Melanie S. Wolfe
Four siblings, wearing all black, stood in the very kitchen they grew up in and stared at all the food dishes wrapped in plastic. The last guest had left, and it was the first time they were alone together since the dreaded call. Jennifer, the oldest, took a sip out of her wine glass and then said it, “I should have called her more. It’s been six months. Can you believe that?”
Her taller but younger brother, Mike, stared out the 1880’s breakfast room window at an old friend’s house in the village of Bar Harbor, and said, “Come on, Jen. Don’t beat yourself up. You own a business, you have kids, life’s busy.” He took a gulp of his wine feeling every bit of the bitterness as it went down his throat and leaked into his heart. The thought of how he used to complain about his mother’s neediness and how he ignored her last call lingered at the back of his mind. He went on, “Mom knew that,” making himself feel better.
Jennifer nodded and buried her face into Reed’s chest. “Hey, she’s better off,” Reed, Jennifer’s younger brother comforted her. “She’s with dad now—she’s happy. No more lonely nights. You know how much she missed him.”
Clover sat in one of the chairs at the island and fiddled with a fork. “No more mid-night calls just to talk about nothing,” she mumbled and then found her adult voice, “Yes, they’re back together—that’s all that matters. The greatest love story of all time. She never let us forget.”
“Yet,” Reed huffed, “It took me a year of therapy to figure out all my female problems were due to her enabling. The irony here, she can find love but because of her I go from one relationship to another.”
Jen’s voice depended, “Victim much? Don’t blame her for your commitment issues.”
Luke, Clover’s twin, walked in their mom’s nautical themed kitchen as the screen door slammed shut behind him, his cheeks red and rubbed raw. “Guys, you need to see this.” He held up his phone and pushed the TikTok app icon.
Maxine Lawrence’s worn but sweet face was crystal clear on the screen. “Mom,” Jennifer whispered as she put her hand over her mouth.
Reed said, “No way. She could barely check her email. How’d she—”
“She had a TikTok account?” Clover interrupted.
“Oh, just wait, you guys.” Luke tapped the screen.
“Is this recording?” their mother said to someone next to her and a young male voice whispered, “Yes, see the red dot turned to a square? When it’s a square, you’re recording and that blue bar at the top, it shows you how much time you have.”
Luke swiped to the next video and Maxine proceeded, “Hello TikTack,” she yelled.
“No, TikTok,” the masculine voice said. “And you don’t have to talk so loud. They can hear you.”
“Oh, oh, sorry,” She giggled and smiled at the screen. “TikTok. Um, hello, I am Maxine Lawrence, and I am making this video for my children: Jennifer, Mike, Reed, Clover and Luke. I hope you find this video because I can’t get a hold of any of you, and I have some things to say.” She paused and spoke like it was the last time she would talk to her children. “I didn’t tell you about the cancer because I didn’t want to worry you. I thought I could beat it. But now,” she took off a beautiful wig, displaying her bald, vulnerable head. “I have been given a year or less, and I just don’t think you need to know right now…for many reasons, really. Maybe you see that as selfish, but I see it as I’m protecting you. Telling you here and now seems the best for me. This way I am not disrupting anyone’s lives. Taylor, my neighbor’s son, told me about this TikTack thing, and I thought it would be the perfect place for you to find me. You know how you guys are so active on this social media stuff.”
Jennifer ran out of the room and came back in with her laptop. She sat it on the island and typed the TikTok address in and clicked on the next video. Maxine proceeded, “Parenting is a beautiful symbiotic relationship of give and take–but in our case, mother gives a little too much and the children take a little too much, and for some reason that doesn’t bother me. I am fully aware of my blind spots. You know if anyone else treated me like you do I wouldn’t tolerate it.” She laughed. “But for some reason, I guess because I love you to the core of my being, I’ve allowed you to take more than you give.” She paused and with a big smile said, “I’m like your very own Dobby, I’m your house-elf. Luke will get that.”
Another video began and Maxine spoke into the camera from her sunroom this time. “You did give me some good lessons though. I taught you the basics of being human and in return you challenged me to become a better person. All five of you came into my life and turned it upside down. You taught me how to love unconditionally, and how to be patient. You challenged me with worthy debates on genders and cultural traditions and most of all you taught me not to take life so seriously, and for that, I thank you. I am so proud of the people you have become and are becoming. And I say this with all sincerity…” Her eyes filled and became glassy. “It was my greatest honor to be your mother in this life.”
The video ended and all five adults stood silently and stared at her face on the screen. Tears streamed and heaviness filled their hearts as they realized what they had just lost.
“Go to the next one,” Clover urged and Mike clicked the video.
“Now that I know how to make these videos,” Maxine said into the phone propped up on the bright window sill, as she washed a dish and became more comfortable with the technology. “I’m going to record a video every day just for you. When you lose your way, and I am no longer here for you to run home to, come here to this channel. I am making this not only as a memorial for you to visit because I can’t stand the thought of you needing me and me not being here, but I want this channel to be a place for you to find your way home in case you get lost. I also want you to get to know me outside of the role of mom. There’s so much more to me that you don’t know. So this is my parting gift to you. I will always be here as long as TikTack is here.”
When the video ended, the five siblings took the laptop, a bottle of their mother’s favorite local Maine wine, the tissues, plates, forks and a pie and sat together in the living room to watch every single video, all 315 days’ worth, together.
After the last video, Clover cleared her throat. “She was always calling, always ‘checking in’…I’m thirty years old!” She shook her head. “She was so needy and sometimes desperate for attention. But then,” Clover sat her plate down on the coffee table, “when I think about it, can I blame her? No, not really. We all left for college and went our separate ways. Then dad died shortly after. That must have been hard on her. She lost everyone in such a short time. And I was completely oblivious to what she was going through.”
“Me too,” Jennifer said. “I was focused on starting my own family.”
Mike nodded. “Yeah, she had to have been lonely but if I’m being honest, it was so hard to come back with dad gone. I just felt this hole with each visit, that’s why I stopped. It was too sad.”
“Same here.” Reed patted Mike on the shoulder.
Luke stared into his wine glass. “She gave and gave and never expected anything back. She was always there for us.” He chuckled, swirling the wine around the bottom of the glass. “She really was a house-elf.” He stopped, it was difficult to go on and wiped his cheek. “We didn’t deserve her, guys.”
Reed, humbled and wiped out, put his wine glass up in the air and said, “To Mom, the best friend, and guardian angel we never knew we had.”
With the others, Jennifer put her glass up in the air, “To our TikTok angel.”