Thomas Wictor

Mom rewards my optimism

Mom rewards my optimism

Mom has seen fit to reward my optimism. Yesterday I broke with the pessimists in my life, and by nightfall I was shown that I made the right decision.

Those of you who think I’m insane for believing this can go right ahead. I respect your opinion, and I—

No I don’t. Cram it. Shove your skepticism up your exhaust pipe, follow it with an Idaho potato, and then eat forty pounds of pinto beans and blow yourself into subatomic particles floating gently on clouds of intestinal gas. Nobody’s forcing you to read this.

Mom’s hobby was creating clothespin people. She made hundreds if not thousands of them over the years. When it became clear that she wasn’t coming home, Tim gathered up the many she had on her workbench and put them in two boxes, along with a note she’d written to herself.

Reading this note gives me an insight into my mother’s thinking. Mom was a mystery. Often her actions were inexplicable. Her terrible death was painful almost beyond my capacity to survive it.

My presence at my mother’s bedside caused insoluble problems. I’m the child who most resembles my father. Growing up I had an especially difficult relationship with my mother. It took me years to understand why. It’s called “displacement.” A person can’t express the anger she feels at one person, so she aims it instead at someone else. It’s not necessary to describe my parents’ problems, nor would it be fair. They were well-suited for each other, which isn’t always a good thing.

Dad liked very much for Mom to do what he wanted her to do. In fact, Dad liked very much for the world to do what he wanted it to do. To be frank, Dad lived in his own world, which had a population of one: himself. As you can imagine, life with such a person can be a strain.

To everybody’s shock, Dad lost his mind when he was shown the extent of his cancer, and he became unmanageable. I’ll describe one episode to provide context.

Mom went to Dad’s room because he was raving extra loudly and energetically. She tried to calm him down, and he got up. Once on his feet, he grabbed his armchair and slid to the floor in slow motion, shouting, “Help! Help!” but in a low-energy foghorn voice completely free of distress. Mom said his fall reminded her of this. On the floor he lay on his side, calmly staring at nothing. Mom called Tim into Dad’s room, and Tim helped Dad up and put him back in bed.

Tim says that’s one of his worst memories of Dad’s death: coming into the room, seeing our mother standing there in disbelief, and Dad lying on his side on the floor, in a running position, gazing at the wall, silent and motionless. A scene from a Dadaist play, it was also real. We still can’t quite wrap our minds around Dad’s death. Mom couldn’t either.

Dad missed out on the hospital; he went straight into hospice and then into an urn. Mom entered the hospital in April. Tim and I discovered that when I visited her, she became even less cooperative. She ate less, complained more, and played cruel passive-aggressive mind games, using her power as our mother to prevent us from saying or doing certain things.

We explained to her why she needed eat, and we told her bluntly that she’d die like her husband if she didn’t. After Dad’s death, we didn’t mince words. She had five dodges, which she rotated over nine months.

1. Lie back, close her eyes, and whisper, “I know. I know.
2. Smile and say, “Oh, you worry too much! That’s not going to happen!”
3. Beg, “Please don’t nag me! Please!
4. Shout, “Well, have me put away somewhere! Since I’m crazy!
5. Complain, “I didn’t expect such criticism from my own children!”
6. Announce, “We’re not going to talk about this anymore.”

She was at her worst when I was there, so Tim and I made the hideous decision to keep me away from her as much as possible. And it prolonged her life. There were at least five major setbacks, but she overcame them all. Until ten days before her death, we thought she might just make it. When I knew she was near the end, I went to the hospital and spent several hours with her, kissed her, and came home. She died three days later.

Mom and Dad made their choices. They weren’t informed choices, really, but it was free will manifest.

Back to the clothespin people.

Tim packed Mom’s clothespin people into two boxes, which he put on a shelf. You can see the boxes in the upper left corner of this photo.

There were no other clothespin people in the house. They were all in those two boxes.

Last night Tim knelt in front of the filing cabinet on the right and pulled out the lower drawer, beginning the process of settling Mom’s estate. He found himself suddenly overcome with sadness that Mom wouldn’t let us save her. He paused, not jostling the drawer or the cabinet, and a clothespin person fell on the back of his right hand.

Tim said it hit his hand with great force, as though it had been thrown, but it didn’t fall off. It just…stuck there. I’ve never seen a child clothespin person; all of Mom’s clothespin people were adults. But you can see that she shortened the legs to make the person a child.

This clothespin child could not have fallen from anywhere. I helped Tim carry in those two filing cabinets, and then we put those boxes on top of them. There were no clothespin people on top of the filing cabinets, nor were there any loose ones on the shelves. Tim and I put all of Mom’s art projects into that room. We know exactly where everything is.

So I think it’s Mom telling us that’s she’s okay, and we don’t have to feel bad about her anymore. It might even be an apology.

“Clothespin people can keep a secret,” Mom wrote. But they can also carry messages that are desperately needed.

Georgia Thunes took the photos of Mom’s note, which I sent to the Thuneses a few days ago, along with four of Mom’s clothespin people—one for each member of Scott’s family. I asked Georgia to please tell me what Mom had written, since now I wanted to post about the clothespin child, but Georgia went a step further and photographed the note. Thank you, nice lady. That was very thoughtful.

Scott tells me that he was “heart-hit” to discover that he was Mom’s hero. I like that.

“Clothespin people always have time for you,” Mom wrote. I’m grateful that she set aside a little time to ease her sons’ pain. We appreciate it more than she knows.

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