Nervously, I start scanning the restaurant. My texts have gone unheeded and now I frantically try to make sure she isn’t already sitting down waiting for me.
I only have a limited time with her, I need to make sure she isn’t here…
No sign of her.
I wait by the door in the lobby, as anxious as I feel, I sit in a chair and try to be still. The seconds go by but they feel like hours. As people walk in, they are acutely aware by the look on my face that they are not who I am waiting for. I start feeling out of place here in the restaurant.
Then she walks in.
She smiles; the talking starts even while the waitress is trying to sit us. The conversation flows smoothly, there is a ton of catching up to do. I don’t remember her, but she remembers me. I start feeling awkward because of this, but the feelings soon dissipate.
There is a lot for me to tell her, my military service, my father, my grandmother, the rest of the family. By the time lunch arrives I just want to finish in order to ask the question I’ve really wanted answers to. We finish our meals, all too slowly for my taste, and the waitress takes our plates. The mood grows more serious.
I look across the table to see what happens next. Then she reaches to her side and pulls out a large, black, square portfolio. My heart starts to race as she unzips it. Inside are hundreds of photos and I can’t help but start to cry a little upon seeing just the top photo, Mom.
‘Can I look through the photos?’ I ask politely as possible
‘Of course, you can take the ones you want.’ she tells me
Photo after photo of my Mother. I have to fight the urge to beg for the whole portfolio. Instead I carefully select the photos that catch my eye. The photos where she looks happy; where she looks like I remember her. The conversation stops as I fiddle through the photos. I am seeing a whole side to my Mom that I didn’t know about, the only sounds now are the tears I am choking back while I look.
Afterwards I hand the rest back and the bag containing the only things left of my Mom is zipped up and returned safely to her side.
‘She asked me to hold onto them until she came back, I still am’ she says with a smile
The next question I try to ask without thinking about it. Even before the words come to my mouth, the tears are running down my face.
‘Did she miss us?’ I ask the only question I really had
‘She thought about you all the time’ she starts
As her story continues I try not to cry. These would be the last known moments of my mother
‘She wanted to be with you, but she couldn’t take care of herself. Most of the time she would listen to her radio and just rock in the corner.’ She continues as the knot in my stomach continues to grow, suddenly lunch seemed like a bad choice.
‘She was convinced that you were kidnapped. She would say she needed to find her children. But one day, she left with a man, and never contacted us again.’ she finishes her story with a look on her face that is unmistakable, she knows it isn’t what I had hoped to hear after all these years.
Unfortunately that was the sad end to the story of my Mom, she just disappeared. Although I was reassured, that no matter how crazy she got, it wasn’t like her not to call. So something might have happened to her. I can’t help but wonder why I never heard any of this until now, however my immediate family likes to keep secrets so I am not too surprised.
With lunch over and nothing more to share, we both walk out the restaurant together, I thank her for her time, we hug, and I stop to watch her as she walks away.
When she is gone, I get into my car and greedily look at the photos again.
Then I just cry.