In my boyhood, showing up unannounced at a friend’s house was as common as riding a bicycle, and the whistle or the shout of a name that brought an eager companion running also avoided parental conversation.
Once I went to a friend’s house to find he had moved without a goodbye. His empty house reflected my feelings of loneliness, longing, rejection — a sadness that remained even after the house was re-occupied.
Bodies warm houses. Re-entering my house unfailingly warmed me. We were on the shy side and prone to silence, but the feelings that welcomed were sent through the eyes.
“The eyes are the window of the soul,” my mother would say. Her eyes spoke volumes, dark beauties that would dance with excitement, sing when pleased, easily fill with tears at sadness from Lassie returning home or tragedies recalled. They could shoot rage, end a fight, open a heart, stir ambition, create healthy guilt, make us laugh.
Her eyes would particularly embrace me at reconnections and separations, creating an easy scene for recall that spoke unconditional love. I could always go home and be filled with her acceptance.
Visiting her when she was recovering from surgery I felt an intensity in her embrace and kiss. She hugged with her eyes. “I feared I would not see you again. Oh, thank God I see you now.” These fears dominated our comings and goings until last month.
After 500 miles on the road I burst into the house expecting the payoff.
“Hey, Ma, we’re here. ”
“I brought you the boys, here they are. ”
“Well, that’s nice. God bless you all,” she said in a perfunctory distancing tone. I tried again, yelling now. “It’s me, I’m home. ”
“God bless you all,” she repeated.
Looked into her eyes and saw the chilling truth. In the swoop of that moment came a searing pain. It was over. No more little-girl spontaneity. Gone the warm milk of total acceptance. Useless the excuse of failing hearing. Enter the truth: She is 82, and she is senile. I try one more time.
“Ma! It’s me! I’m Ray, Raymond, your ...” I cannot finish. That half sincere, mostly empty look came over her face. I felt an urge to rage. Come back. See the boys here, this one with your eyes, the other with the family pout and your name.
But I said nothing. I had not prepared for this moment. What she would hear is beyond her understanding. I had prepared for her death. I had not prepared for this vacant space from which she would not know me.
On our way home I give my sons as much intelligent detail about arteriosclerosis as I had, vainly hoping to ease the low-grade fever of my own pain. When I finished, my 7-year-old son looked me in the eye and said, “Dad, nobody’s home in Grandma’s house anymore. ”
Ray Lovett is a psychotherapist in Dorset.MORE IN Commentary
- Most Popular
- Most Emailed
- RICHARD'S POOR ALMANACK: Vasco da Gama leaves Calicut, India, to begin his return voyage to Lisbon, becoming the first European to complete a voyage by sea from Europe to India; on this day in 1949, Soviet Union successfully detonates its first A-bomb.
- TODAY'S WEATHER MINUTE: Scientists call for more research on the temporal and lasting effects of nuclear fallout on plants and animals in proximity to Japan’s Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear power station where changes at the molecular level were found.
- RICHARD'S POOR ALMANACK: On this day in 410 CE, Visigoths sack Rome and it isn't the first time, either; in 1859, Titusville, Pa., the first commercially viable oil well comes in; in 1918, the only World War I battle fought on U.S. soil in Nogales, Ariz.
- TODAY'S WEATHER MINUTE: Archaelogists uncover artifacts proving that late neolithic Egyptians, pre-dating the Pyramids of Giza, practiced mummification to prepare their dead for the afterlife, far earlier than presupposed.
- TODAY'S WEATHER MINUTE:Chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing that pollute ground water and the air we breathe come under scrutiny by researchers who find at least eight fracking chemicals toxic to mammals.
- TODAY'S WEATHER MINUTE: The craze for Omega-3 fatty acids as a dietary supplement in its most popular form, fish oil, has led to depletion of fish stocks in oceans throughout the world. Is this the beginning of the total collapse of global fisheries?