old (2008), Uncategorized

my mother’s mouth

When I think of my mother, angry or sad or perturbed (or anything less than happy) I think of her mouth — dark creases would form on either side of its corners, making her look a bit like Droopy the cartoon dog, except there was never anything funny about it. I have photographic evidence of The Mouth, snapshots taken in quick succession where in one frame she is smiling, in the next frowning with her Droopy face.

All my life, I’ve been told I resemble my father, and I’ve mostly agreed. I have his eyes, for sure, and my body shape is more from his side of the family (stocky, short, thick Germans and Brits) than my mother’s (thin, tall, and vaguely Irish-Italian), something I remember when I wonder whom to blame for my fat ass and more-than-healthy thighs. Around the time I turned 25, though, people started saying I looked like my mother. For years, I’ve wondered where that came from, but now I’m beginning to understand. I, too, have The Mouth.

Of all the things I want to be in this world, being able to frown like my mother has never been one of them. I am sure she has her happy moments, and I am certain she believes herself to be content and happy from time to time (and perhaps she even is, as I haven’t had a conversation with her in five years), but what I remember best was the mercurial quality of my mother’s happinesses, the men and the jobs and the apartments that initially were The Perfect Ones but quickly turned into messes, disasters, or tragedies (and sometimes all three).

I am the age now that my mother was when I was fourteen and fifteen years old — the years when I hated her most, when I could catalog her deficiencies and moral weaknesses and wouldn’t hesitate to articulate them to whomever would listen. I lived with her because there weren’t any other options than to run away, and I lived in a small town with no bus station, no car, and no driver’s license, which somewhat limited my options. Regardless, I have burned into my memory exactly what my mother looked like with The Mouth, pissed off at me for not doing something, angry about the latest job or man, or just worn down by the weight of the world she carried out of necessity of being a single mother on welfare and food stamps. I tend to think it wasn’t this last thing, though, so much; The Mouth continued long after food stamps and Section 8 housing were no longer necessary and the only struggles were in deciding where to go on vacation.

It disturbs me, the fact that her face is now becoming mine — mostly because I know how ugly my mother looked (in comparison to the beauty I knew she had inside) when she was overcome by darkness and anger and sadness, but also because — really — I don’t want to become anything like her. And mostly — by far — I think I have accomplished being not-her, but The Mouth still haunts me, and it lingers in the mirror longer than it should, heavier than necessary, more history attached to it than I care to acknowledge.

The solution, I think: I must smile more, and make a habit of bringing to light the beauty I have inside at every possible moment. I hate to think The Mouth will become part of my character, instead of something lingering from the person I don’t need to be any longer.