I started calling my step-mother, Mary, St. Mary around the time my dad was diagnosed with Lewy Body Dementia with Parkinson's disease. She had the unflappable tenacity to get him a proper diagnosis at Johns Hopkins when the neurologists in Richmond’s medical community were able to come up with nothing better than temporary psychosis. Plus, she worked at St. Mary’s in HR. She never loses her temper, her patience never waivers. Saint Mary.
This week, as I was writing about Mary, I realized the most remarkable thing. She met and married my father when I was 12. She saw me through my awkward years, my drunken years, my drug years, my sleeping around years, my bad fashion and poorly applied make-up years and she never once – not once – criticized me. For anything. I cannot remember an unkind word, judgment, unsolicited advice or raised voice the entire time I've known her. She didn't ask me to call her mom like my first stepmother did. She never tried to run interference in my relationship with my dad or step in the shoes of my mother. She always let me be exactly who I was.
Mary and my dad have always been crazy about each other. Sometimes they bat their eyelids at each other like they are the only people in the room. Yesterday I sat for a few minutes on the side of her bed. I shared my astonishing revelation with her and breathing in as much air as she could, she whispered, nothing to criticize.
My eyes filled with tears. Can you imagine a bigger gift than that?
She's only criticized me 30 or 40 times, my dad said and we laughed. Everyone knows Mary likes to dress him, that his t-shirt and shorts wardrobe is not actually suitable for every occasion. Mary, I think you're paving the way to heaven for the rest of us, I said. You're going first to make sure all the paperwork gets done. We laughed again. Mary's been in human resources for over 35 years and, unlike the rest of us, she knows how to get shit done. I’ll do you right, she said and we knew that to be true. She'll do us right.
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