"Are you coming with me this morning to pick up momma?" I inquired with my sister Jesline. "I know she'd be glad to see the both of us to bring her home for the holidays."
Walking back and forth from her bedroom to the bathroom she replied, "I don't think I'll be able to today, 'hun. I've got a lot going on. I meet Trey at the library at noon to study for our finals, then band practice at three. I should be home around six to meet up with you and her. Sorry." Her sorry didn't seem so sincere. I actually heard a little relief in her voice that she had "so much to do" for the day. Every time I tried to involve her in spending time with our mother, she seemed to have the perfect excuse.
A little frustrated, I answered, "Ok, Jesline, but I expect you to be back after all of that. Carlos and Amanda will be here around six-thiry. I hope you really put in some effort to spend time with all of us, specifically mom, this year. I know it can be hard some times to see her so different, but we have to continue to love her the same." By this time, she'd stopped in her tracks continuing to put on her big hooped earrings to give me an irritated look.
"I said I'd be back by six and that's that. Anything you think you have to mention is irrelevant. Don't question my intentions, India. Last I checked Ursula Brown was my mother, not you," she replied swinging her hair over her shoulder.
To keep tension down, I did not refute her statement, yet I headed towards the door to go do a little shopping before going to pick up mother. I decided to carry the brown leather purse mother bought for me about four years ago before everything changed. It meant so much to me to keep the good memories of my mother before life became so different for us. As I drove down the street to the store, I reflected on those days.
I remember she gave me that purse for Christmas one year. Right after the Christmas feast she'd prepared for us and some other neighbors, she passed out the gifts she'd been purchasing since January that year. We were singing "Silent Night" when she gave Jesline a stack of Cd's she'd been wanting. She pitched Carlos a new pair of sneakers he had been begging for since that Summer. And she handed me the brown leather purse. It meant so much to me that she had bought me the purse. It was a brand I knew cost her a pretty penny. I was impressed with the way she sacrificed herself to give us all we needed and wanted. The remainder of that Christmas was spent with more singing, drinking of egg nog, and enjoying the love that flowed around the house. It was times like that Christmas that grew my desire to want to be half the woman she was whenever I had a family.
She was a strong woman that raised me and my siblings, Carlos and Jesline. I was the oldest. Our father died when Jesline was only two during a fight that took place at a local bar. The story has it that he was actually trying to break up an argument between two drunk guys, when a gun went off and shot him in the neck. They say he died before the ambulance could get him to the hospital.
My mother did her best after his death to raise us. She worked three jobs, two during the week and one on the weekends. Most expected for there to be some lose ends with her children from not really being around, but we all pitched in and did what she expected of us. I would usually cook for Carlos and Jesline, make sure we did all of our homework, and even cleaned the house to keep some stress off my mother. This routine went on for about thirteen years, until Jesline made it to the tenth grade. It was then that mother's health went south. She began to get real depressed and desired less of being there for us. Before we knew it, she'd had a nervous break down and just became a different person all together. I guess the stress eventually became too much for her. She at least had the opportunity to see her children become decent human beings before she was admitted to a mental illness treatment facility. At the age of fifty seven she was diagnosed as being bipolar.
While I have been determined to keep things as normal for the family as possible, Jesline has been just the opposite. She has taken my mother's condition very hard. I understand that not everyone is able to cope with life altering situations as quickly as others. I just feel like after four years, Jesline would be more adaptive to the change. Either way, I refuse to give up on my mother. I go to see her twice a week and bring her home at every holiday. Carlos married his wife, Amanda a year ago. While I wish he'd be more available, he definitely is much more supportive than Jesline. He and Amanda go to see her at least every other week and help out whenever I ask. Jesline goes to see her about once every other month and that is usually after I've badgered her about her lack of support. I just continue to pray that her heart will change one day soon.
I left the store and started towards my mother's place feeling a little more spirited than when leaving the house from the spat with Jesline. I knew that the day was going to be great because I was ensuring my mother was around her family for Christmas. As I pulled up the drive to her facility, I could see her sitting so patiently on the porch swing. She was dressed with her favorite red blouse and plaid Christmas colored pants. I could even see that she had combed her hair to show its beautiful black length as it hung to her shoulders. I smiled as I got out of the car.
I walked up to the porch to hear her singing what had become her favorite Christmas song, "Silent Night." When she saw me she stopped and smiled back. "Mama's baby has come to see me. I'm glad you're here, sweetie," she said welcoming me.
"I'm glad to see you feeling so well momma. You know today you're coming home with me for a few days?" I responded while giving her the biggest hug I could.
"Well isn't that just nifty. This place here has been a real pain. The folks are just about crazy, you know?" she said holding my hand tightly.
A little tickled, I shook my hand as to agree with her. We gathered her bags, signed her out, and headed for the car. The ride to the house was very calming. She went on and on about the people she lived with. She was convinced that some of the tenants were jealous that she was leaving. She even stated she felt that some would try to break in her room while she was gone just because they envied the fact that her family loved her so. The few moments of pauses in conversation were filled her singing, which I would every now and then, interject my singing as well. I was filled with joy knowing that I was still able to connect with her, or whoever she had become. I knew at the end of the day she was still my mother.
It was about two-thirty when we made it back to the house. I took her things in the house, showed her where she'd be sleeping and started cooking some of her favorite Christmas foods. My feast would be nothing like hers, but hopefully it would come close. As I was stirring the sauce for the spaghetti, my phone rang. It was Jesline.
"Hello?" I answered tasting the sauce.
"Hey, Indi. I'll be home in about an hour," she informed me.
"What happened to band practice?" I replied. I was a little bewildered by her saying she'd be home so soon.
"I thought about what you said and I'm going to skip band practice today. Being there for momma is so much more important. I must be honest that making this decision wasn't the easiest for me."
"I understand, Jesline, but I'm sure you'll be glad you decided to come on home when you get here."
Crying she continued, "It's just been so hard for me, India. The last few years without the momma I grew up with. She's just so different. At first I felt like she was intentionally turning her back on us. Leaving us out to dry. First dad and then when she got ill, I just took it hard. I felt so alone. Even though I know I've always had you and Carlos to talk to, it just wasn't the same. I wanted and still do want my mother back."
"Well honey, you just come on home and you will see that she never went anywhere. She may be a little different, but she is still momma. She loves you just the same and so do I. We can talk some more when you get here. I love you, 'hun," I replied. We hung up the phone and I felt a weight lift from my heart. She made it home around four, Carlos came over at six, and we all were able to spend time with our mom. There were smiles, tears, and more smiles and more tears. But it all felt so right. The love was flowing all over the house. It seemed to be the best Christmas holiday yet.