That evening, maybe an hour after returning home from my afternoon wedding and reception, my mother stopped me in the hallway while I was carrying a tray of wine and lemonade to the living room that had grown lively with my siblings and their families, some out-of-town friends, and my five- and seven-year-old sons from my former marriage. A wall away from my guests’ view, my mother and I paused face to face in front of the walnut-framed mirror that was handed down to me when my grandmother died. I imagine that on my mother’s wedding day more than four decades earlier, this same looking glass must have momentarily captured images of my mother as the excited bride. Perhaps she also paused there to share a moment with her mother.
But that day, my wedding day, my mother had stopped me not to offer sentimental wishes or memories or a wedding gift. Instead, she met me in front of the heirloom mirror, her voice light and sweet, to present me with a bag of her laundry.
“It wouldn’t be too much trouble to wash these things for me right away, would it?”
A lifetime of being my mother’s daughter should have conditioned me for this moment, but still I was blind-sided. I forgot the tray, forgot the guests, forgot even my young sons. For a moment I was seven years old again, powerless and poised to do whatever she asked so I might finally secure some deep connection to her and at last merit the unveiling of love.
“It won’t take you long,” she purred.
The Special Bag
You’re probably thinking that there must be some back story that would explain her expecting me to do her laundry at that moment. Surely no one’s mother would seriously ask for this – or even think of it – without a compelling reason. Surely every mother’s expectations and every daughter’s compliance have boundaries. Surely she was suffering from dementia, grave illness, immobility, poverty, excessive activity since she arrived, or at the very least some insatiable mold was relentlessly marching across the contents of her luggage.
But, no. My mother was 68 then and but for some arthritis was quite healthy. She was not exhausted from everything she’d done leading up to the wedding. Instead, she had behaved all along as though the whole affair was really none of her business, displaying no interest in any details about the event and never asking about my dress or wishing to help me get ready that day – nor did she even want to observe this traditional mother-daughter ritual. And, no, she wasn’t opposed to my new husband. He was accommodating to her, and she was relieved that I would no longer be a single mother who might one day ask for her help.
My mother, who is without financial worries thanks to large inheritances, was returning home the next morning, three and a half days after her arrival. She could have packed enough for her short trip. She could have had the hotel where she was staying wash something for her if she’d really needed it. And she had done nothing while in town to soil any – never mind all – of her outfits; it could not be that she was left with nothing she could possibly wear the next morning on her flight home. Surely she could have made do. But that’s not how she works.
Two hours later, when I had finished the laundry and handed back the folded clothes, her expression registered alarm rather than appreciation.
“Where’s that special bag I brought it in?” she cried.
You know, that plastic bag hotels hang in the closet in case you want them to do your laundry. So I swallowed my exasperation and went back down to the basement and brought her that special bag.
You must be wondering why on earth I did the laundry, why I wouldn’t refuse to do her deferrable chores on my wedding day. Why I went back down to fetch the special bag.
My wedding occurred two years before I learned why my mother could see nothing wrong with expecting me to do her laundry that evening, two years before my siblings and I finally began to stop pretending to ourselves that she is someone she isn’t, two years before we realized that she has Aspergers Syndrome, two years before we even knew what Aspergers is and how it cuts off her understanding of other people, two years before we began to understand why we her children still respond – even as we resent it – as though her needs are the center of the universe.
Copyright 2014 Sarah Meyer Noel. All rights reserved.