“There is a gap,” I say, “A gap between what I believe my mom left behind and what I believe I add to the world.”
I’m trying to explain to my therapist the core of the sense of dissatisfaction I always feel with myself. We have been through the story many times in the past year. She knows it.
“She left the world a better place. She left the campsite cleaner than when she found it.”
“She left a mess.” A professional injection of reality. What I pay for.
“But the magnitude of the mess is a measure of that gap. The gap is all of the ‘extra’. Everyone has a mother and they run along a plane, you know. They all start here.”
I make a motion with my hand, drawing a straight, horizontal line in the air like an x-axis. I also can’t help but think at the same time that she herself is a mother. I wonder where she falls on my graph of motherhood.
“But then some rise higher.”
I draw a line rising upward on my imaginary probability plot. I talk with my hands a lot.
“My mom was up here.” I make a plateau. “And it’s this space between here (left hand) and here (right hand above it) that I feel like I’m always measuring myself by.”
“And what makes that space?” she asks.
“The stuff. All the stuff that made her special. The stuff that made her absence so pronounced to everyone.”
I don’t say it out loud, but it’s implied. Who would miss me like that? Who would miss me this long? I can think of no one, a fact that I know is grossly unfair to my partner and to my friends. But it is there, all the same.
“What is the big difference between you and your mother?”
She cared about people. I care about people.
She had work that helped people. I work to help people.
People liked her. People like me.
She had friends. I have friends.
She had children.
I do not.
I kind of refuse to believe this last point has that much value to it, but…
“And so where is the gap?”
“I don’t know. Intellectually, I don’t know. But it’s right there!” More pointing at imaginary things.
“You can do everything to fill that gap, to measure up to something you’ve decided about your mother.”
“Or you can choose to measure yourself against yourself.”
“And you can decide to believe, based upon what you know of her, whether or not she is proud of you. Because you do know.”
“But… she will still be gone. She will always still be gone.”
Longer pause. And I can feel her looking at me, though I’m staring at my shoe. It’s a look of care and concern. It’s the look that says, “Yes, this is my job, but I do really care about you.”
“She will still be gone.”
My mom has been gone for more than 25 years, but it’s like I hear this for the first time. In this particular moment, I hear it in a way unheard before. I feel it in a way I don’t remember feeling before.
She has made her point. Experiences are different each time we experience them. There are things that we will revisit again and again, and they’ll be different each time. One doesn’t replace the other, but adds to it. She describes them as layers, not to be peeled away, but to give depth.
I sit with the tears falling. I pull a tissue from the box on the table. I say that I need to go, that I’m expected at a meeting.
We sit for a few seconds more.
I hand her my check. We say we’ll see each other next week. I drive to work, to the meeting, to the rest of my day.
And she is still gone.