On September 17th, 1982, I lost my mother. I was twelve years old, at the time. There’s not a day goes by that I don’t think of her… of that day. I was broken in ways I can’t even explain and still can’t fully. I may never have the words to express it.
The day started like any other day, really. I got up, made my breakfast, and was getting ready for school. Mom was still in bed and dad was at work. My older brother Bill (he goes by Will now, but he’ll always be Bill in my memory) was with dad. They ran a full-service gas station in town.
I remember eating cereal while I sat there at the kitchen table when I heard it. I thought she was snoring. I remember laughing about it before heading out the door. I rode my bike to school, not realizing that was the last sound my mother would make. That “snoring” had been the sound of her gasping as she died. Her blood pressure had raced in her sleep and she died while I was laughing at what I thought was her snoring.
I hate that memory, but it’s the one that will never go away. I laughed.
Hours later, Bill came to my school… I was in junior high… and got me out of class. They called me to the principal’s office and he was standing there as I walked up. A thousand thoughts ran through my head, but I never thought it would be her.
We walked outside to his pickup, parked right in front of the building.
“I don’t know how to tell you this…” he said.
I was numb. Completely numb. I expected him to say something had happened to dad. I don’t know why, that was just the thought that went through my head.
“…but mom’s dead.”
I stared blankly at him.
“Mom’s dead,” he repeated.
I still stood there unable to process what he was telling me. He said something after that, but I honestly still don’t remember what it was. I was fracturing to pieces in my mind. My entire world was crumbling and I didn’t have any words that would come out. Inside, I was screaming.
I punched his truck. I remember doing that. Then he put me in the passenger seat while he went to get my bike from the bike rack. I just sat there in silence. I don’t even think I cried. The pieces were still crumbling inside of me.
We drove home. Dad was there. I remember Bill telling me that dad had been the one that found her. He’d gone home for something and found her, still in bed. Still where she’d been when I heard her. When I laughed.
The next few days were a blur. I remember times when I would just get on my bicycle and ride. I’d ride for hours with no destination in mind. I just rode. Trying to find my way back home, expecting to walk in the door and find her there…. But I never found my way back. Oh, I made it back to the place where we lived… but home was gone. She was gone.
Mom was a writer, too. She wrote songs, although she was never able to get any of them into the hands of a singer who would turn them into music. She played guitar and sang and I loved listening to her play with my brother Bryan and our family friend Richard Lawrence. They’d play and sing and I loved it.
I remember conversations I had with her, how she encouraged me to write because that’s what I wanted to do. That’s what I wanted to be. She told me I could because I had an imagination that never stopped working. She was right, but at times that imagination seemed more like a curse than a blessing. I could never turn it off, especially when I tried to sleep. I laughed at her snoring.
I imagined all kinds of scenarios where I went in and helped her set up and she was fine… she never left me. The trouble was, I’d go to sleep with those thoughts and wake up to find her still gone. The house was still empty.
Our dog, a little terrier named Piddles (mom named her) mourned deeply for her. She’d go to the window or the back door, looking for her. Looking for someone who would never come home again. I understood how she felt.
I remember a conversation with my mom. She loved to travel and explore, especially the mountains. She was enthralled with them. Sheer beauty. I told her that I was going to be a famous writer and would take her all over the world. I’d buy a Jeep and take her up into the mountains. Mom would be ninety-two years old if she was still alive. She was fifty-four when I lost her. In four years, I’ll be the age she was when she died.
I carried all of this with me for years, never telling anyone. Especially the part about me laughing. I blamed myself for many years. I felt like if only I had done something… anything… beside sit there and laugh. How would have things been different?
When I started dating the woman who would become my wife, I told her. She was the first person I told. She told me it wasn’t my fault, that I shouldn’t blame myself. I couldn’t help it. I couldn’t because I still carried with me the memory of laughing. She wasn’t snoring.
I carried that guilt with me for most of my life. Hell, maybe I still do, to a certain extent. I still miss her. Sometimes, when I close my eyes, I can almost hear her voice… but it seems so far away, now. After all, it was a lifetime ago when I lost her. Thirty-eight years, to be exact.
I’m still writing. Still typing my stories and sharing them in my books and blog entries. I’m still not quite there as an author… I’m working on it, though. One day, I’ll be in a financial position where I can travel. Maybe I’ll buy that Jeep I told her I’d buy and drive into the mountains. I’ll go there and sing one of her songs and remember her.
Maybe one day. I certainly hope so. I want to take a picture of her with me when I do. To carry through with my promise, if only in a small way. That’s the dream.
I still miss her and there’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think of her. I wish she had gotten to know my sons. She would have spoiled them rotten. She loved her grandchildren. She loved reading and she loved traveling. She loved her family.
I miss you, mom.