aren’t enough words to define the colors, the sounds, the
words that day -- the day I told my mother, “I want to go live
wasn’t that my mother wanted me. It wasn’t even that she
me. It was that my mother had lost. This was a defeat. I had chosen my
over her. And so my act, that one decision, resuscitated an avalanche
of her hurts, all of them.
became the mother who didn’t fight to keep her, the foster
parents who fled. I was every stranger in all those families who
her enough to say, “Stay.” I was the husband who (she
thought) had run.
every goodbye, every abandonment, every wrongdoing, and
every old wound. And as I stood on the porch beside my suitcase,
waiting for my
father, and she stood silent at the door, I knew that in time I would
would pay dearly.
words, no embrace, no gift, not even a pronouncement in reverse
could undo what I had done.
months passed before I would see her again. And while there
was a sense of relief in this disconnect, in the absence of the
turmoil, an unfathomable sadness was emerging as well. I
sometimes felt an untethering I couldn’t grasp, and I missed her
To love and to hate her all at once left me so depleted there were
when I could barely lift my head.
despaired that my mother didn’t miss me. That the feeling
mutual. That I had created a reality where she saw she could live
without me. I
was the problem child, after all, not my sister, not Sydney.
during those long stretches of
silence, or as a result of them, that I sometimes sought the eyes of
strangers -- older women who unknowingly smiled at my stare. And I
them, grab their sleeve, careful not to be too frantic, too desperate
How should I ask? What words?
is a children’s book I
remembered, “Will You Be My Mother?” (Or was it: “Are
You My Mother?") -- I wasn’t
sure, but thought I might just carry a copy and hand it out as an
or an explanation to the first hands that reached out.
I knew on some level what the consequences of moving in
with my father would be, I was still not prepared for my mother’s
complete desertion. Had I run away, had she not known for hours where I
odds might have been better.
then she would have waited in the hall for me, as she once
had for Sydney.
she would have stood by the front door calling for me, as
she had for our dog, Millie.
summer ended and fall began in an explosion of color,
loved the predictability of
seasons. When everything else let you down -- unkept promises, a
loyalty, a mother’s love, the seasons never disappointed. They
changed and ended just as anticipated, just as you always knew they
Never mind what would follow. Never mind the ice and the gray and the
then, for today, it was warm. It was red. It was magnificent.
called her. Three rings, and then she answered. “Mom?” I
said. “Do you need some help with your yard? I could come
was safe, this would be okay. No struggle to manufacture
conversations. No silence to
break. My dad drove me.
is nice of you,” he’d said, leaning over,
hugging me with his non-driving arm.
time with my mother? I
wondered. Cleaning her yard? I didn’t ask. It didn’t matter.
sat on her deck watching me,
drinking ice tea. She had left the rake propped up by the gray steps. I
and waved at her, then raked her leaves into gigantic piles. I resisted
urge to run and leap into them. Maybe my mother wanted to come down
deck. Maybe she wanted to do that too.
stopped and looked up at her,
shielding my eyes from the sun. If that’s what she was thinking,
if that’s what
she wanted, I wouldn’t know it by her stare.
she asked, suddenly right
behind me. I hadn’t heard her over the rake, over the sweep of
she’d startled me.
I’m just going to run out for
a moment. Grab some things at the store. I won’t be gone
nodded. I watched her go.
mother was away so long I finished the
entire lawn. All those leaves, a mountain of color, swept away, pulled
pile, leaving the dying summer lawn exposed. I set the rake in the shed
Dad’s lawn mower, beside the rusty watering can and
snow shovel, and before I pulled the door closed,
I turned and looked again, remembering when Sydney and I played in
barrel for a table, a three-legged stool, old plates, a few wooden
our younger voices calling "Millie, our child,” to
“Come to bed.”
mother had not still returned and it was almost dark. I walked
up the steps to her front door, grateful to find it unlocked, and
father. “I’m on my way,” he told me.
hung up the phone my mother was standing there. The second
time that day she’d startled me. I couldn’t help but notice
that all she was
carrying was her purse, not a loaf of bread, no milk, no coffee. Just
black purse and her keys.
coming,” I told her.
she said and then, “you did a nice job. Thank you.”
I told her, surprised by her sudden warmth, her
appreciation. And then we stood there. Silent.
you see the sunset?” she finally asked.
my head no, and together we walked outside. On the
way she said, “There are a lot more jobs I could use some help
not too busy helping your father.”
nodded, imagining her saying something
else: Do you want to stay over? I miss
you. I’m sorry I was gone all day…
sat in the rocking chair by the door and I walked down to the
bottom step, the one closest to the road.
car I heard I hoped would be my father’s coming back for me.
I played silent games, “Dad’s will be the second car after
the blue one, the
red one; after this woman walks by; the one I hear in the distance;
dog stops barking; Dad’s will be when I count to ten
he finally pulled up, I got in and waved to my mother.
I wondered, maybe she’d been counting too.
Originally from southern California, Anne
Serling prefers small towns and the change of seasons. She is the
author of AS I KNEW HIM: My Dad Rod Serling; the adaptation of
two of her father’s teleplays in the anthology The Twilight Zone:
The Original Stories and
she has had articles published in Salon.com, The Huffington Post, and
appeared on NPR’S Snap Judgment