I'm not even sure my mama knew what a super hero was, and now she is one. She was born at home in Santiago, Chile the youngest of 9 that her dad fathered with two different wives... at the same time. Her mama dropped dead right in front of her when she was only 6 years old. As the youngest and the only girl, she was sent away to boarding school, and the only parental relationship she formed as a little one was with the family maid.
Then she escaped the turmoil of Chile and came to the United States where she met and married my dad, had my brother, got separated, had me, got divorced while I was in the tummy, and started over with a new husband all before she was 30.
She was the defender of lost causes, the protector of all children, the fighter for rightness and truth, the advocate for disenfranchised people of all stripes, maker of killer lasagna, lemon chicken, and chocolate chip cookies, shoulder for tears, giver of hugs, sneaker inner to her kids beds at night for a cuddle, consummate worrier, snort laugher, and fiercely loyal and crazy fun mama. And she was dead long before Zach was even a glimmer in my eye.
So as he grew, the questions arose. "Why don't you have a mama?" "What happened to your mama?" "Why did she die before she met me?"
So I did what I know how to do best. I told a story. Lots of stories. It started with one or two, but he was HOOKED. "Tell me a Martha story", is THE most common request I get from this boy after, "Can we make popcorn?" Sitting in traffic, over lunch, out kayaking, laying in bed in the morning, in line at the post office - always another Martha story. "Martha stories fill my body up with kisses," he told me once.
She's become a character. And my childhood memories are now myths of sorts. All grossly exaggerated stereotypes of the truth. Tio (my big brother) is the scaredy-cat who always gets in trouble (funny to Z since Tio is a 6'5' Ironman triathlete with looks like Tom Cruise and has the confidence to match). I am the calm, cool little sister who always uses her smarts to get out of trouble (hey it's my story, I can play the cool kid). And Mama Martha is the one who saves the day. She has a left hand with super human strength (she was forced to be ambidexterous by superstitious nuns at boarding school and her left hand was weak in the writing department but strong enough to crack a butcher block table when cutting bread.) Her magical chocolate chip cookies can charm the meanest monsters lurking in the basement. And her snorting laugh sends bad guys running for cover.
The requests for the stories are not easy. Not only do they stretch my imagination, they tie my heart in knots. Sometimes I choke back the tears as I tell them, even though most are silly. But nothing prepared me for the day Z started crying in his pancake breakfast out of the clear blue. "Why did she have to die?" I gulped hard. He went on and on. "Why didn't she wait for me? I want to go on an adventure with her. I want to eat her magic cookies. Why can't she come back mama? Can we get a really big helicopter and bring her back?"
How do I talk story out of this line of questioning? How do I say she had a terrible disease that sucked the very life out of her in a matter of 12 months and she's never coming back? How do I tell him that it took me years to be able to remember what she was like healthy because the images of her dissolving body scarred my memory so badly? How do I tell him that when he asks these questions I feel like the wind is knocked out of me?
I don't, of course.
I hand him the paper. And I hand him the colored pencils.
And I tell him that she IS here. She's here when we talk about her and she's here when we look at her photographs and she's here when I make lemon chicken and she's here when we tell the Martha Stories and she's here when you think about her in your heart.
"Draw a picture for her," I say. "Just as if you could hand it to her. She would LOVE one of your drawings."
And so he does. And I take a deep breath. And I make up another story from the picture. And he giggles with his deep dimples and sassy eyes. And she's here.
And that's what gets me through this day, the day I lost her, and every other day.