In a Madrid hotel room in 2005 my mother, through the bathroom door, offered directions as to how to operate the shower. In response, I snarled: "Fuck off." She burst into full, aching tears and retreated to her bed. I left the bathroom and stood tensely in the middle of the room and stiffly apologised, listening to her sob in the dark. She immediately, without hesitation, forgave me, as it was in her nature to do. She bore no anger, no grudge, no defense, no retort. As I stood there awkwardly, she bemoaned the behaviour of my father since we had arrived in the city a day or so before. He rejected her company, her presence agitated him. He preferred to sit in the piazza drinking beer: "We are in the centre of civilization," he would gush, his legs crossed, squinting in the sunshine, "Europe is at a wonderful point in its history." I wandered alone, often ending up in internet gaming cafes where I liberated Saigon or murdered Gulf War belligerents. My mother saw the city by herself, following guides into the houses of long dead Moorish warriors and idly running her hand through the water of elaborate fountains. We met as a family in the evenings to eat, my father celebrating the amiability and openness of contemporary Europe, my mother wounded, but without anger, only bewilderment, as she realised her rejection. On arrival in Madrid, we ascended an escalator with our luggage. A busker belting out a snappy Latin rhythm made my mother bounce as she stood, she turned to me with open faced delight and laughed: "We're definitely in Madrid now!" I responded with a milk curdling scowl. Her face fell and she became quiet. My judgment of her raged in my chest.
My animal flash of petulance in the hotel room was the final indignity of a long day. The holiday was the final exercise of a long relationship. My parents separated soon after we returned to Dublin, nearly thirty years after bumping into each other on the streets of London, and around fifty since they met as children in a tiny rural town on the west coast of Ireland. It is startling to realise your mother is a young girl, that adulthood does not grant people immunity from the ungovernable emotional storms of gain and loss. She danced and laughed on the escalator that day like a young girl, and she still wishes, her heart fragile in her chest, that her boyfriend will come back to her. True regret is unremitting, incurable. For my mother to forgive me would first require her to bear ill will towards me, which she seems incapable of doing, despite my best efforts over years of incorrigible adolescence. It is my own forgiveness that I'm missing. And I know how to achieve it. It's simple. I stand below my mother on the escalator seven years ago, she turns to me with excitement when she hears the music, and I smile back at her. I stand inside the bathroom and say "It's ok mom, goodnight, I'm fine." I walk beside her as we enter the courtyard of the Royal Palace, and we both raise our heads, together, to look at the statues that ring the parapet, shielding our eyes from the midday sun.