When I was in seventh grade, it occurred to me that I had an unusually difficult relationship with my mother. That revelation happened when she began going through my belongings to read my diary and notes from friends.
Junior high set off some sort of trigger for my mom. I was constantly in trouble for whatever sexual innuendo she read into my notes. It didn't matter that I knew nothing about the sex, drugs, and witchcraft that she feared.
At 12 years old, I realized that I simply couldn't be myself around my mother, and somehow that made me feel ashamed. Like I was to blame.
So, I tried to hide myself away.
I was never as good at it as Lane Kim on The Gilmore Girls. That girl had her double life down. In my case, I was always tense at home and relaxed just a tad whenever I felt far from my mother's watchful eye.
I was afraid. Afraid that she could read my mind or that "God" would send her a dream about my school-only dating relationships (which were perfectly chaste but forbidden all the same).
As a result, I declined plenty of invitations and chickened out on making many of my own wishes come true. For most of my life, my risks were minimal. And I went wherever life threw me, as long as my mom would more or less approve.
Understanding (not to mention managing) abuse from a parent is very hard for any child.
As much as life with my mother made me feel like I constantly walked on eggshells, she fervently believed I was the one making her walk on eggshells all the damn time.
"You've been rebellious ever since you were 12 years old." That's my mother's anthem to this day. You see, she was never an overtly abusive guardian. She's always been the kind of abuser who does everything out of "love."
That's why abusive parents aren't always obvious. Not even to the suffering kids themselves. For most of my life, I believed my mom that I was rude, rebellious, and going to hell.
I grew up attending parent-teacher conferences where my teachers called me sweet, funny, and creative. Even though I sucked at juggling all my homework.
But to my mother, they all had the story wrong. Her narrative was that she knew what was best for me and I was disobedient. Yes, it was (and is) a very Mother Gothel kind of love.
And it wasn't until I picked up writing again in my 30s that I realized just how fucked up my childhood really was. Or how my mother's love was rooted in an effort to control me.
Adulthood wasn't enough to grant my freedom.
It was a terribly painful process to finally come to terms with the notion that I deserve to be in charge of my life. Not my mother. And not some deity I'm coerced into fearing.
Eventually, I ran away from my life and made some particularly reckless decisions when I was 32, and much of my motivation was to finally get away from my mom.
A couple of years ago, I quit speaking to her because she started sending me emails like this beauty:
It was the first time in my life where I ever cut off from my mom. My older sister had at times quit speaking to her, and rightfully so. But I had never been brave enough to do it myself.
Not until her mental illness reached the point of accusing me of child abuse.
A little background?
My mother sees sexual abuse everywhere. It is a well-known issue in our family and when she sent that email, I knew exactly what she was charging.
She had a bad dream and believed that "God" told her that I was whoring around and allowing some man to molest my kid.
It's one more reason why I still don't tell my mother if I meet anyone new. She's accused me of neglect just for allowing my daughter's dad to have her at his house occasionally.
My mother thinks that a demon of sexual abuse is attached to our family. So, she has suspected every serious boyfriend of mine to be a pedophile.
When my mother sent that email, she was angry with me.
Angry that I'd left Minnesota and moved down to Tennessee. Just four months before emailing me, she threw a giant temper tantrum when I asked her to help me roll our luggage into my friend's car.
On a day where we should have been saying goodbye like so many other mothers and daughters do, my mom berated me for only wanting to move down to Tennessee "to live a sinful lifestyle."
Whatever that meant.
Then she told me that she was finished being my slave, so she would not help me manage my gear. My friend who drove me to the airport had a baby in the car, and I had 4 suitcases, 2 carryons, and one baby in a stroller. When I asked my mom once more to please help me wheel my luggage down to her apartment lobby, she relented and said, "Fine. I’ll be your slave one last time."
Once we got downstairs and I said goodbye, my mother hugged my daughter, cried, told her goodbye... and refused to say another word to me.
After that experience, I barely contacted my mother beyond sending her an occasional photo. She didn't contact us over Christmas, and I didn't care.
Months later, when I finally got the nerve to tell her over the phone that her behavior had hurt me, my mother's excuse was that she was upset and going to miss us.
"That may be," I said. "But I didn't deserve to be treated that way."
"Oh, it wasn't that bad. I was just so sad you were leaving."
And then she sent that ridiculous email.
Every time I let my mom back into my life there is some sort of regret.
Before I know it, she starts sending me emails about how she "may not have long to live." Or she insinuates child abuse.
Even so, she's still my mom, and I don't have much family to spare. So, I wind up letting her back into my life. Like right now.
My mentally ill mother has been living in my home rent free since late November. To be honest, it's gone better than I expected, but only because I firmly laid down a few boundaries.
Certain topics are off-limits. And for the most part, she's complied. But 6 months is a long time to have your mentally unstable mother in your home.
For the past couple of months, dealing with my mom has become more difficult. In the past, my sister and I have already had our mother committed for psychiatric observation but it ended in frustration. She says whatever she needs to say to get out of there, but doesn't take her medication when she comes home.
My mom thinks I'm a jerk.
The other day, my daughter and I went out for maybe an hour. When we returned, my mom was baking a cake.
Frankly, I was annoyed. She's diabetic and not managing her blood sugar at all. On top of that, I've been following a pretty rigid weight loss plan and don't want cake in the house.
I didn't hide my irritation well when I asked what she used for oil since I don't stock it at home. She admitted to using my high-end organic butter for her Betty Crocker cake mix.
In my irritation, I foolishly said, "Mom, I don't understand why you refuse to use the healthy groceries I offer you, but you routinely take other things without asking that are terrible for your diabetes."
Yikes. I probably shouldn't have said anything, but I did.
My mom then made a big deal about throwing the cake in the trash and began to cry. She started saying that she was tired of apologizing to me (because you know, I have the nerve to ask her not to pour coffee grounds down my drains), and then she expressed her standard regret that she never should have imposed upon me but she couldn't believe how badly I treat her.
The entire argument was exasperating and like every other argument with my mom, I couldn't help feeling like the bad guy. With my mother, I am always the bad guy.
Maybe it's okay to be the jerk with my mom.
I am nearly 37 years old, yet being honest with my mother still scares me. Saying anything she doesn't like leaves a knot in the pit of my stomach.
It's ridiculous, and I have only recently begun to put my foot down with her. I am slowly getting better at speaking up and telling her no. Or reminding her that I am an adult who gets to make her own choices.
In any healthy relationship, you can disagree, argue, and make amends. It's different with my mom. She doesn't apologize for anything that matters. And any time I apologize to her, she never accepts me with forgiveness.
Instead, she tells me that I should be sorry. And with whatever shame or pain she can find, she rubs it in.
"I can't believe you were so stupid."
"You've been rebellious since 7th grade."
"There's something wrong with you."
"You need deliverance."
The more I write about these things, the more I realize that my mom is always going to think I'm a jerk. My only hope for her to change her mind would mean I live the rest of my life precisely the way she wants it to be.
It takes a lot of courage to worry less about my mom's expectations and more about what's right for me and my kid. Being myself means disappointing her, but I think I'm okay with that now.
Many people joke that a mother's love is blind to certain facts, like if her offspring is a jerk. But some mothers offer another kind of "love" that's just as blind. And perhaps deadlier.
Some mothers are so sure they always know best that they'd rather lock up their adult children in a tower away from the whole damn world.
If I have to be a jerk to stay out of that tower, let it be.