TL,DR: It sucks.
Last year, we weren’t speaking for a time, during which Mother’s Day came and went. I mailed her a pair of earrings I bought before our falling out, with a card expressing nothing more than “Happy Mothers Day,” signed Amelia. She mailed a thank you card back. We live less than 10 miles from one another.
The longest we’ve gone without speaking was nearly a year, during which my ex and I began divorce proceedings she knew nothing about. Not until a mutual contact ran into her and brought it up.
I suppose they did nothing wrong. Whose mother wouldn’t already know?
Mine, I guess.
My ex had the decency to tell me she reached out. That’s how I found out she knew. He received a text from her, saying he’d always be family and she was there if he needed anything. I checked my phone, maybe there was a message from her I’d overlooked. There wasn’t.
It hurt, but the wound was shallow. Her decisions were predictable at this point, I expected nothing less. Twenty years of bullshit like that and more than anything, you become annoyed. The hits keep coming and you keep asking yourself, what in the actual fuck? How does someone operate like this? With a friend, a cousin, a sister, it’s one thing. But your children?
I remember putting myself in her shoes at the time. Her facial expression, whether or not she stuttered in response. How many exchanges there were before she put two and two together. If the bearer of juicy gossip (in other words, the intimate details of my life) could tell she didn’t know. My heart breaks imagining they could. It still does to this day.
It’s not uncommon, these dry spells of contact between her and I. But I have yet to get used to it. I cannot imagine it will ever feel okay.
My dad doesn’t really know when she became an alcoholic. My mother had many secrets. He recalls when she left, she carried armloads of bottles he knew nothing about, packed them into her Isuzu Trooper and went God knows where. I was a couple weeks into my freshman year of high-school.
For the record, my dad maintains she wasn’t kicked out. He says she moved out on her own. I say he left her no choice. There was no right call to make at the time, no easy or clear decision. They had a mountain of problems, some rooting back to their early days. It wasn’t all bad, for the most part my childhood was happy and we spent a lot of time together as a family. We had money but we weren’t spoiled. We camped a lot and were held to high standards.
My mother’s infidelity was the final straw. She had a longstanding affair with my best friend’s dad, they’re still together to this day. It was not her first step outside what was supposed to be my parents monogamous marriage. My dad decided, though, it would be her last. I’m glad he did.
One of my most painful memories is the sight of her car as she pulled up to my school. It was maybe a week after she’d gone. I’d been angry with her, of course, but agreed to meet during lunch.
She drove through the bus loop as I waited on the curb. I stood up to greet her and saw clothes hanging in the windows. Food wrappers in the back seat. Luggage. I had no idea where she’d landed, but I assumed she was staying with friends. It looked more like she was living out of her car. Tears streamed down her face as I opened the door. She grabbed hold of me immediately and wouldn’t let go, sobbing. Over and over she told me how much she loved me, in-between gasps for air. I cried tears of anger and sadness.
We stayed like that for a while. I can’t remember the rest.
I will never stop wishing my mother felt no pain. Even if she’s the only one who can will it away.
A friend of mine once told me alcoholism in itself is not a problem, it is first a symptom of a problem. She’s a drug and alcohol counselor, and a recovered addict herself. Quitting the juice is one step towards the summit of wholeness. A healthy, sustainable relationship with my mother would not be possible through sobriety alone. That is a door with many locks, the keys buried away, some long forgotten.
My mom wasn’t dealt the best hand as a child. It’s a weight she carried with her through adolescence, onto adulthood. Once a victim to unfortunate circumstance, she turned into a villain somewhere along the way. Negativity was no longer what the world dumped on her, is was her preferred dish of choice. Denial, blame and vices became part of who she was. Nothing was ever her fault. People were always against her. No one over treated her the way she deserved.
Her manipulation became transparent and childish. Her personality traits grew into my triggers, which poisoned otherwise healthy relationships with friends, co-workers and partners. The times she treated me the best, I now know, were when love for me could send a nasty message to another. The first time I fell for it, it cost me a year of being in my brother’s life.
