Real Stories

The Dishes

I wonder what my Mom thinks about when she does the dishes. I wonder about this a lot. Does she think about my Dad and how the Chicago Tribune once described him as, “tall, boyish” and a prophet-like builder? Are her memories of their life together like mine; flashes and vignetted moments of birthdays and bikes in the driveway and green floorboards?

Or does she think about how he gave up their marriage and his insipid slew of girlfriends that followed her faithful, fated act? I wonder if she wishes she had had us take our shoes off in the house, or if she is glad she didn’t, because what a waste of time.

I wonder if she thinks about her mother the way I think about her — her long, discreetly contorted fingers and inky hair and the asymptote-like lines of her knees. Does she long to live time backwards, so that she may know her Mom as she grows younger and stronger, not older and slightly disinclined? Does she wonder about insects? Does she wonder about cantaloupes? Does she wonder about dying?

I am certain she thinks about how true the adage, “whoever said ‘easy like Sunday morning’ obviously never had to get children ready for church,” was for her and the darker, doggier days of the late ’90s. In that right, does she remember my days as an acolyte as vividly as I do?

Does she think about God? Does she ever try to talk to him as her hands mindlessly submerge themselves into warm, soapy water that smells of artificial lemon, sage and a little like formaldehyde? Does she remember the swollen stings from the day she stepped on a ground-nesting wasp gallery?

Because that is just the sort of thing, had it happened to me, that I would think of with self-absorbed pity every other day. And it is exactly the sort of thing that she would never bother to think of at all. 

She must think about the day with the fur coat and the burnt orange hat and the metal slide. I wasn’t born yet; I would not be born for 23 more years… but there is a photograph somewhere of that day that her best friend took and it is so striking and so seemingly familiar that I think I remember it, almost as if I was there.

And maybe I was. I wonder if she thinks I was with her all along. I wonder if she thinks of my great grandmother and if she remembers the sound it made when you’d sit on the vintage retro diner chairs in her modest foyer, and the feeling you got when you looked out through the lacy drapes to the concrete lawn ornament of Virgin Mary. I wonder if she knows that I used to think that if I sat there long enough, Mary might talk to me and I used to bet that if she talked to anyone, it was my mother.

I imagine she thinks about Paris and juniper berries and the beetle shell replica she handmade the year I decided I wanted to be a ladybug for Halloween. 

Does she think of that terrible chicken crouton casserole she made once for dinner?
Does she remember her periwinkle sweater?
Does she wonder whether or not it would be as thrilling as it seems it might be to tell certain strangers, particularly women, who interrupt the peace in cafes and bookstores and antique shops — with their softening earlobes and whiny voices spewing words like “awfully” and, “my husband Thomas,” to shut the fuck up?
Does she think about the fact that through all of her conspicuous ethnicity, a blonde-haired, green-eyed, second daughter with fluorescent, fair skin was born unto her?
Does she marvel at how that could be?
Does she think about our Christmas stockings and the red toolbox and does she remember the pattern of the carpet in our house the year I turned 13?

I’ll bet she makes lists. Stuff about her checkbook and finding the missing dryer ball and buying eggs; calling Lynn; needing more toothpaste — the white paste, never the blue or green gel.

Less tactical lists, too. Remember to fight the urge to clean the kitchen when I visit my daughter as it so violently offends her. Practice more compassion when my other daughter calls pathetically whimpering about her broken heart and the man who is incarnate of what it feels like to fail as a parent.

Have more patience. Be more capable. Stop eating bread. Don’t stop eating bread because bread makes motherhood and womanhood and humanity seem slightly more manageable and the right to go soft in the middle like yeast, is earned.

I imagine lists of places she has been and places she might like to go but probably won’t and places she would like to go and just might… as well as places she does not want to see ever again but probably will (like the inside of another laundromat, the inside of another emergency room, the view of the world from down on your knees on an icy sidewalk outside of an Admiral gas station). 

I hope she doesn’t think too much about the things she would probably say were her mistakes; or of the things she would probably say were her regrets.

I hope she only remembers trying to catch dragonflies off the dock and the long naps we would take and of the yellow tulips. I hope she thinks about the piano, the Latin Quarter and how fun it would be if her job was to name all the different shades of nail polish and hair dye and colors in a drop of sun-kissed rain.

I wonder if she thinks about how much I think about her. I imagine she thinks about me. My crooked toes, my almond eyes, the small mole in the center of my neck.
I imagine she thinks about my sister. Her collarbone, the gait of her walk, the birthmark on her thigh. Does she think about how inexplicable it is that we are here?

That we exist to think about only because she grew us, warm and strong, from her? Does she think about how impossible it seems that we might have to exist in a world that she does not? 

Does she think she is happy? Does she feel she is loved? Does she wonder what I wonder? I wonder what my Mom thinks about when she does the dishes.


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