Over Breakfast, My Mother Comes Out to Me As a Shapeshifter
It is my first week home from college and my mother has taken me out to our favorite breakfast place. Over waffles, eggs, and bacon she tells me that if she and I are going to have a relationship as adults there is something very important I need to know.
She starts with the story I have already heard, how her father had no pressure gauge so that was impossible to know when he needed to let off steam and it fell her to anticipate when he was about to explode. She tells me how when she was 15 she prayed for an escape from her time bomb of a family and God granted her the wings of the Canada goose it takes me a while to realize she’s not speaking in metaphor. When my mother dropped out of high school she joined the migratory birds on their flight north, she had no magnetic compass so she followed the crowd all the way back up to Ottawa and she thought maybe she was far enough away to try out being human again, but the government refused her immigration status so she joined a herd of moose on their way to Vancouver.
My mother stops, takes a sip of her coffee. Asks me if I have any questions. I ask where the part with the protests comes in, she says that part comes later, that she wasn’t angry enough about what was going on in Vietnam until she watched the two bull moose lock antlers over her affection, and rather than become a spoil of war my mother became an otter, floated down the Columbia River and at sea she became a humpback whale. She stops her story again, takes a few bites of her waffles, tells me that’s where she learned how to sing.
Flashback two days to when I told her I had withdrawn all my grad school applications because I knew this wasn’t what I wanted to do. Flashback two years and she’s trying to tell me not to change majors because it won’t affect what I end up doing anyways. Flashback 22 years and she is a pigeon in Central Park, and my father is under an oak tree studying Dietrich Bonhoeffer, you can read his life like a textbook, like 32 evenly spaced rings in a slice of California redwood, and my mother realizes she has never tried to be anything grounded, in that moment she decides to put down roots.
Flash forward 22 years and I have begun to sprout feathers, my mother tells me she always knew it would be me. Your father was scared when you didn’t have a magnetic compass she says but when the winter comes you can fly whichever way you like, don’t be jealous when your brothers have trajectories because we have horizons she downs the rest of her coffee, spreads her wings, and under them I can see every life she has ever worn and I wonder how I ever could have been happy with just one.
Nathan Comstock is a spoken-word and fiction writer currently residing in Boston, MA. His work has been featured in such journals as Amethyst Arsenic and The Rat’s Ass Review. In 2013, he represented Lowell, MA at the National Poetry Slam.