Tree roots anchor a tree in the soil. Large roots branch out into small roots, small roots into even tinier roots and these tiny roots into hair-like shoots. The tendrils entangle themselves in the earth, becoming inextricably attached to the fragments of soil in which they are encased. The soil cannot move. The tree cannot move. And so they hold each other.
My mother and I have held each other for as long as I can remember.
We sit on a quilt spread over the living room floor. We are tacking the quilt; every few inches she threads yarn through the quilt’s layers, snipping with scissors to form two ends. I follow behind her tying the ends into granny knots. I am eating Lifesavers, my mother deciding only recently that I could be trusted not to lodge the candies in my throat. I pick a yellow circle from the package and put it in my mouth. The lemon flavor is sour and overwhelming to my little girl taste buds, but I don’t want to draw her attention to me by walking to the trash to spit it out. If she remembers I am behind her, she may decide she would prefer to be alone and tell me to go away. Unexpectedly, she turns to look at me. A large bruise encircles her left eye. Purple puffiness just beneath her eyebrow trails to green streaks at the corner of her eye. There is a small red spot in her eye that looks like blood. The spot scares me and I look away.
“You will have one chance,” she says. “One chance to get out. To get away from this. Only one chance.” She turns back to the yarn and recommences snipping.
I am older in the next scene and wearing the purple regalia that denotes law school graduation. The ceremony has ended and she finds me in the crowd to deliver a message. She finds it hard to say the words, words she has only spoken to me only one other time, and so she hugs me and whispers close to my ear “I love you.”
It is becoming harder and harder to hold her these days.
She dances away from me. Rather than pirouettes, her movements resemble what one might find in a mosh pit: jerky, pounding. And, unlike the effortlessness shown by a ballerina, she struggles through awkward dance steps, sometimes repeating the same series over and over like a wind-up toy caught in a loop of rote movement.
The weariness of someone who has been dancing for a hundred years seeps from her eyes. She is exhausted.
And yet, sometimes she holds me.
Still, through the confusion enshrouding her besieged brain, there is a tiny fragment that is my mother. She worries about me even now. She worries that I am alone. Last fall she told me she was sad about my divorce. Knowing my ex-husband had never been my mother’s favorite person, I was surprised and asked why. She responded, “It makes me sad for you.”
More telling, however, was her response to seeing a photo of me with a man while flipping through photos on my phone.
Her face broke into a wide smile and she howled, “Who is THAT? Kim Reeder, do you have a BOYFRIEND?”
I laughed and said, “I don’t know how to answer that question.”
“What does THAT mean?”
“It means I’m not sure what to call him.”
Not understanding my evasive answers, she moved on to the question that the person who was my mother would find critical, “Is he nice to you?”
“Yes, whatever you call him, he is nice to me.”
“Well, I think that’s a good thing.”
Yes, it is a good thing. An even better thing is that I am safe and have a semblance of peace because she is my mother. Like a tree’s roots, she has anchored me in the soil and, with her anchoring, allowed me to grow up and away from the worst of her burdens. Even with the spots where my trunk is knotty and twisted, I am a tall tree.