May 24th is coming, which is my Mom’s birthday. I would wait to write this until then, but I know that May is going to be a very busy month for me. If I’m going to write about my Mom, I should do it now while I have the time and the strength of mind to do this properly.
My entire life, I knew I was adopted. They never made that a secret. Until my early teens, I didn’t know anything about my biological parents, and I didn’t really care. I had parents that loved me. They made it clear that I was special. That I was chosen. I felt loved and spoiled, and that was enough.
In my teen years, I acted out a little. I didn’t show proper respect. I didn’t clean my room when asked. Honestly, my teenage rebellion was exceptionally mild.
But I did have a smart mouth. Upset with the way I was talking back, my Mom decided to drop an ounce of truth on me. She let me know that my biological mother was alive, she knew who she was, and that maybe I should be a little more thankful for the family I had.
My Dad was not present for this conversation. I don’t think he would have let it get that far.
Knowing that my biological mother was out there did not do good things for me. But I’m not writing this to talk about me, or the psychological stress of holding onto that particular truth. I’m writing this to paint a picture of what my Mom was like.
She loved her children, but she was careless with them. She said things and did things that were outright brutal, not realizing what sort of effect her words would have. The flaws in her humanity expressed most with regards to her children, of which she had many. All of them left her before they finished High School, except me. The youngest. Maybe she had mellowed by the time I was born.
I’m not writing this to bash her. I would be a really terrible person to besmirch her character all these years after her death. My words are meant to paint a realistic picture, revealing some of the flaws, so that the beauty she did possess can be appreciated.
My Dad died October 31, 1988. It is easy for me to remember the date, because it was Halloween. I can remember the year, because he’d been present when I bowled my first 200 game on October 10, 1987, the day after 10-9-87. He’d been a part of a special moment for me, and he died a year later. It gives me an easy way to remember.
Shortly after my Dad’s death, my Mom left her stable job at the Medford Medical Center and became a consultant. She traveled all over the country, working in different hospitals. It was like I’d lost both parents, that year.
Again, this isn’t about me, and it’s not about my Dad. This is about my Mom. On the face of it, I thought my Mom had chosen to leave the job in Medford, and had chosen to go off without me. I’d been fighting with my Mom, so it didn’t hurt my feelings at the time. I wasn’t quite 16, and I wasn’t ready to take care of myself. I didn’t have the skills to deal with the responsibility. I didn’t think well of my Mom for leaving me, but I also didn’t hold it against her.
Many years later, I found out that she hadn’t left Medford by choice. She’d been fired. Going to work every day, walking within sight of the place where her husband had died, she hadn’t been able to work effectively. They let her go, and she shouldered on. She didn’t burden me with that ugly truth. A decade after her death, I discovered the truth in one of her old briefcases.
I know pride played a part in her keeping that secret. But I also know that she tried to protect me. This is an example of the kind of strength she possessed. She took the pain of the death of her husband, and the pain of losing a job, and she kept it away from me. She shielded me from her pain. If she had someone else to talk to, someone to help her deal with what she’d gone through, I don’t know who it would be. To my knowledge, she took it all on herself and pushed on.
I grew up, and I grew more distant with my Mom. At one point, I had to move back in with her in Sacramento. She tried to “mother” me when I moved in with her, and I rejected it. I walked away from her a lot. I was 19, and had spent enough time on my own that I couldn’t appreciate her trying to take care of me like that. It was at this point that I started to learn how to block her. I learned that if I rejected her help and her gifts, she couldn’t use those things to guilt me into doing what she wanted. I began to make it a habit to reject things from her, no matter how much I may have needed her help.
In 1993, I left Sacramento for the second time, joining the Air Force. In 1995, I married Melissa. In 1996, Bryanna was born. In 1998, Chris was born. 1999, I returned to Sacramento, got a job in IT, and bought a home.
By that time, my Mom lived in San Bernardino. She’d had health problems all the time I’d been in the Air Force. She had an addiction to prescription medication. She had suffered through angina, tuberculosis, and towards the end, a minor heart attack. The last place she lived was an assisted living home in Riverside. At one point, she’d been in the hospital so long that I’d needed to go down to Southern California and pay her bills, and get her household in order.
