The novelist Ru Freeman’s mother recently passed away and Ru has written a moving remembrance. This paragraph really hit me:
In more ways than one, I was trying to define for my mother a life that I wanted her to live. I wanted her to be more like the person I was playing for her. I wanted to rub away the timidity that overcame her whenever she boarded an airplane to America, the kind of thing that would lead airport officials to fling her bags around and deny her compensation for lost luggage and which I could secure on her behalf with no greater skill than a simple steady glare that would leave her full of awe at powers she believed I had; powers she was glad I had, in this strange, unfriendly, place, but whose acquisition she regretted for, as far as she could tell – and she did tell it! – it had exacted the price of tenderness. I wanted to nullify all of her regrets and fears, to drag her into the future where everything was impossibly hard and yet also possible and full of loveliness. I wanted to put make up on her face, I wanted her to wear the beautiful clothes she owned but never put on, falling back constantly on her worn saris, the old skirt, the tattered nightdress.
The idea of trying to live as we wished our parents would have lived rings so true. I hadn’t thought of it in precisely that way before.
And having not called my father for several weeks, even on Thanksgiving Day no less, even as I feel no tension with him, I have no complaints, and I have “inner conversations” with him all the time, warm, poignant inner conversations, all make me especially susceptible to being moved by this:
I can say that she knew, she knew, that though I did not write and did not call, my inner conversations were always with her, that every time I stood before a crowd, or walked down a street or performed some good work or signed a book, or sang to my daughters, what I felt was her presence, her glad acknowledgement that yes, heaven be praised, he had not left me yet, I was still the most beautiful person in the room, the smartest one, the best, in all things the best. In her absence I will never again be that “best” that she saw whenever she looked at me. In a crowd full of women, in my mother’s eyes, I was always more than any of them. On a shelf full of books, mine was better. My words were articulated more clearly, my clothing was more stylish, my deeds were greater, my husband was perfect, my children flawless. I can tell myself stories but they are as useless as my wearing the cardigan that I had bought for her during her last visit, as futile as my attempt to fill it up with her, to feel her around me.
I met Ru a couple years ago and thought she was a wonderful, fun, complex person. Ru’s novel A Disobedient Girl has received rave reviews. I have my copy but haven’t read it yet. I better get around to it soon. And so should you.
At the invitation of Assistant Secretary Robert Blake, Ru will be speaking at the State Department in January–in case you find yourself in D.C.–which she describes as “a great opportunity to speak about and for Sri Lanka.” Then she’s off to London for her book launch there.