I didn’t know I was about to discover a shocking reality on that gloomy day as I assembled with other mourners for my mother’s funeral. During the course of the funeral rites, my mother had been a cult leader, leading her special synthesis of Judaism, Jesus, and self-proclaimed divinity without my knowledge.
She and her husband held their services on their property in a triple-wide mobile home. Her ardent supporters lovingly referred to her as “Momma.”. In her capacity as their spiritual advisor, she set the rules for who they should marry, the careers they should pursue, and even the names they should go by. Due to the extent of her impact, she was cast as Solomon in Drag for the South.
As I made my way inside the crowded triple-wide, I could feel the buzz of anticipation and skepticism. Being that I was thought to be my mother’s reincarnation and could take on her role at any time, I was the center of attention.
I boldly walked down the middle aisle, dodging the stares, and sat down in the front row of a squishy chair. My husband tightly held my hand, offering a steadying presence amidst the intense focus of her followers.
The dais was adorned with tallises and white fabric strips with blue Stars of David embroidered on them. There was a picture of Jesus among them, symbolizing the fusion of religions that made up my mother’s doctrine.
My mother’s husband presided over them from a magnificent, elaborately carved chair on the platform in the front, known to the true believers as “Daddy.”. He raised his voice, harmonizing the verses of my mother’s favorite hymn, a joyful homage to Jesus, and the congregation began to sing.
After the ceremony, the audience gathered around me as my spouse made his way to the coffee urn. My mother would have been pleased with my professional success, according to a kind middle-aged woman who was one of my mother’s supporters. Another person waited eagerly for their chance to speak with me.
She leaned in and grabbed my hands firmly, releasing a fragrant scent into the air from her hair.
My attempts to free myself were ignored as she grabbed my hands even tighter and said, “You’ve deeply hurt your mother.”. On Mother’s Day, she was going to visit her grave and tell her to damn you, she said, “I curse you.”. When our eyes met, he moved through the crowd to stand by my side as I looked around the room for my partner.
I begged her imploringly, “Please release my hands,” but she clung to them stubbornly, her voice venomous. “Be aware that everything bad that happens to you is caused by these curses. She went out the triple-wide door and walked out.
I remained frozen in place, in awe and shock. My husband led me outside and into our waiting car. A few weeks later, my brother got in touch with me regarding our mother’s will. I have two naturally born children; neither shall inherit from me, it said in the opening paragraph. My brother then received a few meaningless pennies from her.
My mother was a great model with lovely, slim legs before she became a cult leader. Her seductive smile and halo of white hair drew people to her, but she kept them at a distance by never disclosing her true intentions.
On the other hand, thanks to my overbite, I received prizes at scientific fairs, spelling bees, and even tallest student competitions. (I argued that I was taller than the girl in front of the line in third grade and took her seat. Nevertheless, whenever my mom looked in the mirror, she was always focused on herself.
But there was only one way to attract her disapproving gaze. It happened in the midst of a heated argument in the restroom when I was a teenager. She shouted, losing her cloying Southern accent, “You are a child of the devil!”. I swear you’ll never receive the same level of love as your brother.
She fell into the bathtub after I shoved her because I was upset, which caused her to lose her balance. Being so humiliated, we never brought the subject up again.
At the age of forty, I told my mother not to contact me and cut off all contact. I had not heard her voice until sixteen years later, when my brother finally made that call. Because of the severe toll her dementia had taken on her, she was on the verge of passing away. I wondered, not wanting to feel resentful, about the many incarnations of myself, whether I would ever get in touch with her again.
My brother greeted everyone with “hello.”.
Let me get your mom, please.”.
Her voice, which was still spidery but could be made out to be hers, came on when the phone changed hands. I could feel my throat tightening as I listened.
She was gasping on the other end, and I could hear her say, “Ma.”. “I want to say thank you for having me as your mother and wish you a safe journey wherever it takes you.”.
I held the sheet of paper containing my gratitude list in trembling hands. I wanted to make sure she understood everything I said. I expressed my gratitude to her for teaching me to read, a priceless gift that had frequently come to my rescue, as well as for the hand-drawn pictures she had put in my childhood lunchbox.
I also thanked her for her propensity to engage in conversation with individuals she came across while shopping at Piggly Wiggly. I finished, and there was a profound stillness between the two of us.
At last, I confessed my love to my mother.
It seemed as though my mother had just risen from the ocean’s depths when she first showed up.
The day after Mother’s Day, my mother passed away.
It served as a bridge between me and her until she passed away, at which point I severed ties. For some strange reason, when we spoke on the phone, I was taken back to the orange velour couch I had brought with me when I moved to the other coast after graduating. I remembered sitting on the couch as I entered adulthood.
During one of those calls, she exclaimed, “I’ve met the most amazing man. She spoke clearly and in a spiral motion that was simple to follow.
I didn’t know this before. Less than six months earlier, she and my father had broken up.
She spoke directly into my ear, and her honeyed accent made me wince. She had shed her Orthodox Jewish upbringing in New Jersey and was gradually transforming into a Southern belle when we moved to Georgia.
The first step was her choice to dye her hair a bombshell blonde as opposed to the typical Northeast black; the accent came next. She was especially skilled at taking on different personas when around guys.
Her voice engulfed me and took on a rich falsetto inflection as it did so, making my stomach turn. “Dear, he is so beautiful. She sighed, “He’s tall and has some impressive manual dexterity. She had no romantic feelings for me. She told me this for what reason?
I ended the call early out of concern for my husband’s arrival and how I would explain this perplexing conversation to him.
I asked, stroking the velvety surface of the orange velour sofa arm with my fingertips, “Mama, what in the world are you talking about?”.
She described the manner in which this figure entered her bedroom from the ceiling. He had long, wavy brown hair and was dressed in a white robe with a waist tie. He looked at her with an intensely loving gaze that moved her.
She said, “It was Jesus,” as if I already knew.
Waves of queries rolled in.
I didn’t press her any more about how a Jewish woman from New Jersey who was a Southern Belle found Jesus in her bedroom. However, I did wonder if someone like Hitler would enter heaven if he had died and gone to be with Jesus.
With a trembling voice, she replied, “Yes. My stomach grew tight.
I paced the kitchen, clutching the phone tightly for fear it might break, and wondering if a good rabbi who rejects Jesus will go to hell.
I was shocked by my mother’s positive response. I had no idea that she would eventually come across sincere Christians who would shower her with the praise she struggled to find in me but could easily find in her mirror.
Once again, Mother’s Day is quickly approaching. I envision her disciple, the one who cursed me, kneeling next to my mother’s grave with a dozen floral arrangements. Will I be able to hear their cries in my dreams?
I can’t help but feel heartbroken when I consider what my mother might have said about me to deserve such a curse.
In Judaism, it is customary to place a rock on top of the headstone when paying homage to the deceased as a symbol of eternal love that endures the test of time, as opposed to withering roses.
I’ve come to understand that, despite its flaws, my mother will always have a special place in my heart. Furthermore, because of that unwavering devotion, her follower doesn’t need to disparage me on Mother’s Day. The worst curse is that a ragged sliver of my mother’s love will always remain lodged inside of me, like a rock on a tombstone or a lingering ghost.