Brandy, our family dog, always had very little sense of decorum. Regardless of whether or not we were entertaining, she always wanted to raise her leg over her head and lick herself, right there on the living room couch. Guests would awkwardly sip their drinks, all of us pretending not to hear the loud slurping sounds coming from the overweight Beagle in the corner of the room.
"If any of us could do that," my mother would say, her wine glass high in the air, "We would never leave the house."
Everyone laughed, the room bathed in my mother's ribald humor that brought people together and endeared her to even the most straight-laced guests. My cheeks burning, I would want to be as far away from our house as possible.
My mother and I were like oil and water: I was the extra virgin olive kind, and she the sparkling variety tapped from a rare glacial spring at the base of a volcano.
Even now, ten years after her passing, I run into people who knew her -- friends of the family, our old mailman, the woman who cut her hair -- all of them gushing with memories of my mother, stories of love and laugher and I can't help but wish that I knew the woman they did. I sense these people looking at me, wondering how I could possibly be my mother's legacy. I am not the statuesque beauty she was. I don't have her charm or her charisma. I don't heat up a room with a magnetic wit like she did.
My mother was funny, but I was her Charlie McCarthy, the dummy on her knee who was part of the act, but not in on the joke; often, I was the butt of it. I often think Brandy the Beagle was the daughter my mother never had. Brandy was a reliable part of my mother's variety show and the two of them went on estrogen pills at the same time, a synchronicity my mother found comforting.
I grew up resenting my mother, wanting so much to sever the strings that had me dance against my will as she plucked at them with long, slender fingers, up and down, to audiences' delight. But now that she's gone, I find myself desperately searching for a substitute hand to move me about without any will of my own. I would give anything for her tightened mouth to give voice to my lips.
I am 32 now. I am an adult. I shouldn't need mothering. I should be able to make decisions on my own. I should be my own woman and live my own life, dance to my own chosen tune, and yet I want to stomp my feet, kick and scream because I don't have a mother. I want my mother. I want my mommy. I want her to embarrass me in front of guests. I want her to tell me what to do. I want to ask her how she always had the perfect shade of red lipstick. I want her to teach me how to find humor and grace in the face of hardship. I want to know how she knew she was ready to have a baby of her own. Regardless of our difficult connection, there are so many questions I have about aging and womanhood, so many things I still need to learn from her, and I don't know where to look to get answers. I don't know how to feel whole.
I am ashamed of my childish yearning, knowing how many girls lose their mother's younger than I did. I am blessed to have had my mother even into my twenties, but I need her still. I need a mom.
In the aching, unconscious moments of my mother's illness, she would call out for her late mother, her strained voice waking me in the darkness. These painful bleats begging for comfort in the stillness of night used to haunt me. That a woman with so much strength and fire could need maternal soothing, that even while surrounded by three grown children of her own, she would want her mother's hand to be the last to stroke her face, was devastating. But her numbed yearning now gives me comfort. I think of it now, when I cry her name in my most desolate moments. Because no matter the relationship shared or the legacy left, she will never stop being my mother, and I will never stop being her daughter.