The 1970’s. It was a complicated time to be a teenager. The free-spirited 1960’s hung around like dust in the air while the heavy metal era rolled in thick like smoke on the water. Psychedelics were joyously in bloom and the bitter, often lethal, effects of “freebasing” had yet to fully breach our pristine shores.
In the Bahamas—like everywhere, I presume—the couture was no shoes, micro-minis or low-rise bell-bottoms (frayed from dragging the pavement), midriffs and braided leather jewelry. I grew a coif that was long and loose and tied a purple scarf around my forehead that draped long down the back. It was a free and easy style—no fancy hairdos, no ironed threads, no blue eyeshadow.
School was boring. I got B’s and C’s without cracking open a book and spent hours staring out the open windows or dozing through rain that drummed in a deafening contra-alto on the corrugated tin roof over my classroom. I dreamed a lot. The beach was always calling: brightly colored towels overlapped on the white sand like carpeting under bodies, guitars, and radios tuned to the new FM format (provided there were clear skies all the way to Miami).
At home, things were not so carefree. Besides having parents to circumnavigate, I had a sister not even two years my senior who I constantly emulated to her total frustration, two younger brothers to mind (or ditch) after school, and an older brother who spent a great part of the year abroad at boarding school. My dad was a prominent clergyman who spent Monday to Saturday doing social work day and night; Sunday was church-day . . . and night. Dad was never physically well that I can remember, injuries from the Bahamian Labour Party riots against British exploitation during the 1940’s and a heart condition plagued him since his 40’s, which left my mother to play wife, nurse, mother, housekeeper and peacekeeper when she wasn’t at her full-time, highly demanding job at an overseas company, owned by the esteemed Sir. Robin McAlpine of London, England. I guess you could say that she had her hands full.
But mine were full, too. I was, after all, a teenager, so naturally there were tons of things I just had to do. My mother’s objections fell on deaf ears—I had all the answers, knew everything there was to know, and thought it was my right as a human being to skirt any and all responsibility beyond hanging out with friends and listening to Deep Purple under black-light posters.
I graduated (amazingly) from high-school two months before my 17th birthday; by then my parents were all too familiar with my extensive knowledge and self-absorption, which by rights excluded me from home rules and restrictions. Like I said, life was complicated—it took a lot of time and energy to figure out how to skip school, how to sneak out at night, and how to actually spend my Sunday-school money. I hadn’t the time or the patience to contend with parents who were out of touch with the new age.
Before getting a job and moving out at 17, I had become an expert at manipulating, misleading, and all manners of disrespecting my parents. Sometimes it hurt—I didn’t want to make my mother cry, but I had a life to live and I intended to live it on my own terms.
Fast forward 30 years. I was now working for a company (HCI) that published books on life-issues: kindness, respect, love, gratitude, family dynamics—hundreds of them. You can’t work in the mud without getting dirty, and I was in chin-deep. Little by little, I could feel words, sentences and whole paragraphs chiseling and chipping away at my heart—I could practically see the dust settling in my footprints as I moved forward. I was changing, growing, softening, reforming. One day I was working on a book about trauma and relationships (Tian Dayton’s Heartwounds) and a horrible feeling bore down on me—like I had swallowed a boulder. My stomach hurt. My throat tightened. My chest pounded. I felt nauseous. Dear God . . . my mother! My mum! What had I done all those years ago? Why hadn’t she confronted me? I had left the bad attitude and spiteful talk behind long ago, but the damage was still there, crouching in the darkness, alive and awful.
I left the office that night and drove to my parent’s home as I often did after work. We had become close over the years, we spent a lot of time together. But I had a heavy heart this time. Tears pushed at my eyes as I walked through the door. Quietly I asked my mother if we could talk alone in her room. I closed the door and we sat together on the bed, concern set deep in her eyes. With tears running full stream, I finally told her that I was sorry. Sorry for the way I treated her as a teenager. Sorry that I hurt her. Sorry that I had never apologized. I was just so sorry. I picked my head up to look at her, to see that old pain in her face again. She looked right at me . . . and smiled. Then she put her arms around my shoulders and pulled me to her. She rested her head on mine and said, “You don’t have to apologize. I forgave you a long, long time ago. I’m your mother.” Then . . . silence. Silence? That’s it? I’m your mother? I looked into those beautiful blue eyes and tried to process what she said. Did I hear her say, “I’m your friend, your love, your foundation, your nourishment, your grace, your forever and ever?” Yes, I heard her say, “I’m your mother.”
Today my dad is almost 90 years old and my mother is 85, they need help with day-to-day life. But I am here. Sometimes an issue will come up between my mother and me that we don’t see eye-to-eye on, but she’ll stand her ground. There’s no compromising. So, I try to take a step back and think about what it’s like for her to have to need someone else after all these years—to need me. And I’m grateful, because I am her friend, her love, her foundation, her nourishment, her grace, her forever and ever.
© 2018 G. Kelly Johnson: Becoming My Mother. All rights reserved