As cliché as it sounds, I remember the first meeting like it was yesterday.
The Doc and I were doing that sad thing that newly-formed Sri Lankan couples do... holding hands and loitering around a shopping mall like lovesick puppies. The height of cheesy.
Suddenly he turned to me and dropped the bomb.
"My mum might come here now with my sister-in-law. You wanna meet her?"
WTF? We'd been dating for, what, a few weeks? Where did the 'meet-my-mum' come from? Why was she coming to THIS mall? Was she stalking us? As far as I was concerned, I didn't DO socializing with parents. But how to tell our man that? He'd leave me and all. From my previous fling with a typical momma's boy, I knew enough to realize that good stead with mothers meant good stead with their sons. So I'd have to bite the bullet and meet this one if I wanted the relationship to last a while more.
I wasn't even dressed for the occasion. I hadn't rehearsed any 'hello aunty, I'm the best thing that's happened to your son' speech. My hair was a mess. My shoes were not classy enough.I had holes in my undies. I knew nothing of her. What did she know about me?
This wasn't happening. No. Really. I wasn't going to let this happen. He'd pulled a fast one on me. It wasn't fair. I was not prepared to meet his mother. There was no way in hell I was going to stand around and let him do that to me. With as much affronted dignity as possibly, I responded to his insensitivity with fire.
"Yeah I'd love to meet her! Wow, I can't wait!"
After that, I kept shooting dirty looks at his back when he wasn't looking.
I can't remember what happened after that, except that my ticky-ticker kept palpitating every time he looked like he recognized someone in the mall crowd. Suddenly he got a call.
"They're here." He said, eyes shining with joy (at least I think it was joy) at the prospect of my inevitable demise.
I closed my eyes and took a deep breath, opening them to see him go up to two women across the lobby and greet them. One was a tall, bouncy, bubbly hug-lover with a mass of dark curls framing her cheerful face. The other one was his mother.
Oh. My. Lord. She was stunning. NOT what I expected a boyfriend's mother to look like. I had set myself up to face a stern, sari clad elderly female glaring at me through rimmed spectacles. You'd expect that from boyfriend's mums. They're scary as hell to look it. It's, like, the LAW. This one, however, was anything but.
Dressed in a pair of blue denims and a chic blouse, fair, slim and elegant with a cloud of thick, glossy, red-bronze hair and a face that should have ideally been on the cover of some society magazine, she had an air about her that was almost ethereal.
Great. Made me feel that much more of an unkempt slob. If this female representation was what the Doc had grown up with, I was as good as a cooked goose. And at that particular juncture, I looked like one too, nervous sweat glands working overtime and all.
"Mama, meet DQ", introduced the traitor to girlfriends. If I was Mahinda, I'd have had him taken away in a white van for that one.
"Hello" was her reply, with an obligatory kiss on the two cheeks, true Sri Lankan style. A voice as sweet, silvery and tiny as she looked. Barely a whisper. An evil whisper, perhaps?
In between my stammered greeting, I noticed that she didn't look at me much. Could it be? Was she actually SHY? SERIOUSLY?? Or was she a total snob? She was good looking enough to be one.
No way. I was convinced that this was her composed way of rejecting her son's choice at first glance. I knew it. She'd figured me out in a millisecond like all mothers do, and that was it.... she wasn't approving. It was quite obvious from the way she looked everywhere else except at me.
The sister-in-law on the other hand, was the complete opposite, and I got enough of a hug to keep me warm for the rest of the year, accompanied by giggles and compliments galore. Through it all, 'Aunty' never said a word. Not a single word. How dare she not say words to me.
Of course, the day I'd introduced doc to MY family, my dad didn't say a word either. He didn't even come downstairs. Stayed up the whole time and pretended to be a blind, deaf paraplegic. He's still up there, 5 years later.
But that's doc. Boys are meant to be given a hard time. How could a mother not love ME? (very easily, my mother might interject. It's a good thing she doesn't read this.) I was dumbstruck.
