Photo by Natasha Ivanchickina
Just Like Your Father
“How’s Little Bob today?” the principal asked as he swung tiny five-year-old me up in the air, bringing us face-to-face. I liked that he called me Little Bob because it connected me to my dad, whom I adored. It meant that I was part of him, that I was like him.
Years later this connection to my dad acquired a different hue. On the cusp of my teens, I began questioning and trying to understand my world, my mother in particular.
“Don’t argue with me. Your father is always arguing with me. And you’re just like him!”
I was trying to explain something I did, something my mother didn’t like, something I don’t even remember. What I do remember is standing by a spigot in our back yard, washing out a galvanized steel pail. I remember the warm day, the earlier breeze on recess, drops of sweat trickling down my back. I remember her fury, the churning in my stomach, anger and dismay at feeling unjustly accused. And I remember vowing never to bring a child into this world to suffer its cruelty and injustice, a vow I was to keep.
“You’re just like your father!” she shouted, crying and storming through my townhome.
“But, Mom, I’m only asking that you not badmouth my fiancé to your friends,” I said as I followed her to her bedroom.
Grabbing her clothes, she stuffed them into her suitcase, then turned to face me. “I can say what I like to my friends!” she hissed. “You’ve never cared for me. You only want to correct me, to argue, and I’m sick of it! That’s why I divorced your father. He’s been dead for years, but you’ve taken his place!”
Within minutes she was gone. I stood on my doorstep staring at the driveway where her car had been, then at mountains in the distance. They seemed so much closer than they were, close enough to walk to. But they were twenty miles away. The closeness I’d felt to my mother earlier that morning had been illusory, too. I’d had no idea how far away she’d been, and now I had no idea how long it would take to reach her, if I ever could.
Two days with no word from her, and I began to panic. My impulsive, fiery, sixty-year-old mother could be in trouble. I called the police to report the run-away. A day later I returned from work to find a note from her on the dining room table. “I’m camping and will be home in a few days,” it read. And she was, resuming her visit as if all were normal, as if the mountains had moved closer in a mere forty-eight hours.
Thirty years on, frail and frightened from the congestive heart failure that was increasingly affecting her body, she snapped. Shrieking, she stomped through the kitchen, swinging her arms wildly. “You’re just like your father!”
My mistake had been trying to joke through a disagreement. “Damned if you do, and damned if you don’t,” I’d said with a chuckle.
Anger consuming her, she jumped up and down like a child, her face scrunched and flushed, her salt and pepper hair flying with the movement, screaming again and again. Terrified that her anger would kill her, I tried to put my arms around her, tried to console her. She shook me off and ran to her room, slamming the door behind her. Every sense numbed, mind whirling, I made my way to the front porch. I rocked mechanically back and forth, to and fro, wrapping my arms around myself.
Two years later, I was by her bedside, holding her hand. Time had helped us grow closer, and in our efforts to understand each other, we had, indeed, moved mountains. Now, exhausted by life, she was leaving it. “I don’t know what I would have done without you,” she told me. “You’re just like your father,” she said. “For all his faults, Bob was a generous man.”
An educator for more than four decades, Carol Ann Wilson’s work with public schools and higher education institutions focused on issues of democracy and social justice, as did her writing. Turning to creative nonfiction, her first book, Still Point of the Turning World: The Life of Gia-fu Feng, won Foreword Review’s Book of the Year Award. In 2021 and 2022, her essays won the Colorado Authors League essay award. Her work has appeared in Under the Gum Tree, The Write Launch, Wrath-Bearing Tree, and bookscover2cover. Carol lives and writes in Boulder, Colorado. For more information, please see https://carolannwilson.info