When I was a small child, my mother and I were on the way to some event. I think a family picnic, but I don’t remember for sure. I was in charge of carrying this huge tray of salami. I remember Mom putting me in the back seat, handing the tray to me, and telling me it’s ok to not wear my seatbelt, just this once. Mom was, for the record, ahead of her time. We always wore seat belts, even back in the 70’s, well before they were required. Kudos, Mom.
Now, it is a well-known fact that I am a flat-out whore for salami. I love that stuff. Always have. So as we were driving along, I was sneaking little slices of the delicious cured goodness. I couldn’t believe my luck, alone in the back seat with enough salami to choke a horse. I was careful though, peeling pieces off the tray in a pattern, so it would look like it was supposed to be that way. Mom would, I was sure, just think she arranged it like that.
As I reached for another piece, it was to be my last I promised myself, the tray flew from my hands, the world outside the windows blurred, and I hit the door on the right side of the car with such violence I remember the impact forty years later. Then I hit the roof of the car. I was thrown back to the left side of the car, and maybe the roof again before I finally came to rest on the floorboard.
Salami was everywhere. It literally rained down on me, but I didn’t appreciate it at all. I was too numb. If I had thought to think anything at all, I suspect it would have been to mourn the loss of all that salami. It was a BIG tray. I should have eaten more.
In my childhood lack of experience, I was unable to comprehend what happened. Before I could even consider it, my mother pulled me out of the car. Before I had even figured out what happened, she had me sitting away from the smoking, crushed wreckage, on the hood of a bystander’s car.
I am pretty sure I hadn’t breathed yet. But then I saw her face, her eyes wide with fear, I felt her hands brushing my hair back and pulling salami out of it. So much salami. I heard her ragged breathing. That silence that follows a major car accident finally fell away, pulling the rest of the world into our emergency and snapping me out of my shock. All of the uncertainty and fear landed on me, hitting as hard as the impact of the collision did. I started crying, uncontrollable heaving sobs. I didn’t even know what I was crying about, I don’t like to think it was about the salami – but perhaps.
More than anything, in a barrage of really clear memories, the one that stands out the most is the sound of my mother laughing at me. As I cried hysterically, my mother laughed.
In my biggest time of need, my mother laughed at me and it hurt. At my very core, far deeper than the neck injury I sustained in the crash. Her laughter carried life lessons with it. I learned that one should not show emotion. Tears, fear, and emotions, are things to be laughed at. And love is not something that will protect you. She didn’t mean to teach me those lessons, but then again the lessons that stick with our children are always the ones we don’t mean to give them, I think.
Many years after our car accident, I got married and had kids of my own. One day I lost my son for about 2 seconds. Seriously, it was only a couple of seconds. But in that time, I fully expected the world to stop. My mind flew into a long, long list of actionable tasks. I had to block all the exits, guard the bathrooms, search the far reaches of the store, I needed the store staff to take action right that second. I needed my husband to help me. I needed my son. More than anything ever on the face of this Earth, I needed my son. All that is evil and bad in this world, a life without him, flashed before me in that one small moment of time.
Then he came wandering up to me, “Hi, Mom!” Everything came back. All that weight that was on me, even only if for a moment, lifted, and I thought I would float away with the freedom of it.
Then I laughed – and I remembered the salami. I hadn’t thought about it in years. This wasn’t funny. There was nothing funny happening. I almost lost my son – maybe not really, but it felt like it. Instead, he was in my arms. Safe and sound. Laughter was just my reaction. My own sort of hysterical relief.
I remembered my mother’s laughter that day, sitting on the hood of that stranger’s car picking salami out of my hair. And, for the first time in my life, I appreciated her reaction. I appreciated the trauma she had just lived through when she was laughing. My mother had a couple of seconds where she didn’t know if her daughter was alive or dead. Then, despite her own painful injuries, she had to dig into a completely crushed car to get me out and find a safe place to put me. Then when I finally made noise, when I finally cried, she reacted the only way she could. All the joy and love that she had for me slammed down on her with a weight that could only bring laughter. She wasn’t laughing at me because she thought I was stupid for crying. She was laughing because she still had her daughter, and she loved me. She imagined darkness and was suddenly bathed in light. That is indeed something to laugh about.
So, Mom, I’m sorry it took me so long to understand. But that’s the way, right? We don’t understand anything about our mothers until we become mothers ourselves. I will not claim that our relationship is without flaws, but I love you very much, and I know you love me too. I think our relationship is stronger for the flaws. I think we are more honest with each other than many mothers and daughters. And I love you for that. I look forward to more coffee dates with you in the near future- and I swear it’s not just because of your cool ass coffee maker.