My mother-in-law is here from Brazil. Her mission is two-fold: take care of me and make me better. So far she’s done well. She’s been tough when she’s needed to and soft when she’s wanted to. She’s made parmesan potatoes and corn soufflé. She’s made beds and folded laundry. She’s washed dishes and hung curtains. She’s sat with me, pretending to understand American TV. I’ve sat with her, pretending to understand Brazilian politics. She’s made me laugh. I’ve made her cry (good tears). And sometimes—just a few times—she’s made me crazy. Those moments fade though…
My love for her never does.
We have a quiet understanding. Our hearts’ songs are the same. I was reminded of that last night as we chatted in the darkness about life and love. Hope and dreams. Betrayal and forgiveness.
She told me her greatest deceptions. And I told her mine.
She reminded me of her childhood. How she was nursed by a maid because her mother was too busy with her siblings. And how she never formed a bond with her afterward.
How her father, a handsome German who saw life from the bottom of a bottle, fired his pistol into the night sky to scare his children into submission. Or scare himself into sobriety. She wasn’t sure which.
How she led a small army of children through Criciuma, setting tires on fire and climbing impossible trees. How she played Hide-and-Seek in the caskets lining her mother’s funeral parlor and once saw a dead child there, thin and fragile like an eggshell. How she snuck off to visit the gypsies—she loved their skirts and scarves—and learned to eat glass and swallow fire from the traveling circus performers.
How her mother all but sang, “When I catch you, Estela. Oh, when I catch you.” And what happened when she finally did. She should have been scared. Really.
How she married too young, became a mother too young, was traded for another too young. And how she spent four years in bed grieving a marriage and a life that never was.
A person she never was.
And how finally…
she. woke. up.
At nearly 70, she answers to no one, which, according to her, is both a blessing and a curse. She wishes her marriage had lasted. She wishes to have someone with whom to share dreams, a bed and a homemade chicken dinner.
Because alone is lonely. She reminds me of that. And in the same breath tells me marriage is a flower that needs the sunlight of hugs and kisses; the pruning of patience, kindness, and forgiveness; and the water of love and respect.
Then she tells me my heart seems lighter and asks if I’m truly happy. I tell her I am. And I realize it’s not a readied response. I mean it. And I love that I do. Because every day I remind myself to want what I already have and be who I already am. Not to wait for greatness, but to make it. Not to fall prey to the idea that I’ll be happy when…
I have an L-shaped couch,
a baby in the nursery.
Because those days might never come. And maybe (although I can’t see it) it’s to my benefit that they don’t.
Maybe it’s a horrible lie that: If you want it badly enough and work hard enough, it’ll be yours.
Maybe the truth is: Some dreams aren’t meant to come true.
And what if you wasted all your time, thoughts and tears on the illusion of “when”? What if you rented out all the precious space in your heart and waited…
for your happiness to simply (or not so simply) show up?
My mother-in-law did. For a long time. And I think we all have, in one way or another. We have all been plagued by the gracelessness of dissatisfaction, the deep pit of discontent.
So now, in those heart wrenching moments, I imagine my mother-in-law as a child, climbing the towering trees and dancing with gypsies.
I remember my own past: playing baseball and Kick the Can on Tiverton Court, catching fireflies and praying for the streetlights to sleep just a bit longer.
I also remember my present: deeply loved and richly blessed.