Mom. Photo by Callen Harty.
This Labor Day weekend when I walked into my mother’s bedroom she smiled as if she recognized me. Sometimes her memory is good and other times it is not, and I never know which it will be. I sat down to chat with her and she asked if I knew her kids, referring to the stuffed animals resting on her belly. I said yes as she has had them for quite a while and they keep her company nicely. She looked at one of the stuffed ducks and said to it, “Do you know who this is? This is my brother.”
My heart sunk a little. I knew she wasn’t going to be as good on this visit as she was the last time when she knew my name and my brother’s name, even though she had not seen either of us for a bit. A couple minutes later she let the ducks know that I was her nephew. This time I corrected her and said, “No, I’m your son.”
“You are?” she asked, then she looked at me deeply and said, “I guess you are.” She didn’t seem fully certain.
She went silent and just stared into space for a minute or two, then started looking deeply at her hands. Finally she said, “My hands look like an old lady’s.”
I said, “Well, you are an old lady and your hands are beautiful. You’ve earned them.”
She kept studying her hands and her arm. “There’s not much skin on my arm,” she said. I didn’t have a response to that, so I let it go.
Later as we were talking I mentioned that I live in a suburb of Madison. She asked how long I’ve been living there and I told her I moved to Madison thirty-three years ago. She seemed a little stunned and confused by that and asked, “How old are you?”
I told her I’m fifty-eight, that I have a forty year class reunion coming up this month and all she could say was, “What?” She seemed very confused by it.
“Why, how old did you think I was?”
“Well, you’ll always be a little child to me.”
Indeed I will, and despite the stoic man in me the little child in me is sad when my mother is like this, when I witness her disappear little by little. Despite that, though, I can see in her eyes that she is still there. I think that she also is a little child, and these days she is connected with the person she was when she was a little girl. Old lady or little girl she will always be my mother, and I will always love her, whether she knows me or not.
About Callen Harty
Originally from Shullsburg, Wisconsin Callen Harty is the author of four books and numerous published essays, poems, and articles. His most recent book is The Stronger Pull, a memoir about coming out in a small town in Wisconsin. His first book was My Queer Life, a compilation of over 30 years worth of writing on living life as a queer man. It includes essays, poems, speeches, monologues, and more. Empty Playground: A Survivor's Story, is a memoir about surviving childhood sex abuse. His play, Invisible Boy, is a narrative with poetic elements and is also an autobiographical look as surviving child sex abuse. All are available on Amazon.com (and three of them on Kindle) or can be ordered through local bookstores,
He has written almost two dozen plays and 50 monologues that have been produced. Most of them have been produced at Broom Street Theater in Madison, Wisconsin where he started as an actor, writer, and director in 1983. He served as the Artistic Director of the theater from 2005-2010. Monologues he wrote for the Wisconsin Veterans’ Museum won him awards from the Wisconsin Historical Society and the American Association of State and Local History.
He has also had essays, poems, and articles published in newspapers and magazines around the country and has taken the top prize in several photo contests. His writing has appeared in Out!, James White Review, Scott Stamp Monthly, Wisconsin State Journal, and elsewhere. He has had several essays published online for Forward Seeking, Life After Hate, and The Progressive.
Callen has also been a community activist for many years. He was the co-founder of Young People Caring, UW-Madison’s 10% Society, and Proud Theater. He served as the first President of Young People Caring and as the Artistic Director for Proud Theater for its first five years. He is still an adult mentor for the group. In 2003 he won OutReach’s Man of the Year award for his queer community activism. OutReach is Madison, Wisconsin’s lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender community center. He also won a Community Shares of Wisconsin Backyard Hero award for his sex abuse survivor activism work. He has been invited to speak before many community groups, at a roundtable on queer community theater in New York City, and has emceed several events. In 2016, Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault named him their annual Courage Award winner for his activism, writing, and speaking on sexual assault.