Jenna took a moment to stand quietly in the warmth of the sun on the sidewalk. She wanted to absorb the colors of the flower garden, the scent of roses, the sound of water flowing from the fountain, the blue of the sky and the green of the grass. Somehow these things, in this moment in front of her mother’s house, gave her strength and made her stand a bit taller.
She crossed the flagstones, climbed the two steps onto the porch, past the bench that had been there since her childhood, and then stood before the carved mahogany door. Taking a deep breath, she touched a finger to the scrolled doorbell, hearing the chime beyond respond to her touch. Sounds of movement told her that within moments, she would be face to face with her mother for the first time in three years … three very long years. The years had carried the occasional stilted phone call, letters exchanged but never truly responded to and the occasional email discussing the weather. Silent years that had taught Jenna that talking and communicating were not at all the same.
The lock clicked and the door swung open, the scent of the house reaching her first. Rose petals, cinnamon, her mother’s perfume, oranges, and a faint hint of pine cleaner wrapped her in decades of memories – a potpourri of mingled scents as much a part of ‘home’ as the house itself. She fought the urge to run … at the same time resisting the need to simply throw herself into her mother’s arms. This time she would stand her ground. This time she would step through that doorway as herself or not at all. This time there would be no make-believe.
Her mother stood in disbelief, taking a moment to recover from the shock of seeing her only daughter on her doorstep. For that tiny instant, all of the uncertainty, the muddled history, the guilt, and even the love, were there in her eyes in plain sight – only to be quickly swept away. For a flash in time, Jenna thought she saw the sheen of tears there as well, but it was only a reflection of her heart’s wish she had glimpsed – not reality at all. A smiling mask dropped into place as arms reached for Jenna. “Darling girl, what a wonderful surprise! How on earth did you get here? I’m so happy to see you."
She reached to take one of her mother’s outreached hands into her own, moving into the house, one foot in front of the other on the gleaming wood floor.
“Are you tired? Hungry? You should have told me you were coming … I could have had a hot meal for you … meatloaf … banana pudding. Oh, never mind, come on, let’s see what we can find.” Jenna allowed herself to be led to the kitchen by the chattering woman. Mutely she accepted the glass of iced tea placed in her hand and stood looking out onto the patio, watching the hummingbirds busily fluttering at the bright red feeder as her mother bustled around behind her. “Papa and I had baked chicken last night. Why don’t I warm that for you with a nice baked potato? Doesn’t that sound good? Would you rather have just a sandwich now? Then maybe we’ll go down to Rosita’s for dinner later on … after you’ve had time to rest. Yes, that’s what we’ll do.”
Turning and gently placing her glass on the table top, Jenna sat heavily on a chair and whispered, “Mama, please …I haven’t seen you in three years. Three years, Mama. I’m not hungry. Please stop. I didn’t come all this way to be fed. Please just sit with me.”
Her mother sat across the table from her, hands still busily folding and unfolding the tea towel in her lap. She was still quite an attractive woman, even at seventy-five – hair carefully arranged in the latest trend, fingertips perfectly manicured, clad stylishly in the latest designer jeans and a t-shirt that had probably cost as much as Jenna made in a month. Here she sat, this woman who had given birth to her, in her meticulously crafted, immaculately kept fortress, keeping the unpleasantness of the real world at bay, focusing only on the small circle under her control.
As she sat looking into the green eyes of the woman who had bandaged fingers and baked cupcakes and sung lullabies, Jenna knew she could never strip away the carefully assembled armor the older woman had woven about herself. Even more, her heart knew that accepting her mother as she was would add strength to her own struggle for uniqueness. She knew that nothing would be gained by causing pain for this woman who had given her life.
With a smile, she rose from the chair and walked around the table to take her mother into her arms. “I love you, Mama.” And for the first time in her life, she was absolutely sure of the woman she had become.