What’s Up?

My mother loved him to death. She died and he said he was relieved. I heard him say it, I think he said it a couple of times, and I expected he would offer an explanation, later on, after the funeral, after the reality of her death sunk in; add that he was out of his mind with grief, or simply stunned, that relief was not the right word, that he meant something else.

He may miss her now, I wouldn’t know. We don’t talk about it because we don’t talk at all since our mother’s death. All I know is, he admitted himself to a month long detox facility in San Francisco which set him back a good chunk of the money he got from selling my mother’s house. In a brief, vapid telephone conversation we had just after he dried out he mentioned that the Detox was okay but that he was now broke. He sounded relieved that he was broke and I realized that he felt relief when confronted with conditions that depressed other people, a mother’s death, being broke, but that’s another story.

Back to the mother thing – on my mind because my 27 year old daughter doesn’t seem all too pleased with me at the moment, or this year. She has plenty of reasons, as we all have our reasons for loving and not loving but the fact is, my mother was a good mother and still got the emotional jilt by her last born, her baby, her favorite, at her death bed and long, long before, when he picked up and moved 2,000 miles away from her at the age of 23 and never came back. Mother’s day cards (homemade with care and cleverness) the usual Christmas or Thanksgiving bi-annual homecoming when convenient, the Sunday afternoon phone call. Cheery and upbeat, distant, passionless news conveyed about his life on the other coast. My mother’s eyes would tear up at the sound of his voice but she kept the tears out of her voice and never let on, not once, in thirty-odd years, that he had broken her heart.

And I must now behave as honorably, as my daughter closes the door. It isn’t like me. I want to call and tell her I’ll be on the next plane. I tried that last week, in my usual guise of bawdy, mother-from-hell humor — but still, no phone call. A week later, an email. “At work, hard to talk at work, what’s up?”

What’s up?

There it is. What’s up? The polite dismissive. When you call someone and they ask, What’s up?” they are insinuating that you need a reason to call and calling to talk is not a reason.

What’s up?

There it is.

Did my brother ask my mother that question when she got up the nerve to call him after a few months of silence? “I hate to bother him” she would say, asking me if I’d heard from him.

I must twist my heart open and instead of resenting my daughter’s cold shoulder, consider that, after all these years, I suddenly might be bothering her. Bother or not, I must call her anyway and listen to her ask, “What’s up?” And cheerfully tell her what’s up and that’s that.

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