Meg B. in Chicago

Darning Socks

I came across an odd piece of rounded wood on a stick, and for the life of me, I couldn't remember its purpose. Looks like a hardboiled egg on a Popsicle stick. It's smooth, utilitarian, about three or four inches high.Then it hit me.

I took it home from Mom's in the flurry of activity that was the wrapping up of her life and possessions after her death one year ago.

This object is one of many things I stuffed in my suitcase, not wanting to throw it out and not really knowing what else to do with it, like so much of her stuff. None of it was worth more than its sentimental value, but it was all we had of her and ourselves, her place being the repository for all the detritus of our childhoods and her adulthood.

The object I found myself fondling was for darning socks.

Darning socks, a lost art, much like "tatting," a kind of intricate embroidering-knitting-crocheting. People don't darn socks anymore, they throw them out and buy new ones.

I felt sadness when I saw it, not just because of the reminder of her and all the baggage that that memory entails, but for the fact that I never had her teach me how to use it.

I don't remember her ever using it to darn anyone's socks, but I know she knew how to do this once-essential task.

There are probably a lot of things I never had her teach me to do.

My relationship with her was so complex -- not one interaction clean and forthright, and each dredging up the one before it and numerous others before that.

I hated her and loved her and hated myself for not being able to evolve beyond my primordial responses to even hearing her voice on my answering machine on the rare occasions she would call.

Each inflection of her distinctive voice was so reminiscent of the hurtful arguments we used to have, how hateful she could be when my budding sexuality in adolescence brought up painful memories of her own in eclipse. The very sight of me would send her off into the dangerous primitive netherworld of thwarted hopes, dashed dreams, disappointment.

She hated me at times because I reminded her of her.

And she was a mysterious powder keg that I only recently came to understand, or at least came into possession of a plausible theory with which I could make some peace.

She was unhappy a lot of the time. The transitory optimism that I remember she had at one time became dimmer and dimmer; the fight to keep it became like that of someone in the sea after the Titanic had sunk, the strength to hold on to the life preserver to stay alive diminishing much like the strength in her legs.

It became difficult for her not to complain and express her misery to anyone and everyone she talked to toward the last years of her life. It was easier just not to reach out to anybody at all.

Hence the long periods of being incommunicado, which I took for indifference.

I think there was indifference, the kind that comes from a self-absorption borne of the belief that she was due something she never got. Something she was robbed of.

But what it was and by whom will now never be answered.

Fortunately for me I feel confident that I tried as hard as I was capable of to have a relationship with her of whatever quality. Could I have tried harder? Maybe. But I was so conflicted about what she had done to my self-esteem that I alternately wanted her to pay for it, pay like the laws of the universe, the "spiritual quantum physics" I was so convinced at the time would ultimately render justice, that I was reduced to screaming vulgarities at her, hoping for justice later.

I could have tried harder, and I knew I would regret not having done more to make her last years more comfortable, less lonely, less wracked with pain. I also knew I wouldn't be able to.

It was just so goddamned hard.

I would go to visit her with the best of intentions, therapied to the point where I really believed I was beyond all that was between us that made me crazy and inevitably led me home to take to my bed with a crushing depression and hopelessness no other experience with anyone else could engender.

I would sit in her living room trying to figure out what to talk about next, what activity I could do or chore I could accomplish for her that would make the trip worthwhile. I wanted to go home feeling like I had turned a corner in my relationship with her.

But too many times I would leave her apartment and take a walk outside in the neighborhood feeling like I couldn't breathe, fighting for air, wanting the city of Chicago to restore my breath before I could go back there and try again.

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