Mum kisses me. “I love you,” she says.
She’s done that quite a few times in the last couple of weeks, which is funny because she’s not really a kissy or “I love you” kind of person. When I was growing up, she displayed her affection via a surprise addition of homemade cake in my school lunch box, a Ladybird book from a trip to WH Smith, or a poster of Take That sneaked into the weekly shopping trolley.
But kisses and “I love you”s?
Never. “Show, don’t tell” was Mum’s philosophy. Walk the walk, don’t talk the talk.
So either her six weeks in America has rubbed off more vigorously than anyone could have anticipated — they’re very big on saying “I love you” at every opportunity here — or she’s unbearably worried.
When I was fourteen, I fell off my bike and hit my head on the tarmac. I was out cold, in hospital — for twenty-four hours, I’m told, although from my point of view it could have been anywhere between five seconds and an eternity. In the moments or hours before my eyelids fluttered open and Mum’s voice proclaimed “She’s awake!” I heard her saying the same thing, over and again. “Don’t go, Libby. Please don’t go. I love you. Please stay here, Libs. I love you.”
It had puzzled me at the time. I was in bed; of that much I was aware in my semi-conscious fog, so where could I go? Later, of course, I realised that Mum was speaking of a more permanent one-way trip, so I didn’t mention I’d overheard her bedside soliloquy. Saying “I love you” out loud like that was slightly embarrassing; like not being able to reach the bathroom on time, or having other bodily emissions erupt against our will.
It must be a British thing. We acquired our reputation of stiff upper lip and British reserve for a reason, I guess. The preschoolers’ moms here drop their children off at nursery with a chorus of “Mommy loves you, honey!”, while the kids run into school without a backward glance. I wonder how many of them grow up thinking that “Mommy loves you” is just another form of “Goodbye”, rendered less valuable by its daily usage.
You see, when my mum says it, I know it’s from the heart and not merely a salutation.
“I love you too,” I say, and kiss her cheek.
She could be saying it because she’s about to get in the Lincoln Town Car that takes her to Logan Airport for her flight back to Heathrow, but even lovey-dovey goodbyes aren’t Mum’s scene. A laconic “Well, I suppose I won’t be seeing you for a long time” would have been more her style.
No. She’s worried. I’m sure of it.
She’s worried that I’m descending into a pit of depression, which because of its timing could conveniently be classified as “post-natal” but in reality has been brought on by my husband’s ever-increasing distance from me, and his preoccupation with…what? I don’t know what. He’s got something on his mind, something to do with his father, but apparently his own wife is not allowed to be privy to those inner thoughts.
She never has been, I know now.
“All set?” the driver asks her.
Mum nods. She gets into the back seat of the long, black car, shuts the door, and winds down the window.
“Sandra,” she mouths. “Don’t forget.”
The car backs down our driveway, reverses onto Juniper Drive.
Mum waves. I wave back. So does Jack.
Oliver, naturally, is absent from the family scene.
I go inside, and for once, Oliver’s absence is a blessing. What I’m about to do wouldn’t be a good idea while he’s around.
This week I have learned from Mum that, at our wedding, after Oliver and I had left for our first night in a hotel as a married couple, my mother-in-law got falling-down drunk but unfortunately not speechlessly so, and started telling my own mother a few family secrets. Mum tried to shut her up but not before Sandra had released a collection of dead ancestors’ remains from a large cupboard — information which, I inferred, was relevant to the present situation. My mother had kept this information to herself for six years, but even now, she delicately skirted round the details of what Sandra had told her.
“It’s not my information to give,” she insisted. “You’ll have to get it from the horse’s mouth.”
Tantalising and unhelpful, albeit highly satisfying to hear my mother-in-law referred to as a horse.
And then, just this morning while I was helping Mum finish her packing, I remembered. Tucked away in a box in the basement is a box of our English DVDs. We don’t get them out because they’re in the wrong format for the DVD player here, but they will play on my laptop. The particular one I want, though, I’ve never actually played before.
With a flashlight in my hand, I descend the wooden stairs into the basement. It’s dark down here, and with the humidity rising as summer approaches, there’s a smell of musty damp in the air. A rustling noise, a scurry of rodent feet makes me jump — I’ve disturbed something the pest control people missed on their last visit — but even the threat of mouse attack doesn’t deter me.
I find the box of DVDs and, shining the flashlight on them, flick through until I see the one I’m looking for.
I double-check the label.
Yes. This is it.
“Libby and Oliver. Wedding footage (not in official video).”
Next post: LIBBY’S LIFE #53 – Preserved on tape
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Click here to read Libby’s Life from the first episode
STAY TUNED for Friday’s post — another Displaced Q from Tony James Slater.
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Image: Travel – Map of the World by Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigit