By Ann Vincent Vila
Cognitively, Maria understood that we have to accept people as they are, not as we want them to be. But one’s rational mind is sometimes overshadowed by a cloud of emotions that juggle around the mind like fruit and vegetables that are mixed and pureed in the blender of time, until what you’ve got is irrational, childlike longings spewing forth wet tears of debris that become delusional desires, daydreams, or even nightmares. So much for rational thought.
Maria, in her late 60s and fit for her age, with dyed dark brown hair in a fashionable cut, large black eyes, and a full round face was now a retired High School Physics teacher trying to be a patient, loving mother. But after a call with her son, Josh, she felt her age withering every cell. She felt the aches she tried to ignore, an ankle that never quite healed turned a twinge, and her back wrenched as she listened to Josh complain about his brother. ”Yeah, he called, but I was waiting for his call all day. I told him I gave up on him. I’ll just accept that he doesn’t really ever want to talk to me, just text.” Maria sighed as they said their goodbyes.
Lost in her own thoughts as she then put on the kettle for some Celestial Seasonings Chamomile Herbal Tea, her mind wandered. How much love do we really need? This was a question Maria wanted to know as she gazed at the idyllic picture of a peaceful cottage surrounded by daisies, a bunny, a romantic bicycle, and two monarch butterflies on the yellow tea box diverting her to reverie.
Josh, her eldest, was mad at his younger brother, Nathan, for not calling earlier for his birthday. Nathan finally called late in the day. Josh had waited all day for that call. And when Nathan did call, Josh reamed him for calling so late, somewhat like a neglected or abused wife. Didn’t she, as his mother, get any credit as she had sent him gifts, email, texts, and a call? And his younger brother, Nathan, had texted him first thing in the morning. Besides this, Josh has a loving wife and three cute and fetching daughters who were there loving him every moment of the day, feeding him cake and soothing ice cream, and he had a slobbering Golden Retriever who wouldn’t leave his side. A bit much, Maria thought, as she knew in contrast, his brother, Nathan, was not a phone person, was divorced, living in a secluded bungalow, and was on shaky ground with his own 10-year-old daughter. Maria thought all this, but dared not say, Can’t you just ease up and cut your brother some slack?
This baffling relationship Maria had with her sons was like that of an ice skater on unstable ice dreading the fall into icy waters. Maria had a close relationship with her sons, just not all together in the same room! She was always afraid of wounding them with perceived favoritism. And there was the fear that all parents dread: That her grown children would stop caring and stop calling. She had too many friends who bewailed this loss.
But then, she thought, these are my sons, and remembered back to a birthday of her own when after asking, What are we going to do for my birthday?
Her then-irritated husband scratching his grey hair said, ”Oh, do we have to do anything?” A widow now, her marriage had then faltered somewhere between Paris and Los Angeles, where a thud could be heard like a 747 plummeting down at a pace landing at LAX face down in the universe. Her universe. At that time, she hadn’t yet fully grasped or understood he just didn’t want to spend any money (cheap bastard). This is how she now referred to him. There had been other issues for both of them that had been seething inside of her, waiting for just this moment. She promptly responded, “I’m leaving you, Bill” and walked out of the room. Ok, she left him a few months later, but that was the day, that was the tipping point, the last peel of the banana, the inciting incident, whatever you want to call it.
Yes, her birthday, and yes, one might say it was silly, infantile, irrational, even, but nevertheless, at that moment Maria felt she was right, though she now admitted embarrassment to that buried, red-faced, sobbing child within her wanting the manifestations of love exemplified in a cake with candles, or possibly a tiny trinket of diamond jewelry. So, what could she say to her son, as she knew he was stuck with her genetic traits through the cruelty of DNA. She knew her two sons loved each other deeply, but even there, childhood grievances and sibling rivalry filtered its venom into the quagmire of their relationship.
Maria knew the real issue was one of those topics that caused all eyes to lower and glance away into some internal personal dark abyss. It was the heart. Josh wanted to hear his brother’s voice as the love of the one person that really mattered in his life, his kid brother, and it was really just his inner child grieving, longing and wanting to be remembered and loved as his birthday callously aged him as it flipped unrelentingly forward on his calendar. Frustrated, she came to this conclusion knowing she could never discuss this with Josh as she slipped off her furry slippers, snuggled in the arms of a blanket on her plush grey sofa, sipping her hot tea. Clicking on Netflix, she sought oblivion. As the soft glow of her 85-inch Sony Flat screen beckoned, she muttered to herself as she was now prone to do, Birthdays… Nothing but trouble.