“You know, we’re orphans,” I told my brother. I said it like a joke, which is the best way to say serious things. And really, it is kind of a joke. My brother is 59. He’s a burly trucker. I’m 46. My sister is 52. We’re big and strong and brave. We never cry; we don’t whine. We make our beds, then lie in them. We’re responsible.
Our father died 30 years ago; our mother passed away two years ago last July. Their deaths were slow and unpleasant, for them and for us.
We miss them, but we don’t talk about it.
Once a long time ago, when I was a college student, my roommate’s father was in town. I was sick. He came in my room and laid the back of his hand on my forehead. Twenty-five years later, I still remember the comfort in that touch. After he left the room, I cried. A father’s touch. Not my father’s, though.
Last month I answered an Internet survey that asked, “Who are you more like, your mother or your father?”
I answered “mother,” because I feel like her when I am awoken at 4:30 a.m. to comfort a child vomiting into the toilet or when I have to shovel up the dead squirrel decomposing in the backyard.
I feel like her when I sing my youngest to sleep, some old song like “Down in the Valley” or “Who’s Gonna Shoe My Pretty Little Foot” — the words and the tunes still stuck in my memory behind the lyrics to “Tangled Up in Blue” and “Bohemian Rhapsody.”
But my father taught me how important it is to wait patiently while a child selects her candy bar from the shelves under the cash register. That walking down the road to a little rundown store to buy a Grape Nehi and a Sunday paper is better than a day at the amusement park.
Then he died, and I grew up. He wasn’t there to disapprove of my boyfriends or cry at my wedding when he thought no one was looking or to tell his grandkids those ridiculous stories about how he fought in the Revolutionary War.
Our mother struggled along alone, remarrying into an uneasy partnership of mutual, constant complaining. Gradually life circled until we were taking care of her, at least when she would let us.
It’s not fair.
I want to be the kid again, to be served Campbell’s split pea soup on the couch in front of the TV when I’m sick. I want somebody to tell me, “It’s time to go to bed.” I want somebody to blame when it was really my own fault.
I want to be protected and taken care of — to believe that someone else can protect me. To be the served, not the servant.
My mother was 80 years old when she died. In the nursing home, bedridden, partially paralyzed, half the time hallucinating, she noticed that the lining of my favorite jacket was frayed and sagging.
“Leave that here,” she said.
“I’ll fix it for you.”
Sonya Booth, who grew up in Orlando, Florida, is surprised to find that she has spent almost half her life in Chicago.