The last time I saw my mother alive was about a year and a half before her death. I didn’t see her after her death either. We aren’t really an open casket kind of family. We aren’t really a casket kind of family in general. She was cremated. You’re probably wondering why I went that long without seeing my mother. Maybe you’re judging me for it. People try to understand others by thinking of their own situations. Perhaps your mother hugged you and wiped your tears. She made you cookies and took you to scout meetings. My childhood was a little darker.
On the first day of that last visit, my husband, son, and I were sitting in my mother’s tiny, humid living room in South Florida on the Saturday of Labor Day weekend. Things were going OK. She was chatting away, as usual. My mom loved to talk.
We were sitting on the couch, across from her cream-colored wall unit, where the TV and her knick-knack collection resided. Mom started pointing to knick-knacks and talking about where they came from. Then, she pointed to three, sad looking, chipped, ceramic clowns on the top shelf and says, “Lisa, didn’t Raul give those to you?” My stomach instantly cramped.
Raul was a guy my mom dated for seven years when I was a kid. He was married, and he was a violent alcoholic. He dislocated my mom’s jaw twice and hit her many other times. Once, when I was about seven or eight, I pulled a steak knife on him and told him to stop hurting my mother. For real. I felt that threatening him with a small steak knife would stop the insanity. It didn’t.
He didn’t just hurt my mother. When I got to be about eleven, Raul started fondling me and kissing me on the mouth, with his mouth open. I told my mother about this when I was twelve. She finally broke up with him when I was thirteen. I’m not sure why it took her a year, and I’m not sure why Raul was not arrested. The only thing I can think of is he was helping with the bills. Money trumps safety, I guess.
I wanted to say, “yes, mother. Yes. That man who beat you and molested me for seven years. That Raul. Yes, he gave me those cheap ass stupid clowns that you insist on keeping and shoving in my face like they don’t make me want to vomit. It’s like you had a lobotomy and forgot reality. Yes. He gave those to me.”
I think Raul knew that he sucked as a boyfriend and a person. He knew, on some level, that beating women and molesting little girls was wrong. I think that is why he was always trying to buy my mom’s and my forgiveness. He was always buying my mom flowers, or some other “I’m sorry” present after a big fight. He bought me stuff, too.
I don’t remember every gift he gave me, but I do remember two of them. One was a blue, obviously fake, fur coat with white trim. I loved it even though I lived in South Florida, where I could wear it maybe one day a year. It was soft and very warm. I felt so grown up in that coat. As an adult, I hate fur coats.
My mom has always loved knick-knacks. I have never understood this as they don’t actually do anything but collect dust. Anyway, Raul used to buy her little ceramic things. I guess he figured that I would love them too, so he bought me three little clowns. For most of my childhood, they were on a shelf in my bathroom. When I moved out, I left them there because I have no reason to want to keep anything Raul gave me.
My mom disagreed, I guess because she still had these clowns on her living room shelf when my family and I cleaned out her apartment after her death. I’m not sure why she wanted to remember Raul or keep these now chipped clowns, but she did. They were the very first thing my husband put in the trash.