and walk and walk until somewhere on your walk your soul finds you. Your skin tingles and everything is ultra real, your senses heightened. You’re still separated from everyone else, you don’t want anyone else to break the magic of the moment. A moment when only you can be so agonisingly aware of the perfect reality of everything around you. img_3717

I’m still not sure though that it might not be the opposite to your soul being missing, maybe instead you have too much soul and it dislocates you just out of phase in your time space continuum. Out of phase you are separated and so can see everything. Isolated in an etic un-reality that is the most real, but most external perception. You are totally safe out of phase and so you walk and walk and walk. And you experience the world of the others as if for the first time in the most vivid, exquisite skin tingling intensity. 

picture-028And you are utterly alone. And that is part of the bliss. 

The clarity of your thought and expression is agonising. The silence is tangible, the profound silence within the music of Mozart. But it’s Mozart in your heart strings, a cello vibrating on your skin not your ears. 

You want it to stop because you can’t function. You have things to do. Did someone steal your soul? Are you even still alive? But you don’t want it to ever stop because it is so peaceful, safe, so terribly real. It will stop, you cannot hold back the time forever so you revel in it. When you stop being afraid you plunge in. Total immersion. 

061I said maybe it feels like you woke while your soul was away dancing, but sleep is not all that induces this feeling. Walking on the beach, alone, maybe in the rain, always wind and crashing waves. Walking. Walking. Walking at the interstices. Your soul relaxes, stops trying to hold you together in space and time and convention. Waves pound. Your soul breathes. It flies up up, dancing with the clouds, flowing over the skin of the ocean to roll full of joy in the breaking waves, drenched in spray rising up and up, shaking laughing like a sea sprite. Racing alone along the sparkling silver roads of pure reflected moonlight. Invigorated. Cleansed. The dirt and condemnation and strictures of civilised life are washed away. You flow to your own shape. Exhausted. Refreshed. The salt spray and sweet rain sting your skin. There is utter clarity in your bubble of life, of vibrant livingness that extends to the horizon. And that tremulous hyper sensitivity is safely protected by a force field penetrated only by moon and waves and wind. 

day-20-375-wedding-preparationsSometimes it happens when I travel. Maybe it’s why I travel alone. I walk. I observe. But I am separate, other, I don’t quite belong.   I feel like I see everything, absorb everything, taste the texture of everything. I am in my safe living bubble. Is no one else truly alive? Can no one else see? People are rushing, speaking a language I don’t understand. I have none of their pressures. I’m inside but outside. Some smile at me, I must still be alive, still visible, still real. I speak to buy chai or coffee, eye contact, smile, touch finger tips. But I am different and my difference keeps me separate, safe, aware. And so I walk. And walk Watching. Tasting. 

I think Hildegard got it when she described herself as a feather on the breath of God. And John of the Cross, the exquisite joy of relinquishing all else, embracing the empty darkness of night that your soul may bathe in the balm of God. The mysterious power of the empty tomb. Arjuna letting go outcomes and being the arrow he was created to be. The sublime insight of expectations obliterated and release of simply being, flowing into a nothing that is everything. Expectations, desire have no place here. I am simply totally alive. 

The woman I’m learning from this week calls it returning to yourself. Some clever men whose work I respect called it liminal, leaving behind familiarity, being open to see the world inverted, and to return changed. That sounds so prosaic, so orderly, I hope they smelt it sparkle.