Sometimes the anger comes. It bubbles up out of nowhere, catching me off guard. Sometimes it's a new comment, something inadvertent but so hurtful and insensitive that it will send me seething. Sometimes it's a memory, something I mishandled, something I said or did wrong. Sometimes it's hearing other new moms complain about their mothers. But it's always there, just behind the surface, like a constant flow of gas that's just waiting for a spark to ignite it and explode. And explode I do. I rage. Eliza takes a stroller nap almost every morning and each morning as she sleeps, I walk, quiet and alone with my thoughts. Sometimes I cry ugly, blubbering along the East River, sweat and tears and snot and god knows what else stuck to my face and shirt. More often I cry lightly, smiling through the tears at all the other people I pass along the way, nodding to other mamas pushing strollers, smiling at toddlers, allowing runners to pass me. Sometimes I don't cry, I just march forward, gripping the stroller so tightly my wrists ache, clenching my jaw so tightly that I feel my teeth in my ears.
I have always struggled with anger. I turn disappointment and frustration and pain in on myself. I am fighting this. I fight with those memories that I'm ashamed of: when I didn't tell the awful visitor to leave Mom's room, when I didn't stop the nurse from leaving Mom alone after a procedure, when I allowed people to be absent from my support team and then turn around and support them. I am trying to let these things go. I am trying to let myself off the hook.
But do I really deserve to be off the hook?
This is where the struggle is. Mom was such a nice person. I still receive stories from people sharing their memories of her and whether they knew her in high school, college or beyond, she stands out in their memories as the sweetest, nicest, prettiest person. She had a little light around her, always. Even at the end. I am not like that. I have an edge, a snap, the fuck-its, the fire, the rage. No one remembers me with a glow. Which is fine; in my angst-ridden teen years, I used to make fun of my perfect cheerleader Marcia Brady mom. And she used to chastise me-think about how other people feel, think about your words before you say them, think about how lucky you are to have a healthy body instead of hating the size of your thighs. I was raised to be grateful, forgiving and nice. I was reminded to be grateful, forgiving and nice. And now I'm not. Now I have free reign to be ungrateful, spiteful and mean. And sometimes I am.
I was raised better than that.
But I was robbed of my mother in the sixth month of my first pregnancy! My mom, who couldn't wait to be a grandmother long before I was even thinking about having kids, never got to meet her grandchild. I was robbed of a celebratory wedding! Mom, who always picked out my clothes, couldn't see my wedding dress, let alone help me find one. I had to learn a whole new language: the culture of hospitals, cancer and insurance. I had to spend a very good chunk of my savings to fly cross country every month. I gave up my private practice. I slept on the floor to be near her.
Oh, but aren't these all first world problems? Aren't these the whinings of a spoiled, privileged brat? Isn't the world full of real tragedy and real heart break? Of course. Yes. Mom was taken too soon, but not tragically. She had cancer. Fifteen hundred people a day die of cancer in this country. Some of them are children. Some of them die alone, frightened and in pain. Some of them go completely broke, leaving their families in debt for the rest of their lives. Mom didn't have any of these problems. And these are still first world problems. To gain even more perspective, I think about our developing nations. Families destroyed by war, children kidnapped and forced into militia, violence as a way of life. And I'm angry about a wedding dress? Every time I feel myself slip too deep into self pity, I say "tsunami" out loud. Tsunami. Remember. Think about how other people feel. All other people. Think about your words before you say them. Before you commit them to paper or, even more permanent, the internet.
When I was in the fifth grade, we entered the Gulf War of 1991. I didn't much care, as a ten year old. But I remember vividly going up to my mom's sewing studio, where she was listening to the radio and crying. "They're bombing Israel," she told me. Trying to figure out why she was crying, I asked if we knew anyone there. "No, we don't know anyone personally there." It took me a long time to understand.
I still am.
I struggle with the anger. And then the guilt of being angry. And then the lack of chastising from Mom about it. Because, to paraphrase Tina Fey, she would not have this shit.