Charlotte never went back to med school, though I imagined she would have liked to. Being mother of seven children had supplanted any career goals, but she was clearly restless. When I was in high school, our long, dark waits were enlivened by discussion of whatever books I was reading, whatever books she was reading, whatever cultural event we had managed to take in. We looked at collections of Impressionists and Expressionists, listened to classical music, and we argued about what was better, what was strong, what stank. From her I learned to dissect literature and analyze characters; from her I stole a profound love for words and music. I never got her facility with science and math, and she never really understood what drove me, but we both looked forward to those discourses. We were two lonely women encaved in our New York State tundra (we lived in a small town in the Adirondacks by then), finding commonalities through the arts.
Our ties deepened over the years as we battled new storms. Some required what seemed at the time like simple adjustments. My oldest brother was diagnosed with diabetes; another brother had multiple learning disorders. But others caused major upheavals. Dad fell from a third story roof while installing storm windows one Thanksgiving, and he was unable to work for months; Mom went out on the truck for him, and I held down the fort at home. Two years after Dad recovered, an unlicensed, drunk driver rammed into Mom’s car, and she was hospitalized just inches short of death’s door, remaining in bed and incapacitated for the better part of the next three years.
Mama had to rely on me in ways no mother wants to be dependent on a child, and she never resented me or ridiculed my mistakes as she had when I was less responsible for her; it was a time of great bonding. I began to find a way of being released from some of the omnipresent family duties, and she began to realize she wanted more from her life.