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LAce Posted Monday, January 3rd, 2005
Distant Moons
Don Papoknowles

My mother's life was a mass of inchoate thoughts, dates, appointments, all on notes, Post Its, ripped bits of pages-- a hair appointment on the corner of an advertisement for Chanel perfume; a cocktail party scribbled on my math homework. I remember finding page four of what appeared to be an articulate summary of my sister Katie's "issues" meant for yet another specialist at yet another children's hospital. I found it on my closet floor, next to my Reeboks. "This does me no good. I lost the first three pages," she said, laughing in a burst, like a honk, her hair falling here and there about her brow.

One month my mother lost six calendars. She gave up and wrote her day events upon Post-Its, then smashed them on household objects she thought relevant to the event at hand. A luncheon date was stuck to an apple in our fruit bowl; Katie's speech therapy date change dangled from the telephone receiver. My soccer game was on the globe by Brazil? We missed that game.

Most of the Post-Its would eventually loose their adhesiveness and end up as bits of yellow on our wooden floors. Once I stepped on a hair appointment and it stayed on my shoe all day until Henry Stevenson pointed it out in my Biology class. I had to excuse myself and call home, because the note indicated her hair appointment was to take place within the hour.

I kept a calendar so I wouldn't miss another soccer game or be embarrassed when she didn't show up for a parent/teacher conference. I was close to flunking algebra and it was important she attend the meetings. Before things turned around, everyone here in Connecticut was fooled. I recall other women talking to Mom like she was one of them, with it, on top of life, fastened to each other with cell phones, to life with dates, events. When we ran into another mother at the Y, en route to pick up Katie from her special swim therapy, my mother's giggles would cease, her loose frame stiffen, her easy stride turn short, quick. Head cocked, she'd listen to the inevitable discussion, usually about school or sports, articulate ideas or concerns, as if life were a corporation, children ongoing deals. My mother always looked the part in these conversations, but after the women passed us, I felt her mind return to Katie and our messy life.

Katie would enter Mom's arms in a whirl of motion, swatting away the air the same way my mother swatted away files and calendars. When they were together, which was most of the time, I felt like I was in another solar system, my sister, with her turbid chatter and nonstop glaring movement, the sun; my mother, a planet; me, a distant moon. My father never complained, quietly picking up Mom's papers and going through them late at night. Bills, cancelled checks separated from statements, teacher notes and charity work records. She insisted on this charity work. I cannot imagine how they tolerated her membership. She was even on the board of the local YMCA. I was terrified it would go out of business and my swim team would be history. But she seemed to do fine.

One night my Dad decided to clean out her side table drawer, so loaded with information it appeared at risk of becoming permanently stuck inside the table. He dumped everything onto the den rug. I was upstairs trying to study for an algebra test. There was a shuffling of paper, a jingle of stray change, hollow knocks of pencil on pencil, then a pause followed by a tired exhale of breath. When I came downstairs, Dad was sitting in his chair, the insides of the drawer still scattered all over the floor, a few papers dangling from his fingers. He told me to go up to my room. His voice was weary, his eyes dull.

After Mom left Katie's room and returned downstairs, I heard Dad's low voice. "Do you think you can go on like this? Look at this? How long have these reports been in the drawer?" Her laughter seemed to make him angry. His hushed talk grew into spits of words, occasional invectives, until the evening culminated into a slammed door and silence. A month later, Ella, a very neatly put together, plump Midwesterner, moved into the guest room. Ella took Katie to her therapies, and Mom withdrew from her solar system. Her hair never bobbed into her eyes, and her laugh was no longer a honk, but, instead, a light breath of air. There was a large calendar on the kitchen wall, and yellow post-its disappeared. I never missed a soccer game, and Mom sat in all my parent teacher meetings, stoic, quiet, all business.

When we ran into the other mothers at the Y, those rare days Mom ventured out there, usually to peek at Katie's swim therapy class, they didn't mention meetings or luncheons.
If they stopped to talk, they simply asked how Mom was, then scurried on, leaving us, two chips of planets, staring ahead, moving slowly towards a fading star.

Comments [post a comment]

Posted by jocelyn johnson on Tuesday, January 4th, 2005 at 8:25 PM
I loved reading this; both for its crypticness (we never know exactly what is up with Katie) and for the strange loveliness of the choas before Ella.

Posted by Pamela Griffin [ ] on Monday, January 10th, 2005 at 6:31 AM
This is a great piece. It moves at such a fast pace, yet it's paced well enough fo rus to undeerstand how sad the life of the narrator-how much she must engender self reliance in the face of an ever disappearing mother. How sad. Who is Ella? Caregiver, Nanny? Lifesaver I should think. P.

Posted by paris jager [ ] on Tuesday, January 18th, 2005 at 11:49 PM
a wonderful piece; incredibly vivid. i love the mother's idiosyncracies.

Posted by Cecilia Miller on Friday, January 28th, 2005 at 9:10 AM
This is a very moving piece that leaves the reader pondering it over time... a great success!

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