In many ways, my mom was a loving person.
She was a school nurse who advocated for children and families; she took good care of my father who had a chronic illness for more than twenty-five years; and she provided for her daughters.
Throughout my life, she expressed how proud she was of me. But from the time I was a teenager, she would give me a hard time about guys. “You’re boy crazy. You love being in love,” she chided.
She was harshly judgmental of anyone whose decisions were fueled by emotion or libido. People who had extramarital affairs were especially atrocious, since they didn’t care whom they hurt.
When I got divorced, she didn’t want to meet my new boyfriend. She harbored suspicions that he’d been instrumental in the breaking up of my marriage.
She was right.
“It’s just so selfish,” she’d say, “to do whatever you feel like, on whim, without thinking of others.”
As an adult, I wondered if my father had an affair. The notion didn’t fit in with my idea of him; he seemed to deeply love my mom. But was an indiscretion by my father the reason my mom’s hackles were raised at the mere mention of such liaisons?
After my father died at 77, my two sisters and I took my mom on a Hawaiian cruise. The desire to travel with her had taken on a sense of urgency since recently, at the age of 75, she’d been diagnosed with dementia. The geriatric neurologist had encouraged her to live life to the fullest now because soon she’d be incapacitated.
My mom loved Hawaii. In the mid-1950s, she’d been a nurse on the Big Island. She and my dad had taken several trips to the islands over the years, and she always returned tanned and blissed-out.
Carrying her cane and wearing tennis shoes, Mom did a great job walking around, given that she’d recently had several falls and was recovering from a broken arm and extreme bruising. We explored beaches, revelling in the green and blue of it all.
We inhaled the flower-scented air, ate papaya with lime, and enjoyed sublime sunsets.
One night at dinner, Mom was feeling good from several Lava Flows, blended drinks that went down like milkshakes. Because of the medications she was on, she wasn’t supposed to drink alcohol—but my sisters and I shared the belief that at this point, she should do whatever made her happy.
As she drank and loosened up, we talked about her life in Hawaii. I asked her why she’d decided to quit her island job after two years and return to California.
“Man complications,” she said, with a rare sideways grin that I knew to be self-deprecating.
Man complications? I’d never heard her say anything like that before.
“Really?” I said, smiling, leaning in toward her like a girlfriend eager for some good gossip.
Her words came in fits and starts, but eventually she admitted she’d been “dating,” as she put it, a married man, a doctor. I couldn’t figure out if she was saying she told his wife—or if his wife found out on her own—but apparently Mom and the wife met to talk about the situation.
I thought of all the years Mom had said derogatory things about people who had extramarital affairs or even flirted with people who weren’t their spouses. I thought about how she criticized me for being too taken with guys rather than focusing on my own life goals. Now she was telling me she had left her beloved Hawaii and given up her job because of a man. A married man.
“I wish I hadn’t been so boy crazy,” she said.
I laughed and reached over to give her a little hug.
“That’s okay, Mom,” I said. “Happens to the best of us.”
Author: Kate Evans
Editor: Renée Picard
Image: via the author