“You know, I’ve been saving her tapes,” she said, the excitement in her voice rusting as she tried to get each word out. “I think I’m going to be too emotional to listen to them alone. Maybe we can listen together.”
That’s my mom. She loves me and my brother so hard that I think it hurts her a little, deep down. She’s the kind of mom who devotes herself, wholeheartedly, to your quest. Have a health issue? She’s got 30 studies and 16 organic herbs you can steep in a tea—and in minutes, you’ll be restored back to full health. She cooks entire Thanksgiving dinners—the whole spread—by herself, and cleans up the mess before she sits down to have a bite herself. She’s the only vegetarian I know who works as hard as she does to perfect the art of cooking an entire turkey, just so her husband and son can eat their fill. She lives to provide. It’s quite beautiful, though, like I said, I think it must hurt.
She was talking about her mother, my sito—another woman who loved so hard it hurt. Last month, I had interviewed my mother for an essay I was writing for the Lady Project about my sito and her experience as the daughter of Lebanese immigrants. I finished the essay and shared a copy with my mother. When I called her later that day, she told me about a set of cassette tapes that Sito had recorded for us before her death.
My head started swimming with noise. Thoughts, reactions, a quiet screaming sound—half panic, half homesickness—I had to choose a reaction. “Wow,” was all I could muster.
Over the course of our chat, we made a plan to listen to the tapes of my Sito’s voice, a voice I haven’t heard in decades. We don’t know what stories she’ll share, what songs she’ll sing, what will devastate us, and what will help us carry on, fulfilled with our lives.
But for now, I’m alone, and I’m terrified.
I think it’s the trembling enormity of a mother’s love, spanning decades, that feels so intimidating to me. I am lucky to have known love in my life, and to have been humbled by my heart’s capacity to love as deeply as it does. But for me, that love has always been its deepest in reciprocal situations: my husband’s love, the love of my parents, my brother, my sister-in-law, my best friend. I loved my sito, that goes without saying, but ours was a relationship in which she endlessly gave, and I took. She babysat me, cooked for us as long as her faculties allowed, hugged us, took such pride in us. What the hell could I give back to her? A poorly constructed poem, tears each time my mother left me at her house so she could go to work for a few hours, companionship as we watched Flipper after my afternoon nap?
I don’t know if I’m even on these tapes. Who knows if I was alive when they were made? But I think if she mentions my name, I’m going to crumble. Fall to ash. Leaving my mother to grasp for the broom and the dustpan, fretting all the while over the perfect coconut-based salve that will reunite the disparate pieces of my person and help me back to life.
And yet, if she doesn’t mention me at all, a selfish part of me is going to leave disappointed. That’s the wrong attitude, I know. But I can’t help but feel it—and if I feel it, it’s worth confessing.
Soon, my mother and I will come together to hear the warm, hearty voice of a woman whose memory echoes in each choice we make, each chapter we open, each dream we dream. Maybe we’ll hold hands or each other. Or maybe our eyes will graze the hardwood floors of my childhood home, oceans welling at the corners. Maybe we can finally catch each other at the cusp of what it means to love someone unconditionally, eternally, and so hard it hurts. Maybe it will help me understand.
For now, though, the wait. And my god is it a long one.