She was thin and tall and elegant and beautiful to me, and I was smitten with my mother for so long I believed everything she said and hung on each word with adoration and trust. She walked with grace and even held her thin cigarette like a black & white actress on the silver screen. While I hated her occasional smoking, I loved watching her nimbly place the cigarette between her thin fingers and bring it to her lips, inhale, and exhale wisps of smoke like a goddess sucking the air out of a room. She laughed with decorum and walked with such poise that no matter where she went or what she wore, she turned heads from both men and women. I liked her best in her short jean shorts and white tank top; she looked so stylish and comfortable, her short hair bouncing with each step like a happy child, and I watched with slight envy.
She danced with passion, and my father resented her for it, his jealousy brimming over his composure as he attempted to stifle her free spirit. But she did not allow him to ruin her enjoyment of life, the vigor in her outlook, and the charm of her better upbringing. And when she found a legitimate reason to leave him, she did so with her three daughters in tow, a proud woman walking into an airplane to an uncertain future.
It was not until I was older that I realized her words were tinged with uncertainty, her confidence shaken by having three teenagers under one roof, and her grace hidden behind insecurities and the burdens of single parenting. She had become a survivor, living for her daughters and sacrificing more than she expected when she walked away from her old life into a new, more demanding one. She had stopped smoking, stopped dancing and partying, and transferred her confidence to God and a church.
My devotion to her as a beauty icon evolved into an appreciation for her new-found strength and her selfless commitment to making a better life for all of us, though it had become one I had never expected to live with family rivalries and competitiveness, unfair Welfare visits and hand-me-downs, and a predisposition for rebellion and loneliness.
I sometimes wonder what kind of life I had lived if my mother had continued to hide her pain and marital disappointment behind grace and sophistication; if I had continued to see my mom with the innocent eyes of a sheltered child who only saw the surface of the woman she wanted to become; if instead of seeing a strong woman with personality and resolve, I had seen my mother’s shine dull with age, her dynamism shrivel under the weight of conjugal unhappiness, and her spirit broken by jealousy and envy. Though life has dealt her cards of a single color, and her youthful grace has been replaced with slow sagacity, I hope she watches me now as I become the woman she wants me to be.