When my mother turned 62 years old, in honor of her first Social Security check she threw herself a toga party. She did not invite my sister or I because, honestly, would you invite your kids to a toga party? It would probably cramp your style. She did give us a copy of the invitation, which sports a picture of her in a gold lamé toga on the front.
This is typical of my mother, who also posed faux-nude in a calendar created by her 55 and older (better) neighborhood to raise money for mammograms for low income women. She and her friends strategically covered their bits with oversized tennis balls and flowers in hilarious montages. They received a lot of press for it. My dad decided that he heard enough about boobs and wanted to do a similar calendar to raise money for prostate cancer screenings but would only do it if they did the Full Monty. None of his friends were on board with him. Thank goodness.
Her energy is relentless. She never stops moving and doing. Nearly everything in her house is handmade, from the dishes to the blankets to some of the furniture. She plays bridge and tennis, and she will chastise you for being lazy if you want to sit and rest. Arthritis didn’t slow her down, nor did a stroke or stents in her heart or Crohn’s disease or diabetes.
Needless to say, the rules and my mother are only marginally acquainted. She’s generally law-abiding, and to my knowledge has never been arrested. She’s just a boundary pusher, fearless and strong, and does not care one whit what you think.
For the most part, I admire this about her.
As is typical of her semi-reckless breed, she is a smoker. Is. Present tense. She began sometime in junior high and never really tried to quit, even when all her friends did. Despite growing up in a house thick with cigarette smoke, I have always hated the smell. I would hide the packs, write “this will kill you” on the individual cigarettes, and lecture her pointlessly. We would fight over smoking in the car, sitting in smoking sections of restaurants, and whether or not she could smoke around my newborn babies when they arrived.
In 2018, she was diagnosed with lung cancer. This was sad, of course, but not a surprise. She did not give up smoking. “What?’ She said with brutal logic. “Am I afraid I’m going to get lung cancer?”
She’s tired now. She naps a lot. For the first time in her life, she sits down and rests in the middle of things. Chemo befuddled her brain and made her hair fall out. She still crochets and goes to play blackjack at the casino, but not as often, and with more mistakes.
I know without a doubt that cigarettes, not old age, did this to her. But for cigarettes, she would have lived on and on, an unstoppable force of nature no more controllable than typhoons or tornados. I hate cigarettes. I hate them so much because they are taking my Mommy from me.
Every time I see a young person smoking, I want to slap the cigarette out of their hand and tell them about my mother. How I am watching the most vibrant person I know wither on the vine like grapes in a drought because when she was 15 she thought she was immortal and looked cool. You are a fool, I want to say, committing suicide in a long, painful way, forcing the people who love you to watch this decline in slow motion. Kill yourself, if you want to, but don’t torture them this way. But don’t kill yourself. Life has a lot of things in it that are worth waking up in the morning for.
Right now, I wake up to say hello to my mom while she’s still here to say hello to.
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