In between the bouts of mental claustrophobia and humiliation I was now entertaining, I heard someone mention lunch. No, no, no, no. I'd barely gotten through the first introduction. I had to EAT with them now? Or was I the one to be eaten? Yes, that was it. They were going to take me to their high-class cavern and rip me into shreds. Aunty, in particular, was going to savour the strips she'd cut out of me with some marvelous sauce that would make me slightly more delectable to her refined palate.
Silently I followed, my head low enough to trick her into assuming I was being girlish and submissive, but all the while plotting attempts to make mad dashes for the exit.
At lunch, I met Doc's dad and his brother. Both affable chaps who could be easily mistaken for being German- bald, white and cheerful. Around the lunch table everyone make noise, discussing the day and cracking loud jokes with each other. But every time I opened my mouth to join in the fray, I could feel HER eyes bore into my soul. She sat opposite my seat and ate neatly, without so much as a tweet, offering polite, one-worded answers to her husband's and sons' questions.
Boy. This lady REALLY hated me, hot as she was. I was sure of it.
Of course, this upset my system quite a bit. I could not have the mother of my boyfriend not liking me, now could I? For many days following that ill-fated lunch, I harassed the poor guy to tell me what she'd said about me. Spill, I would order. I wanted to know everything. Every dirty word she'd used to describe me.
"She didn't say anything."
What? Nothing? After all that staring and internalizing, she hadn't said ANYTHING?
"Nothing. She thinks you look sweet."
This woman was becoming less of a nightmare and more of a mystery. So... that WASN'T exploding rage that caused her to stay silent, then?
"That's the way she is. She's quiet."
A woman? A mother? Quiet? This was too much. I had to laugh cynically. No, I was sure. She hated me.
A few more months into the relationship (yes, it did last beyond that day, whoopeedoo), I discovered that she WAS, actually, quite gobsmackingly, the silent type. Unbelievable. This was a first for me. I am not used to reserved, conservative people, having been brought up all my life in an environment akin to the San Diego Zoo. She turned out to be everything I was not- sweet, well mannered, soft spoken. Not only was she quiet and shy, but she was also quite surprising. She started buying me gifts from her travels abroad, and speaking more than a few mandatory words whenever we met. I still had no idea if she actually LIKED me or not, but she was tolerating me in the nicest way.
What's even more shocking that I had started to like HER. Not in that way, you perverse imbecile. I mean, actually find her a treat for a boyfriend's mum. A mysterious one, at that. I'm sure she had her reservations about me. Let's face it, any mother of a darling boy like him would. But she never uttered a word. Every time we met she was the model of hospitality and charm.
Through the next four years of meeting her at family gatherings, my perception pf her transformed from that of a seething monster to an incredibly lovely lady. Watching her relationship with her youngest son, my victim, opened my eyes to the fact that some mums can actually be cool without being fictitious characters in Hallmark movies.
I recall one particular incident of seeing an sms she'd sent Doc, implying that he'd soon settle down. I also recall having a hissyfit and wanting to jump out of the balcony, because as her luck would have it, I was not the marrying type. For weeks after that I nibbled at fingernails waiting to hear an 'off with her head' when Doc told her I wasn't interested. Not a peep, men. I don't know what he'd told her or how he'd told her, but she'd not gone into raging bull mode. She'd actually ACCEPTED it. Even when he announced that he was moving out to a place of his own- a tragedy that most local mothers would commit suicide over after committing sonnycide- she consented with only a little disapproval and incredible amounts of support. It was a revelation to behold.
It wasn't just her personality either. The good woman turned out to be bloody talented, to the point of my inner green monster coming out to 'shaaah' every time I met her. She'd sew and cook like Martha Stewart never could and I could only drool with insane jealousy. Creative crafts were her specialty, and family lunches and special occasions would be decorated to the hilt with themes and dazzling pieces of art. Watching her deal with her husband, I picked up a thing or two on being a loving and supportive partner. Then I threw them away, but they were nice lessons to have picked up in the first place.
