One minute she was driving home from the airport, making her way carefully through the ice and snow. In the next an out of control semi truck was slamming into her car sending it skittering across lanes of traffic. She had just chosen to exit the highway, thinking the slower speeds of the surface roads, and the lighted, sanded street would be a safer route to take home. Her careening car narrowly avoided slamming into another car occupied by two small boys and their father, and then the truck hit her again. Her first thought was something like, “I’m going to die now,” followed by, “Oh God help.” Then the truck with still more momentum than her little car slammed into her again, this time from the other side. Again she thought she was going to die, and then she thought, I can’t die today, that would ruin Carrien’s birthday forever. Six times in total the truck hit her car, knocking it further and further off of the road until they both came to rest in the ditch.
Just that morning I had hugged her goodbye and watched as her train disappeared to the north. I looked at the clock from time to time with the kids as we followed her itinerary. “Oma should be getting on her plane about now.” “She’s still flying.” “She should be arriving at the airport, by dinner she should be almost home.”
I still feel sick to my stomach, this tension deep inside of me that coils every time I think about how close I came to losing my mother two days ago. It’s surprising she’s alive; her car is completely crushed. After a night in the hospital they determined she had no internal injuries and no broken bones and sent her home with Demerol, where she now lays in great pain from the deep bruises on her bones and the rest of her body. My mother, the woman who never ever seemed to be able to catch a break gets slammed yet again by one of life’s inequities. My freezer is full of food that she made for me, my children have several books and toys and fond memories from her two weeks here, I feel rested and strong because she was here, and she lies in bed in pain thanks to a freak accident. But she is not dead.
I confess that I felt a small stab of relief that the accident wasn’t something that happened during her trip, on the plane or the train or the shuttle, it happens after she was back in her city, in a way it released me from some of the guilt I felt of placing her in harms way through her travel to get to me. We spent a while when she was here talking about how I feel guilty for being most of the time, how I feel as though it’s my job to take care of her, to protect her, to make sure she is happy. I have carried with me most of my life this feeling that I ruined my mother’s by being born. She’s never said that or thought that even I don’t think; it’s just something I picked up and decided was true when I was very small. Maybe the way all of the grown-ups when I was a child used shame as a way to control kids had something to do with it. It was never just, “It’s time to pick up your toys now, clean up your mess.” it was “Pick up your toys, you should feel ashamed of yourself making more work for your mother. She works hard enough taking care of you, you shouldn’t make her work any harder.” I remember my grandmother saying that to me when I was 4. They were of the children should be seen and not heard generation, when your job as a child was to remain as invisible as possible and avoid getting in a grownup’s way.
So I told her I felt that way, she had to drag it out of me, that I felt responsible for her and all of the hurt her decisions as an adult had brought her, how I was angry over the worry and the way I had parented my parents most of my young life, that I had had no childhood because of the madness that surrounded me, some of which was because of her. She cried because she never intended for me to feel that way, or think that way, and she reminded me that they were her choices and I was the child and I was able for the first time to let go of some of the burden I carry around, to let myself be the daughter, to let her choose without worrying for her if it was the right choice. When I heard about the accident all of the guilt came flooding back for a minute. It’s because she came to visit me that she was on the road just then and was hit. Then I realized, it’s because she chose to drive through town, it’s because there was snow it’s because the driver of the truck made a mistake, it’s because maybe he stopped to get coffee, or didn’t stop to get coffee, it’s any number of things but it’s not because of me that she got hurt. Which is a good feeling even though I’m incredibly saddened by how badly she is hurt. I couldn’t bear the thought that it’s my fault as well.