What I Meant to Do

by Simone Eastman

There are a million things I meant to do on Sunday.

I meant to write letters to the women who raised me. I meant to buy cards — a half dozen, a dozen, a discount gross — for the mothers of my high school best friends, for my second grade reading teacher, my speech coach, my high school English and religion teachers, my principal, women who’d taught workshops on meditation and leadership I’d attended in college, my class dean, my boss at my first terrible job out of college, my accountant, my department chair, a handful of therapists. All the women who’ve taken me in, taught me manners (“you were pretty much raised in a barn,” my ex-wife once said to me), made me birthday cakes, thrown me graduation parties, told me how smart I was, took pride in me, witnessed my woundedness, assured me that my mother must love me, loved me themselves. Women who have wanted to help me even when they didn’t have to, even when it wasn’t in their job descriptions. Even when I was keening with grief and pain that made me mean, or rude, or ungrateful. Even when they had their own daughters, their own mothers, their own grief.

I meant to write them Mother’s Day cards to thank them. I meant to thank them for trying as best they could to love me on behalf of someone who couldn’t or wouldn’t while she lived and, now, who never will. On behalf of her, or in defiance of her. Women who looked at me and didn’t find me embarrassing or confusing or shameful, too fat or too smart or too sad. Women who didn’t see me as peculiar competition, as heir to the fruits of their sacrifices, as someone to blame for their misery and anger.

I meant to tell them that I see what they did for me now, and what they couldn’t do. I meant to apologize for looking to them to be everything, for throwing my neediness and longing at them with everything I had, for turning away with the quick and brittle flashes of anger she passed on to me when I realized, over and over and over again, that they couldn’t replace her. I meant to tell them that I know now that sometimes they wanted to, and still they couldn’t. That they could only help me take this abundance of communal love showered on me in nonetheless lavish fits and starts and help me figure out how to fashion it into some sort of replacement for everything my own mother failed to do. I meant to tell those women that I’m sorry I believed that all of it could ever really be replaced.

I meant to tell them that I forgive them for all the ways they failed to protect me from my mother. I meant to tell them I can see how they tried. To tell them that I know that they were afraid of her, too. That I know how hard it is to report abuse that leaves no marks, no bruises, no scars. That I understand that taking me into their homes, feeding me, consoling me, showing up for me was sometimes all they could really do. That I know that they must have talked and worried and worked behind the scenes to keep me safer. I meant to tell them that they were so much better to me than she ever was. I meant to tell them that I’m pretty sure she knew that, too.

I meant to tell them how much I miss my mother — my difficult, angry, suffering mother — and how much I miss them all. My dozens and dozens of mothers. I meant to tell them that their greatest gift to me has been in helping me to understand that the real miracle is not that they loved someone unlovable, but that I was somehow strong enough and wise enough to realize that I had to mother myself however I could. That the real miracle is not that they chose me, but that I knew that I needed to choose them. That as much as their love has made me, I have been tough enough and tender enough to know that I needed first to find it.

On Mother’s Day I meant to tell my dozens of mothers that I know: not just that they love me, but that they have also always known that I love them. I meant to tell them not just that I know how lucky I am, and how sad — but that we all are. How lucky, how sad, how loving, how loved. Happy Mother’s Day. Happy Mothers’ Day. Thank you for saving me.

Simone Eastman is a cat lady.