I discovered over the years that I'd struck it rich when it came to picking mothers-of-boyfriends. Smoking hot, dutiful wife, supportive mum and the sweetest personality. Mum-of-doc had become my version of superwoman. A superwoman who still made me wonder about her opinion of me with all those silent moments and nonchalant attitude, but a superwoman nevertheless.
But, as all things go, good things rarely last too long. As cruel fate would have it, she became ill. Fatally ill, with a cancer that grew with such speed in such a short time that the family barely had time to breathe in the news. A news that shattered me more than I expected it to. I began visiting her regularly with the Doc, because as worried and frightened as he was for her, I was terrified. Without us ever having shared a single bonding moment together, she was suddenly too precious to me to lose. For months, I stood by doc's side and watched her bear the physical pain of the disease with as much dignity as she had approached anything else. As I watched her struggle, I began looking back on how my opinion of her had changed so dramatically over five years since that first meeting at a mall from sheer fright to sheer admiration. I had started out by wondering if she hated my guts and moved on to absorbing her goodness like a sponge. Now here I was, holding her hand, praying my heart out and trying to offer her my strength. This woman whom I'd not even wanted to meet that first day, so many years ago. And through all these years, I still didn't know if she liked me or not.
One day, when she was feeling her lowest, she called on her family to say her goodbyes. Doc took me along for the ride, though I was a nervous wreck. I wasn't family. I had not once given her an indication that I was even willing to BE family anytime in the future. Would she really want me there? Was this appropriate of me? I entered the house with every ounce of reverence I could muster. The lady was sick and I didn't need to piss her off by being an unwelcome presence. And, in her state of mind, what if she told me exactly what she thought of me? Sticky situ.
I went up to her and gave her an obligatory and nervous kiss. I was sad for her, and sad for me... I'd never made the attempt to know her well enough to have the kind of heart-to-heart that I knew we should have had by now. If she wasn't at peace, then I was sure to be one of the causes. She looked at me with those searching eyes and held my hand- for the first time without my initiating the move. And then, in a soft voice, still as sweet through all that pain, whispered to me, "You'll take good care of him, won't you?"
That was it. No other promises. No questions of marriage or obligations of any other commitment beyond looking out for the man she knew I loved. Even at this point, she was respecting me! It was the easiest 'yes of course' I have ever uttered, without the slightest doubt or a single crossed finger. At that very moment, I vowed I'd not let him rest for a second without checking up on him for the rest of his life, the poor sod.
Then she indicated to something in her lap. It was a shiny glass bead rosary - one I'd bought for her while on a trip to Belgium. At the time, it was bought with the intention of it being an appropriate and sensitive gift for sucking up to boyfriends' mums. I needed to impress her into thinking of me as spiritual and pure, despite all logic and facts demonstrating otherwise.
"I want to be buried with it. That's all I'm going to take with me when I go" she whispered.
If there's anything that can bring the walls of Jericho in your heart down, it's a statement as simple as that. I was floored. For five years I'd been convinced she'd put me last in her importance list, right next to 'cockroach'. How wrong I'd been.
I began to cry. So did she. And that was it...the moment I'd been waiting to enjoy with her all those years, of that one, intimate exchange that would bond us. It lasted only a second, but it was enough. Quickly regaining my composure, I wiped away her tears and jovially chided her for making me cry. Then I kissed once more and took my leave in a no-nonsense fashion. I cried all the way home. In all of two seconds, she had become my family and I a part of hers.
A week later she succumbed to her illness and moved on to her new state of being. No doubt to take her place as one of the hottest angels in heaven. I was there when it happened, though I felt I didn't deserve to be. Amongst all the tears flowing at that hospital, I wept none. She had made peace with the inevitability of her death, and so had I. We'd become friends, finally. She was ok with me and I with her and I know that will carry us both through this never ending universal cycle we travel in. I am still convinced she's somewhere around, contemplating me with the same silence that she had when she was in her human form. Next time we meet, I wont be nervous at all.
Happy birthday for the 6th of March, Aunty S.