I will always remember my mother for how she was there for me. She was always there for me. My dad wasn’t a bad dad – he did all the basics, never missed a game. But my mom was my personal cheerleader, my best friend, my private tutor and my guardian angel – all in one handy, smiling package.
That’s how I will remember my mother. Not as the depressed woman, and certainly not as the pale wax sculpture in the casket. And whatever this thing might be – it won’t change how I view my mother. It won’t change that my mother was protecting me.
All my early memories are about her: The moment my ice cream fell and I was so upset that I cried; my mom just laughed, kissed me on the forehead and handed me her cone. The many times she brought me small gifts – usually pendants, small figures of angels or similar semi-religious stuff, just another way in which she was trying to protect me. And of course the many times she stood in the door, waiting until I fell asleep.
Maybe I was just a scared child; that might have been why she was so keen on being there for me. Maybe it was because I was an only child, the only son to a housewife and her always-working husband. Either way, I know I was what some might call “her meaning.” Even my dad said it, once or twice, that she only lived for me, that all she ever did was only because of me. In a way, on some subconscious level that I don’t want to accept, I think I am also the only reason they stayed married.
I never remember my parents as happy with each other. I remember both of them as happy – my father with his work buddies and my mother with me. When they were together there were no laughter, no jokes, and no playful teases – just mutual acknowledgement.
Maybe I also was the reason why they didn’t get along. I don’t remember much of my early childhood – except that my mother was always there and my father rarely was. They had different approaches to parenting. When I fell my mother came running, my father just scoffed. When I asked questions my mother answered extensively, with stories and descriptions and even small science experiments – my father just told me to either ask my mother or read a book.
I also don’t think my father liked the way my mother kept giving me religious figures – of saints and angels, small and big crosses, even Ganesh and a few Jewish items and a copy of Kitáb-i-Aqdas. My father thought all that was nonsense, likely pointless, possibly even dangerous.
Sometimes, at night, I heard them argue about me. They argued about my imagination and the fact that I was scared to sleep alone in my room. I heard my father scream that it was good for me to sleep alone – my mother argued back but, in the end, always gave in. I heard her promise not to go to my room, not to watch while I fell asleep.
Still, every night, she broke that promise.
I remember the fear I always felt at night, alone in that large room. There was nothing particularly wrong about my room – closets, windows, a few boxes, toys strewn on the floor, colorful paintings on the walls that I at some point covered with posters. And of course there were the billions of small religious items, all around the room but concentrated on the shelves and night stands next to my bed.
The pendants and angels didn’t help, but my mother did. I always felt scared, rarely fell asleep without her standing in the door. I was still afraid when she was standing in the door, and the constant cold seeping through the door made the room more uncomfortable. But, while I was hiding under my blankets and shivering from fear and cold there was nothing more soothing than to glimpse out of the covers and see her, leaning in the doorway.
She never left before I fell asleep. Occasionally, when I heard my parents’ bedroom door open – likely my father was just looking for the bathroom or going to get a glass of water, she left the doorframe to hide from him. I knew she just didn’t want him to get angry, she was always careful not to have any fights in front of me. My father, when he got up during the night, usually went to close my door.
But the moment the door of my parents’ bedroom had stopped creaking, the moment my father was back in his bed, she returned and leaned against the wooden frame.
My mother never had to stand there for very long – if she was there I was able to ignore the cold and the undefined fear seeping through my body. I always knew she only waited for me to fall asleep, but sometimes, secretly, I prayed that she would stay a bit longer, that her warm eyes would protect me longer. Sometimes, in my dreams, I even thought I felt her brushing my head or stroking my arms.
She really was my guardian. Even as a child I often thanked her for that.
I think her nightly visits would have ended. As long as I lived in that house my childhood fears never left me; I always felt uncomfortable sleeping alone in that room. But you can imagine that a teenager does not want to have his mother watch him fall asleep. A teenager wants privacy, wants to be left to fly free and without overbearing parents that still think he needs to be watched at night.
The truth is that the watching changed. At some point it wasn’t for me anymore, it was for her. That was when I was around twelve, when her depression started.
In a way that I don’t like to admit I still liked that she was there, at night, despite the horrible days we had. Maybe I actually liked to have her with me at night because of the horrible days.
If you have never had a close friend or relative with depression there is no way you can truly understand what I mean. I will try, but there are so many things that I just can’t put in words; so many confusing emotions of anger and fear and worry and hate and love and compassion, mixed in one big pot and poured over a rollercoaster – and you and those that you love are stuck in that rollercoaster day in and day out.
It was hard to be around my mother during the day. Whenever I was home, far too often, I locked myself in my room with books and games and the internet. But that didn’t stop her. Still she came in, with an exhausted and worried expression on her face. It always seemed as if she was checking on me, wanted to know what I was up to. But she never spoke, she just came in, did something pointless – like empty the bin that she emptied two times on the same day – and leave again.
But mostly my mother just sat on the couch, or lied in bed, with an expression on her face which looked more lifeless than the one she had in the casket. She stared at the ceiling, then cried, then spoke to herself about how worthless she was; how she had failed at everything; how everybody hated her; how she had failed even me; how she was too weak; how her husband despised her; how she couldn’t protect me; how she had no friends, no life, no job, no self-worth, no thing to live for.
