A little over fifteen maybe twenty years ago I would get off work every morning and drive an hour to see my Mom. She was going through a rough patch as most of us do and I worried almost every moment I wasn’t with her. When I arrived at her home, I’d coax, finagle and literally drag her out of bed, make her take a shower and get dressed while I cooked some breakfast. Afterwards, she’d do the dishes, I’d take out the trash, mow and trim the lawn and then sit and talk to her until I was almost too exhausted to drive home. I normally did this alone.
However; on some occasions my wife would join me. This was usually on a Saturday or Sunday. Which is when this story takes place. On a Saturday.
We arrived at my Mom’s house around nine in the morning. By the time we got her up and ready for the world it was almost ten. After breakfast and polite conversation my mother asked if I’d burn her compost pile since she was selling the house and she didn’t think the new owners would like to look out the windows and see a four foot tall, eight food diameter pile of compost that was overgrown with weeds. I agreed.
She then told me to get some gasoline out of the garage to start the fire. I went to the garage and located three separate cans of gasoline. One was a five gallon and two were of the three gallon size. I picked up the lightest of the three gallon cans and made my way out to the edge of the property line. I walked around the pile eying it for any good places to start the fire and realized I might need to loosen up the decomposing mess. So I went back to the garage, got a shovel and went back to the pile and dug a few holes, made a few trenches and began to pour gas into all the turned over decay.
It wasn’t long before I ran out of gas. So I put the shovel and empty can back in the garage to give it time to soak into the mound. When I returned I noticed my mom and wife looking at me through the window of the breakfast nook. I then heard a plane flying above the house. I looked up. It was a single engine Cessna. I waved to the plane, pulled out my lighter and ignited the pile. Which is about the time I realized how much gas I had poured onto this particular pile of trash. Over two gallons.
When the first flames started, the fire began to slowly burn, then as if by some satanic force of nature, I felt the air around me start to rush towards the pile. I turned my back to the pile and not two steps later I was engulfed in flames and no oxygen to fuel my lungs. I started laughing even as I felt the hair on my head and face begin to singe. I ran. I ran as fast as I could to get out of the inferno I had started. My laughter was lost in the unearthly sound of high powered accelerant fueled by the cool air of the day and the dried and rotting food, trash and biodegradables that had been used to build it.
By the time I got clear, my faded jean jacket smoking almost as much as the pile itself I fell on the ground holding my sides in an attempt to stop myself from the fit of laughter that had overtaken me. In the sky above me, the Cessna was no doing circles around the bonfire of garbage, its engine silent in the wake of the roaring flames not thirty feet from me.
Which is about the time I heard my mother screaming “You’re an ASSHOLE. My God, you are such and ASSHOLE.” And on the tail end of her repeated tirade, I heard my wife’s laughter followed by her saying “Well, he is your son.”
I sat up, the heat from the fire was almost unbearable so I made my way back into the house with the unending screams of my mother filling my ears “You are such an asshole.”
This revelation did nothing but bring an even larger smile to my face and make me feel as if I had accomplished something. I didn’t know what I had accomplished but I knew it was something important.
As a matter of fact, it wasn’t until about four years ago that the events of that day and the results of my actions led me to an epiphany of sorts. You see, it’s true, my Mom was in a very bad place. She was clinically depressed, taking all sorts of medication and had no drive or desire to do anything. But on that day, the day of me being called and confirmed an asshole, there was a change in her.
She sold her house, moved into an apartment and started her life over. We saw each other every day for over a year. It was a great year. We talked, went to movies, hung out and drank coffee together and bonded in a way that made us both realize neither one of us is perfect and we don’t expect anything from each other but a good relationship.
When she left to move North, my heart broke and I knew we would never have the closeness we had shared for that brief period in our lives. Although I am grateful for those days and nights of talking or just watching a football game on television.
She has come a long way in those years. She is happier than I have ever seen her in her life. She has a loving husband and friends who honestly care about her and share common hobbies and interests. In other words, she has done a complete 180 degree turn from the woman she was to become the woman she is intended to be. I’m proud of her. I’m proud call her mom and I’m even more proud that I’m able to tell her dirty jokes, make inappropriate comments and just be myself around her. Even if it is when we are talking on the phone with half a continent between us.
I’m sure I still frustrate her with my brash comments and my sometimes crude behavior, just as much as I’m stunned by her sometimes over-appropriate and polite demeanor. However, we have a relationship not many mother and sons have. For that I’m grateful and honored. Also, I can’t help but think to myself “You are an asshole and you did some good, no matter how small it was, you did it.” Which I believe makes our bond much stronger. After all, I have to say at least I didn’t set fire to a river bank.
I love you Mom.
Have a great week.