Despite her wickedness, despite the pain she clings to like a sinking ship, I love her so very deeply. She can be the kindest, most attentive soul, her presence intoxicating in the right light. There are many parts of her I admire, passions we share, and wisdom I’ve gained, credited to her teachings.
Sometimes I wonder if her heart is too big. Maybe she opened it up in excess and is weakened from disappointment. She loves her kids too much, that’s for damn sure. Perhaps, though, just not in the right way. Ultimately, she thought we would save her. Save her from the cruelties she learned early on, from the mistakes she made and the price she paid for them. We never had a chance. We didn’t live up to the hype, nor should we have been expected to. When we let her down, we were tasked with repaying a debt we knew nothing about.
So she drinks. When she isn’t working, she’ll start in the morning. Nap one ensues and it’s rinse and repeat until she’s out for the night. I’ve never known her to be drunk on the job, though. You can’t pay your bills with healthy relationships with your kids, so in some ways her priorities are straight, I guess.
We’re not speaking now because I asked her not to drink around me or my brother the next few times she sees us. It’s an ask I’ve made a thousand times in the past. I learned several years ago not to bring up her behavior, that topic is road kill on a dead end street. But my family is going through some shit right now, and the last thing we need is more of the same from her. I’m sure I have hundreds of hours of therapy still ahead of me, but I’ve learned how to keep it all together for the most part. Present day, however, it’s all a little too much.
I wish she could be the best parts of herself, the woman underneath the layers of abuse and lies she’s nestled under. That’s one of the hardest parts of being her child. We know what she has offer. We know how much her kids love her, even if she doesnt. We’ve seen her smile light up a room and witnessed her ability to make people loved and heard. She has power, she is beauty, she’s got all the potential in the world. If I could, I’d flick the switch to illuminate her heart. But I can’t find it; she lives in darkness. She’s hidden it away, or doesn’t know it exists. I’ve never seen her look.
It’s taken a lot of strength to distance myself from her. It’s not easy drawing a line that’s been blurred time and time again. My dad has told me a million times, you cannot deal rationally with irrational people. I know it’s true, but I’ve never fully given up trying. I’m nearing that point now. I’m vested in my career, I’m in a serious relationship, I’m a landlord, I have many gratifying relationships with family, friends, mentors… All of it means so much to me, and I didn’t amass said fulfillment without dedication and effort. I have to take care of myself. No one is going to do it for me. I wish my mother knew the same.
I will spend Christmas Eve alone. Do not spend a second in sadness on my behalf. This is my choice. My brother is across the state, my father is in another, and I assume my mom is just a few miles away. My boyfriend and his family are having dinner across town with relatives, and I’m sure it will be lovely. I know they’re concerned about me, uneasy because I don’t want to go. They are my family now, too.
Tonight, I don’t want to pretend everything is okay around the kindness of great aunts and cousins once removed. I want to be around my brother, or my dad and step-mom. I want my mom to be healthy and whole. Had that been the case, she’d be getting her ass kicked right now in rummy while we listened to Christmas music and talked about how perfect my dog is. We would count our blessings, each other at the top of the list.
I don’t have the words to fix her, or convince her her kids don’t hate her.
We’re not mad, we’re disappointed.
That’s a lie. We’re very, very mad.
What is anger, though? It’s a signal from your body to your brain that something is unfair. Yes, incredibly. So what do you do with this knowledge? You ask yourself if you can do something about it. I’ve always thought that I could. I have to accept that I can’t.
So Mom, I’m sorry. I’m sorry you may have texted or called me, and you think I can easily ignore you. I just can’t afford to read anything you might say right now. Not after the things you said several weeks ago. It wasn’t the worst you’ve done, but it couldn’t have come at a worse time.
I’m sorry you think your kids despise you. A heifer myself (one of her many endearing nicknames for me throughout childhood… Nothing beat “puss,” though. Goddammit, Mom.), I can only imagine the pain. It breaks my heart into a million pieces you believe this. If I still believed in Santa I’d ask him to heal you, to give you a new way of life, one worth living.
I hope you get my vibes tonight. I will never write you off. Forgiveness and amends are never off the table. I’ll keep saving you a seat.