Sometimes, on good days, she broke through the wall of depression. She would tell herself that she had nothing worth living for – and then her head turned and she looked at me and smiled. On some of those days we even talked.
No matter how deep her depression sank – the only thing that didn’t change was the way she kept protecting me. Sometimes it made me uncomfortable to have her stand in the doorway. During good days I brought that up, once or twice, but the moment I said that I didn’t need her to watch me she turned back into a state of despair; back into the depression.
That’s why I stopped saying anything. I knew it was okay, it was worth being the teenage man that still had his mother watch him fall asleep; it was okay to be emasculated if it just kept my cheerleader-guardian-mother a tiny bit of happiness.
I don’t know what would have happened if I would ever have brought a girl home. But I didn’t. I was the nerdy guy; maybe because she protected me so much and picked the fights for me that I didn’t dare to fight – or maybe she was my protector because I was so shy and nerdy that I was barely able to talk to new people in my class – where “new” was still new after half a year of joint lessons.
Two days after my 17th birthday I moved out. University was calling – my father, in his be-a -decent-dad-mode, had saved enough to pay my whole studies and even my own, non-shared room. I think I actually would have preferred a shared room, and my mom would have liked that – the knowledge that somebody else was watching me in her stead. But I never dared to say anything, and maybe somehow I also hoped that someday a girl would come home with me – and a shared room was just not the place for that.
My time at university was great. I had good grades, made new friends, became a different person; even my fear of sleeping alone disappeared. What kept me earthbound were the news from home, the brief phone calls with my dad and the rare but long phone calls with my mother. With my father we always just talked about my mother, how she was, how her medicine was not taking effect, how they had another fight. Those phone calls with my mom were of a different kind – without a break she asked about me. She asked how I was, whether I was safe, how my grades were, if I had made new friends, whether I was sleeping well, and of course she always asked whether there finally was a girl. She rarely talked about herself.
During those four years I only came back a few times, and never longer than a week. To my parents’ dismay I never brought a girl home; half because there was nothing too serious and half, I am honestly ashamed about that, because I was worried what impression my depressed, starvation-thin mother and my clinically distanced father would make on a girl that I liked enough to bring her to their place.
So those days that I spend back at home I slept alone in my old childhood room. And with the room all my fears returned. Those fears were never distinct, never of something specific; they were always general and vague, like an impending sense of doom or like the premonition of a dangerous, life-threatening event.
What helped me those few days back home was my mother.
One night I nearly cried myself to sleep out of happiness and sadness and self-loathing. I was the adult man in my prime years, lying in my bed, scared of nothing – and there my depressed, sick and weak mother was standing in the doorway watching out that no monster could get to me. In that moment, from that realization, I felt so much guilt and happiness that I didn’t know which emotion my tears were for.
After university I rarely went back home; and when I did I didn’t stay the night. I always found a good excuse – a way to combine the visit with a business trip and a hotel nearby. I felt the guilt, but I also didn’t want to feel that weak again.
My mother died when I was 27.
I went back home for the funeral. Despite everything I felt I should stay with my father; I knew that behind the veil of distance was an emotional, loving man that lost the love of his life. He might have lost her a first time many years before, but losing her a second, irreversible time would hurt him even more.
I was wrong.
At the funeral we sat next to each other. He threw the first shovel, I threw the second. We stood in line, shook hands over hands of people that came more out of guilt – guilt for leaving her alone when the disease came – rather than out of care. They left her alone, just like me, and every clam hand offering condolences felt like another nail stomped into my heart.
The “guests” left. I wanted to accompany him home, to stay with my father, to maybe rebuild a connection we lost decades before. He refused.
“You can’t.” He said. “She did this all for you. All those years she suffered just for you. Her depression was just because of you.”
My legs gave in under my body.
“What?” I whispered.
“You can’t come.” He said. With that he walked off.
It’s strange when you are in a city you’ve known all your life, you know every street nearby and call all the hotels you ever saw and then some more you find online – but you can’t find a single vacant room.
By the time I realized that I would be left without a roof there were no friends that I felt comfortable calling; no friends stay close when you haven’t been around for ten years.
I rang the doorbell around 9pm. He was drunk when he opened the door. He didn’t believe me, but he let me in.
My father fell asleep with the whisky in his hand.
I made my way upstairs on the old stairs and old fears began to creep back into my body. I felt the cold. I felt the terror. I tried to ignore them.
The angels and gods and holy books and saints of several religions were still spread around the room.
“They never helped.” I said to myself. “And she can’t help anymore.”
Then, for the first time in years, I cried.
I was in bed by ten, with the covers over my head like a scared, 27 year old child.
I felt the fear increasing, felt it growing into terror.
My arms and legs were shivering.
“No protector tonight.” I whispered to myself.
Just then I felt the cold draft.
I knew it couldn’t be real; I knew it couldn’t be her. Still my body moved, longing for that reassurance of my mother watching over me. I knew it was pointless, meaningless, still I moved my head out of the blanket, just the way I had always done. I opened my eyes.
The door was open. A thin, bony figure was leaning against the doorframe.
“Mom?” I asked.
The woman’s grin widened far.
Not her. Screamed my brain.
It’s never been her.
This is my story, originally I published it on Reddit.