Hold on Tight

With Mother’s Day approaching on May 8, a son reminisces about his late mother.

“I promise, Pooh Bear. I promise.”

These are the six last, exasperated words my mother ever spoke. She died on our living room sofa in 1998. I was at her side, begging her to promise me that everything was going to be OK. I was 11.

I still see my mother at her vanity, powdering her face, and putting on that signature cherry-red lipstick. She has rollers in her hair, and she’s already wearing high heels, though she isn’t leaving the house for a while. She always wears her heels, even when she’s cooking. I like the sound of them clicking on the kitchen floor.

She’s the Southern vixen, the magnolia firecracker: a woman of astonishing beauty, knife-like wit, and diabolical sense of humor.

As I watch my Mom get ready, I realize that I want to be like her. I want to be funny like her and sexy like her. I want to spend as much time with her as possible, so that I can absorb every aspect of who she is—including her power over men. Blush.

Tonight, she isn’t on a date with her boyfriend, though. Tonight, she has a movie date with the man she loves most: her Pooh Bear. Me.

We take our seats at the movie theater in the middle of the auditorium, a giant tub of popcorn and a bucket-size cup of soda in tow.

Just before the movie begins, an enormous man plops down in front of me, blocking my view of the screen. Most mothers politely would ask the gentleman to move. Not mine.

“Watch this,” she whispers, and reaches into the tub of popcorn, which is in my lap. She looks around to make sure no one’s watching, and launches a handful of popcorn at the back of the man’s head.

The man in front of us turns around, and stares at me. I stare back, wide-eyed and speechless.

My Mom takes on the tone of a no-nonsense Southern mother: “Justin Jones! I can’t believe you threw popcorn at this gentleman! Now, what do you say?”

“Uh….Sorry?” I respond.

The man grunts, and turns around. He moves to the back of the auditorium. My mother tickles me when he’s gone, and we laugh about the incident all the way home.

She was something, all right—and to me, she was everything.

But things change. My mother and I witnessed her boyfriend’s suicide when I was 6 years old. Guilt over the incident consumed her. She eventually turned to prescription medication to help cope with it, which she took too much of.

I find myself at her side on May 20, 1998, as she struggles for her last breaths. I’m begging her to promise me that she won’t die, that everything will be OK.

“I promise, Pooh Bear….I promise.”

She turns blue, and her arms around me go limp.

She’s buried in the pink gown she wore to my brother’s wedding.

After her funeral, I go home one more time. I head straight to her bedroom. It still smells like her.

I sit at her vanity. I run my fingers through her necklaces, caress her powder box, and feel her hair rollers. I brush my hair with the brush we use as a microphone. I spray her perfume, and watch White Diamonds float to the floor.

I want to remember everything about this place, where we laugh about dumb things, lip-synch to cassette tapes, and do the bonding that makes us mother and son. I want to memorize every scarf, every shoe, every earring. If I preserve every piece of who she was, maybe I can keep her forever.

When it’s time to go, I walk as slowly as I can—in reverse—to the entrance of her bedroom. I picture me on her bed, watching her with rollers in her hair as she puts on her lipstick, and I squeeze my eyes shut to lock it in….

If you are fortunate enough still to have Mom around, don’t forget her. When you see her next, give her a great big hug to show her how much she means. When it’s time to pull away, hold her just a second longer for those who aren’t as lucky.

Pull her close, and hold on tight.

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