When I was a young girl – and when I was a teenager – every winter my mother would put on her big golden coat before heading out the door to work. It was a glorious coat, in a rich colour that evoked the summer sun. Woolen on the outside, satin-lined on the inside, double-breasted and with pockets big enough for gloves, it had a collar you could put up to keep your neck warm, and a belt for extra tightness. It didn’t skimp on length, either – on my mother, who was just five foot five, it reached nearly to her ankles.
I coveted that coat. I told her I expected to have it when she died, thank you very much. I laughed as I said it. She said I’d have to pry it from her cold dead hands – and laughed as she said it. We both had that sort of humour.
I got that coat a good few decades sooner than I expected to. Because my mum killed herself thirteen years ago today.
So yes. The last thirteen years have had their challenges. A lot of soul-searching. A lot of questioning – it was about the most unexpected thing ever, and it was devastating to all of us in different ways.
She left me all her clothes and jewellery, all her books. Her coat I don’t wear often any more – I’m not as slim as my mother was – but I woke up this morning with a desire to put it on, and make something positive for myself out of a day that leaves me so damned sad, every year.
I always believed my mother was beautiful. I share her curly pubic hair, her double back rolls, her droopy breasts (but not her aureole), her bottom. I have her shoulders, her large upper arms and her thighs (but not her knees). I have her chin and her crows feet and her red cheeks. I smile much more easily than she ever did, though.
She was beautiful, but she didn’t love herself.
She was beautiful, but she wasn’t strong.
Because she is gone, I have learned to be beautiful, strong, and to love who I am.
It’s a hard lesson, but there you go.
And because I wasn’t smiling much today – this was me wearing her coat the night of the day I graduated, when I was twenty-two years old. Less than one year after she was gone. My brother took this photograph.
Click-throughs on the main two pics.