She looks at me through the same lens I once looked through to find my mother. But maybe that’s not at all accurate.
After all, we’re now knee-deep into the twenty-first century. Who am I to her but an old relic who likes to whip out the macarena when waiting in line?
She just loves that.
But when I look at her, sitting in the car with the music blaring, us singing our lungs out to all the music I used to listen to (because originality is not something our culture values), I look at my hands on the steering wheel. How old they’ve gotten. And then I look at her in the passenger seat and think, “Who are you?”
“And where is my mother?”
My mother has dark brown hair and warm skin and freckles, and therefore, I look nothing like her. Whereas my nose has been stuck inside books, hers has sat defiantly on her face, waiting for someone to make the wrong move. She’s all heart and smile otherwise, but there’s something instinctual inside her I’ve never had. I think maybe it’s her Latina side, a brush stroke of passion God has given her that was weakened genetically like watered-down wine by the time that I was born.
I only tend to get perturbed when my library loan expires.
In the car, we’d sing to Stevie Nix and Carol King and Carly Simon, And sometimes we’d invite the boys, humming along to James Taylor and Chicago. I used to live in the seventies in a 1990’s GrandAm, wondering what it would have been like to be my mother at the exact same age.
But then I remember the story of when she first moved to Saudi Arabia and showed her ankles off to the guards stationed at the airport, an openly defiant Latina-American, and I break out in hives.
It would have been heart-stopping.
I used to love hearing about the boys my mother loved because they were like stepping stones to my father. Here’s a bit of life that’s gone broken, the pieces and ash swept up by God’s own hand, and look—there he made something new, a man that loved her enough to not even think about breaking her.
The seatbelt got tighter and my legs grew as long as hers. My legs are my mother’s legs. I remember trying to elliptical them off in our basement, striding like a gazelle while watching Shakira on MTV. “Lucky I have strong legs like my mother” I’d sing, trying to believe the luck in it.
We’d still sing sometimes in the car, but I’d usually be in my boyfriend’s, head against his passenger side window, wondering what life was like beyond small towns and front yards filled with sunflowers.
When she was supposed to die, she didn’t. Even when my faulty grasp on prayer was hinging on nonexistent, I still kept frantically yanking the net back in for a catch of God’s answers. I couldn’t be sixteen and alone with nobody to sing to.
She remained alive, body intact, and it won’t be until years later that parts of her go missing. My miracle cat with nine lives and counting.
My daughter has inherited her father’s voice and we laugh about it. We sing long and loud in my car now with my ancient hands grasping the wheel, but it’s no longer the seventies. We find ourselves on the cusp of the new century as the Back Street Boys sing about wanting it their way, and I think about how much I love my daughter.
And how much I miss my mother too.
© 2022 by Ericka Clay
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