I saw my mother today.
I was walking into a restaurant–my view obstructed by a jacket hood raised against the kind of rain that would have been drops of ice had it been even two degrees colder–when out of the corner of my eye I saw her breeze past me, all goose down and faux fur. I’d know that jawline anywhere, the cropped hair bleached gold, the obvious hip swish somehow managed even in a parka and boots.
I wasn’t really expecting to see her, considering she died years ago now and I’m mostly over being insane about it. My breath stuck in my throat mid-inhale and I clawed my hood back as if it–and not my dead mom checking on her reservation ten feet in front of me–was the thing standing between me and oxygenation. A single raindrop dripped down my cheek like a cold tear as I waited for her to dissolve in front of my eyes.
But she didn’t. She leaned in, spoke to the hostess with that false air of familiar authority that used to bother me but seemingly no one else. Clearly it didn’t bother the hostess, who smiled big and said something back. My mother laughed.
That laugh. I stopped dead in my tracks, making the coworkers I was lunching with walk into me and then apologize the way you apologize to someone who clearly caused you to do the thing you are apologizing for.
“It’s okay,” I told them, but was it? I was frozen in the foyer of a restaurant with rain dripping off of me, slack jawed and staring at my dead mom.
What do I do, I wondered. I don’t know the etiquette of these things. Should I say hi, pretend we’re long lost friends? Should I run to her, sweep her petite frame up in my arms like we were old loves? Should I charge at her, my finger wagging accusations of abandonment and betrayal?
None of those felt right or even possible, but I was able to make my feet take little baby steps towards her, shuffling on the already-wet rug and making awful squishy sounds with every inch of forward progress. When I was close enough, I found my breath and inhaled deeply, trying to see if she still smelled of flowers and herbes de Provence and soap like I remembered, but all I could smell was the acrid bitterness from the restaurant’s espresso machine. I was contemplating both reaching out to touch the back of her down coat and turning and running out of the building as fast as I could when she suddenly turned around and we were face to face.
It wasn’t her.
Relief and a terrible sadness swept over me so forcefully I stepped back and into the arms of a different coworker, making the tally of people I work with that I made touch me against their will that day two and counting. “I’m sorry,” I said to him, and to her: “I’m sorry. I thought you were someone else.”
She laughed–that laugh again–and patted my shoulder. “It happens all the time,” I heard her mouth say, but her eyes met mine and I swear they said “I’m sorry your mother is gone.”
I nodded, stepping around her and the hostess and the espresso machine to find my table. “Me too,” I said, to no one at all. “Me too.”