She looked searchingly into my eyes as we hugged goodbye. That combination of fragrances that was uniquely “mom”, hair spray, Esteé Lauder and Scotch, though no more cigarette smoke, lingered.
We had been to dinner a last time before she and her husband went south for the winter. Her expression looked as if she expected me to say something or wanted to ask a question.
I disengaged from her bony arms and laughed. It had been a good time, a good meal. My partner Genevieve and I bundled up and dashed through the cold and snow. We had a long dark road ahead of us going home.
She said, “You ought to tell her. But it’s ok with me if you don’t.”
“It feels disrespectful to you, keeping you a secret,” I said.
“Not at all. You have that bad memory of the way she behaved after she was eavesdropping on you to contend with. Coming out is personal. I just think she is ok with it.”
Yes, I did. A college student living at home and working, I’d begun dating a woman I had a crush on. Late one night we had been talking on the phone with the kitchen door shut and my mother had burst in, yelling how disgusting I was, that she was going to go right upstairs and tell my father. The scar lingered, though I never did know if she told my dad. His behavior toward me did not change.
We crunched up our driveway. The dogs barked their exuberance making us smile. Soon they milled about our boots as we petted and told them to go pee.
We hung up snow-covered coats. Fed the cats. Banked the wood stove. Showered and before long were settled warm in our bed to read. It nagged at me, my mother’s inviting behavior at dinner. I stared into space, my book forgotten. Finally, Gen pushed her glasses down her nose and looked over the frames at me. She elbowed me gently in the side. “Go downstairs and call her.” She kissed my cheek.
I shrugged into bathrobe and slippers. Several dogs escorted me to the kitchen where a hopeful cat waited by an empty bowl. I postponed the phone call to pour Friskies.
My mom answered on the second ring.
I said, “We had a fun time.”
“Yes, it was.” said Mom.
“Umm, well, look.”I said. I was 52 years old.
“Genevieve and I are in love and we want to make a life together.” The words tumbled out in a rush. Everyone in the family liked her already so I wasn’t sure what this confession would do.
My heart pounded in my neck.
“So,” said Mom. “Does this mean you’re gay?”
Of all the responses I’d imagined, that was not among them.
I said, “Well, uh, Love is Love no matter what equipment a person has in their underwear so why does it matter?”
“Well, you were married to a man you loved for many years.”
She laughed. “I asked your brother if she was gay the first time you brought her here. He wouldn’t tell.
I knew it!” she chuckled.
What the hell, I thought.
Suddenly serious, “Do you love her? Are you happy?” she asked.
“Yes. I love her a lot. I am.”
“Then, that is all I care about. That my child is happy.”
We giggled together a bit more. I was sweat-soaked with relief and also bemused at the conversation.
I set the phone in its charger and flicked the light switch.
Once I was back in bed, dogs and cats piled around us. Genevieve looked at my smiling face over her glasses again, setting her book down on one thigh, “So?”
A few nights later we pulled in the driveway after a long day of work. I headed for the mailbox while she locked the car in the barn and let dogs out. They boiled down the driveway around me as I grabbed junk mail and letters. Halfway up the yard, in the light from the back door, I saw an envelope addressed to Genevieve with my mom’s distinctive back-slanted, leftie script.
My heart leapt into my mouth. I couldn’t help it. Dread. Panting, I dashed into the house, barely remembering to hold the door for the last dog. Gen was putting leftovers from our supper on the road in the fridge. Its light shone on her freckles.
“What is it? Your face is white as a sheet.” She straightened up.
I held the mail out to her.
“My mother,” I breathed. “She sent you something.”
She took the proffered envelope and examined the addressee, only Genevieve, and return label. It said it was from Mom and husband.
I watched her read, standing so close we were breathing on each other. She held the card so I could see, too.
I understand that you and my daughter are in love and you want to make a life together. My husband and I would like to welcome you to our family. We wish the two of you all the best.
Our eyes met, brimming with tears. We gripped each other in a bone-crushing hug, paused for a long kiss, lips still chilled from winter outside, and then laughed. Hugged again and re-read her note. I brought it upstairs into our study and thumb-tacked it to the wall over the desk.
Life is filled with surprises. An 82 year old woman who was by then married three times had spent time over the years, a few of them when we did not speak at all, thinking.
Proof, I thought; a person can grow for her entire life.
Though the card was lost some moves ago and Genevieve and my mom are both gone, the gift of my mother’s words will stay with me as long as I live.
Rachael Ikins is a 2016/18 Pushcart, 2013/18 CNY Book Award, 2018 Independent Book Award winner, prize-winning author/artist with 9 books. Syracuse University grad, member CNY branch NLAPW, and Associate Editor of Clare Songbirds Publishing House, Auburn, NY. Her new memoir Eating the Sun a love story narrative punctuated by poetry and garden recipes available 4/2019 at Clare Songbirds Publishing House.