My Mother's Blue Coat
My mother is hanging onto my arm. She is wearing her navy blue wool coat, a coat custom tailored many years ago in former Yugoslavia. A fashionable cut, with edgy lapels, a classy style out of a German magazine for home-made clothes. When I lived home, twenty years before, we could not afford buying a coat at a department store. It still cost us a small fortune to buy quality wool fabric, make numerous appointments with the tailor for fitting, trying on the "sketch", and finally, the big event, picking up the finished new coat. My mother looked like a model in her new blue coat. These were major events in our day to day lives.
Remembering my mother in her blue coat--Why did I ever give away this special coat to Goodwill in my mad impulse to cut all ties with my past?-- I see a sad being, a woman DRENCHED in sadness, wearing a fashionable, lovely, blue coat. Her eyes are stoic. A TIMID smile glimmers behind her eyes. A scared smile. Her eyes guard an ETERNITY OF PAIN. I want to fall down on my knees and clasp her legs and just stay there and cry for a year.
I am sorry, mama, that I could not do more to share your pain.
I am sorry I could not do more to lighten your burden.
I am sorry I left you all alone in Yugoslavia.
I am sorry I left you when you escaped from a war-torn Sarajevo, a traumatized refugee, emaciated like an eleven-year-old girl, your frightened heart brought to the brink of madness from terror.
I am sorry I kept leaving, and leaving, and always leaving while all you hoped for was to see my face, to hear my voice, to steal just a few minutes of time with me.
~ ~ ~
My mother and I are walking to the law firm to draft documents for a living will. Stage four lung cancer is silently invading my mother's body. She hangs on my arm, as the two of us prepare legal documents before the imminent and looming final goodbye. I walk confident. When I am falling to pieces on the inside, I stand tall on the outside, so she could lean on me until the end. She follows in solemn devotion, a last measure of her absolute and pure love. She is placing her trust in my hands, writing over a lifetime of modest worldly possessions to her only precious things, her daughter and granddaughter.
In what seems like a blink of an eye, I am walking down the same sidewalk, instead of the direction of the law firm, now toward the post office.
~ ~ ~
CRADLING a carefully wrapped box in the nook of my elbows, hugging it close to my chest. The weight of the box steadies me. I want to be tall, confident, efficient. I want to be strong for my mother and for me. I have only a handful of steps to make from my car to the post office door. This is my LONELY FUNERAL PROCESSION. My mother and me.
I hold the box with my mother's ashes tightly to my heart. Two lonely birds, just the two of us. Two of us, defending each other, bolstering each other.
The postal clerk tells me, "Please fill out this customs form." A line on the form reads, "package value." I enter zero dollars. I don't want to hand over my precious cargo to the postal clerk.
The clerk wordlessly takes the carefully wrapped brown paper package from my hands.
I step outside into a bright spring afternoon. Tears wash down my face.
Where is my mother?
Where is my mother in her long blue coat?
Where is her arm hanging on to my arm, two displaced women fending through this crazy world on our own? Tears blind me. I feel the emptiness on my arm as I am walking to my car. I feel a vast void rip apart my chest.
Countless postal workers' hands will carry my mother's ashes across the Atlantic, across international borders. I will summon the courage to face my demons to cross the same international borders that I was exiled from 30 years ago. I will reunite with my mother to fulfill her final wish to be laid to rest in her birthplace with her family in Macedonia.