by Dawn Cartwright: My mother, from the time I can remember, represented everything to me that was emotionally disheveled and unkempt.
She felt fully and expressed loudly every nuance of her inner world without apology. Her temper was quick and searing hot, her rage thick and palpable. Even in total silence. Even hundreds of miles away in my dorm room in college.
There was no escaping her. Though I tried.
I divorced my mother many times. First as an infant, learning to walk and thereby gaining sovereignty at seven months. Then later in primary school when I discovered (as many of us do) I was far more intelligent than she was. Then again in high school when I participated in every extra-curricular activity both sanctioned and unsanctioned and came home only to sleep. Then in college when I disappeared from her life completely.
No matter how many doors I closed, hers were always open. She sent cards, letters and care packages. She found ways to let me know how proud she was, and how much she missed me. If there was ever an injustice waged against me, she took arms and no prisoners. And she, a legendary cook born of generations of legendary cooks, begged me to let her make my favorite dishes on those rare weekends home. The woman never stopped, no matter how difficult I made it for her. Her love, like all her emotions, was a force unto itself and—prevail or not—would never ever end.
Last night I had a dream. It was a dream I woke up from and re-entered twice, something that almost never happens. It was a dream that stayed with me hours after I started my day; in fact, it’s with me even now.
I dreamt my mother had died.
I remember seeing her in the dream, curled up in her bed as if asleep. She was so still. Nothing moved. There was no emotion. No passion. Only a huge gaping space where all of that had once lived. A huge gap in place of my mother.
And I broke.
And I wept. And all that she, my mother, had ever wanted to give me in all my life came rushing in. Tearing me apart. All at once.
I might have expected to feel grief but I did not expect this. I did not expect my heart to be blasted full force with her. There was no stopping it. There was nothing to do but to feel her. And then to realize I’d never known her, not really, ever before in my life until now.
Yes, I knew intellectually she was passionate and untamed. Beautiful. Playful, sweet and giving. I knew she’d been a deep lover. A radical spirit. A red-head, in every sense of the word. A wildfire.
The chaos of woman—the unruliness of love in flesh.
But I’d never felt her. Never allowed her close. Never let her in. At war with my own fundamental femininity from day one.
She had desires. She had vision. She was an irrepressible woman from rural Tennessee who lived life like a Russian epic. For her, love, passion, friendship and family were the whole purpose for living. She saw love in every emotion—even in hate and fear. She knew love could never be tarnished or lost, because she knew love was at the root of all war and strife. She never gave up her longing to live that love with another. But in all her life, her love never had a place to land. Her love was too big and too loud for the world she lived in. And now that it was all over, her desires would never be met.
That morning I broke as I woke from my dream. The space I’d enforced between us was gone. I found myself face to face with her and all I could never accept. In the dream I’d begged her to come back to me. I saw her porcelain form still and silent. I felt her rage in every part of me. Searing hot and inescapable. It was all so clear.
Somehow she did it, her love prevailed in the end—she passed her flaming unkempt wildfire torch to me. She lit up my heart. Like a thousand suns. And now I know love like I never knew love before. Her love, at once and at last, had found a place to land.
PostScript: My mother is very much alive today and thriving. She’ll no longer burn in the dishevelment of love alone. By the grace of this dream and all it’s revealed, I’m here now, by her side, ready to add fuel to the fire.