At the end of 2001, the hospital she’d been in for months transferred her to what was effectively a retirement hospital. They gave her a different doctor. She had bed sores, from being in bed so long. She was weak, and often drugged, and she didn’t have anyone stopping by to visit her.
Melissa and I went to her. I started to see something in myself when I looked at her, but it wasn’t clear. Not yet. She saw me, and she smiled. She was so happy to see me.
Melissa and I made plans. She would never go back to her assisted living home, so we needed to close that out. We rented a truck, packed her things, and started moving her to Sacramento. We’d find a place for her there. We’d make sure she was close to family. We’d take care of her.
The hardest part of moving her stuff to Sacramento was gathering her cats. One came along easily enough, but Max was a terror. When my Mom had her heart attack, Max protected her, intimidating the firemen that came to help her. Max, the big white cat without claws, was a problem. I wound up putting on oven mitts and a jacket as armor to grab him up. We put him in the cat carrier, put the cat carrier in my Mom’s old car, and started driving to Sacramento.
I didn’t see my Mom again. While driving north on I-5, my Mom’s condition worsened. She died before we had a chance to go back.
My Mom was a hard woman. She was about 5’6″, but her presence made her seem at least 6’1″. People always swore that she was a tall woman.
My Mom was fiercely competitive. It’s a quality that I share with her, often to my detriment. She used to play Scrabble with me, with her 40 years of experience and vocabulary. She’d crush me, then cackle. To this day, I still don’t like to play Scrabble.
The Summer after my Dad died, I traveled with my Mom to Washington D.C. where she had a contract. I stayed in the hotel most of that summer, played on my computer, wrote stories, and she worked.
We drove across the country to get there. My Mom talked while she drove. At one point, about a day away from Indiana where we’d meet up with her oldest daughter, Helen, she started talking about family history. She wasn’t really thinking as she spoke. It had started with her talking about Helen and her children, then went on to Sue and Ginger. But she kept going. She talked about Leslie, and how Leslie had been pregnant in 1972. Leslie, that I had met a couple of times, but didn’t really know. Leslie, that had two daughters that were younger than me, but no children that were my age.
I put the pieces together. Leslie had to be my biological mother. After meeting Helen, I took her aside and put the question to her. I didn’t mean to put her on the spot, but I didn’t really have a choice. She handled it well. She told me, yes, she thought Leslie was my biological mother.
I have complicated familial ties. Cheryl is my sister, though she’d biologically be my aunt. Then there is Jennifer, that is my biological sister. She needs a brother way more than she needs an uncle, so I think of her as my sister, too.
Then there is Helen, Sue, and Ginger. Helen is awesome. I don’t know Sue very well, but she seems nice. Ginger seems to hate me. Are they my sisters, or are they my aunts? I think of Helen as my sister, but I’ll leave the actual relationship to them. It doesn’t have to be complicated, to me. They’re family, and that’s enough for me.
Again, this is about my Mom. Ginger and Sue recently asked about how my Mom died, and I didn’t have good details. When my Mom died, I’d been in the process of making sure that she wouldn’t die alone. Yet that’s exactly what happened. She’d been a hard person to get along with, and in the end, when she needed someone to be there and help keep an incompetent doctor from screwing up, no one saved her.
My Mom loved bowling, greasy food, and cigarettes. She didn’t exercise. She had high blood pressure, and was on blood pressure medication most of my life. Her doctor should never have taken her off her blood pressure medication, but he did. Consequently, her blood pressure got out of control, her condition destabilized after spending most of a year in a hospital, and she died without any of her many children around.
My Mom died in January, 2002. I can never remember if it was January 11th or January 12th. There is no cool memory trick for me to use. I don’t have a great memory to draw upon to provide a reminder, the way I have with my father.
My Mom died before I learned to be a good son to her. That’s something I will have to live with and learn from the rest of my life.
It’s a bit of a downer, but that’s the true, abridged story of my life with my Mom, Evajean Buhl. She loved her children, but she didn’t know how to show it in a way that didn’t push them away. I can trace all of my hard edges to her. My stubbornness. My competitive drive. My strength of will. For better or worse, I learned those things from her.