I don’t remember my last conversation with my birth mom.
I remember a brief talk we had from the car, when she told me to call her when I could sit down and really talk. I did, a few days later. But I don’t quite remember what I said. Or what she said. Something about paying bills.
I had gotten used to the idea that she would be around for a while. I had forgotten she was sick.
A little more than six months ago I got a call that she was in the hospital, unresponsive. That if I wanted to see her before she died, it was time to go. So I went.
By the time I arrived in Charleston 36 hours later, she was sitting up, drinking chocolate milk — the occasional expletive flying out of her mouth. She was “fine.”
But she wasn’t fine. She was hooked up to tubes and machines. She looked frail. The doctors were pushing her to make decisions about the end of her life. She wasn’t having any of it.
I had imagined sitting next to her, stroking her hand and telling her everything I never got a chance to tell her and wondering if she heard any of it.
Instead, we had a dance party in her room. I danced. She held my hand. We listened to Motown — naturally.
I sang to her and rubbed her feet and we talked about boys — the one I had just met, the one that was my biological father, the one I used to be married to.
She told me she had written my ex off as “dead,” as she and her friends were wont to do. Fiercely protective of me. I told her she didn’t have to. That he was a good man. “But he hurt you,” she said.
“It’s ok. I’m ok,” I said. And she softened.
And yet, when I left her I was certain I wouldn’t talk to her again. Wouldn’t see her again. Neither turned out to be true.
We continued our conversations as she was moved from hospital to hospital to rehabilitation center to home. None of us believed she would ever go home, let alone live another six months. But she was determined. And when Pharen got an idea in her head, it was hard to derail her.
And so, over a six month period, I was lulled into a sense of security. A belief that she would “be there.” Our conversations felt less dramatic. Less desperate. Less “this might be the last time we talk.”
I was surprised when I got the call that she died. And yet, there was a peace in not knowing our last conversation would be just that. That we could just talk, like people do. Like we had learned to do.