[Written at the Johannesburg airport, back-dated in Singapore]
7 years ago, on this very day, Velma was lost to us. Violently. In a way that ruined the face that she spent more than 6 decades maintaining and keeping young. The face that I loved. That I still love.
The face that looks exactly like the one in the mirror.
The same chinky eyes. The same forehead -- with barely noticeable widow's peaks and birth marks (though hers was a clover-shaped one and mine is a tiny bump on the left side). The same brow shape (though hers was slightly over-plucked). The same skin hue and tint. The same bored expressions when our faces are relaxed. And when I smile, my eyes disappear very much the same way hers used to do when she smiled. And yes, my frown is very much like hers, too (though hers was usually accompanied by scathing words, and mine generally come with sarcasm).
When I was young, Velma and I both rejected our resemblance. She didn't particularly think that I was pretty so for her it meant that there was no way that we looked alike. She (and the rest of my family) used to say that I looked like Charles Bronson -- which I thought was insulting because he had an overly-crinkled face and he had facial hair!
But then again, at that time, between looking like my mother and Charles Bronson, I preferred the latter.
She was, after all, some kind of socialite who needed (heck, demanded) people to take care of her. She always looked so glammed up and delicate. Which meant that for the longest time, the only way I could relate to her was from the standpoint of over-protectiveness. I took care of her. When the Manipulative Bastard betrayed her, I moved into her room because she was not used to sleeping alone and I worried that she would forego sleep for crying. Whenever I would see her face fall and remember just exactly what the Manipulative Bastard did to her, I would start a tickle war to literally snap her out of it. When she began to pick up the pieces of her life and went into grad school, I helped write her papers. I reacted violently to anyone who tried to hurt her.
No, I was nothing like my mother. And I was fine with that. I think that that allowed me to see and love her for what she really was. To relate to her as being more than my mother but as as woman who was spoiled but hilarious, cold but generous, beautiful but imperfect, naive but strong, vain but charming as hell. I think I was always aware of Velma's contradictions. For sure, I always loved them.
I knew her well. More than any daughter who only saw her mother. More than any child who only wanted a motherly-figure. She was Velma first and foremost. Everything else, including being a mother, was secondary. And I love her for that.
I'm in my 30's now. In the last few years, even before Velma died, my resemblance to my mother grew. My face has aged and sharpened, looking more like hers than Charles Bronson's. The bored expression that was constantly on her face is now more constant in mine.
But more importantly, I have realised that I inherited more than her face. I have her contradictions, too. I am beginning to accept that I have her flaws: vanity, insensitivity, self-involvement, perfectionism. But I know that I also have what was good about her: generousity, strength, sense of humour, charm.
But I am also well aware of where I differ from her. The parts of me that are all my own.
I wish that I could speak to Velma about this. For sure, had she been present, we would have had disagreements about our similarities and differences. I would have probably hurt her feelings (as I have in the past) with my assessment of her contradictions. She would have probably hurt mine, as well. But I know for sure that we would have ended that conversation as friends. The two of us always did manage to patch things up and never let hurt feelings fester.
In my head, there's a growing list of conversations I would like to have had with Velma. Conversations I know she would have enjoyed and loved.
This is one of them.