As I’ve gotten older, I’ve started to see my family with fresh eyes, as you do. Especially if there’s some distance involved. There’s currently a lot of distance, since I’ve recently learned that my mother moved to Texas a couple of months ago. Of course, there’s been distance for years, ever since I did my final breaking off with my mother in 2005 or so. But I knew she was lurking around in town waiting to be unpleasantly discovered, like a mustard stain on your white pants.
I will confess to you I once saw her at the market when I was with Strudel and looked through her. What to say to her, anyway? Oh, hello, here’s your grandchild you don’t know, with that guy you called weird and whose hand you drunkenly slammed in a minivan door and then laughed about it. Oh yes, this is the same man you said I should look off because my “bar was way too low” after SeaFed to make any good relationship decisions. Er. And how have you been?
I guess lately I’ve been thinking about what you do about the hash that is how you were raised. I think I went through the Solemn Oaths Never to Do Certain Things Ever Ever phase in my twenties, especially with my children appearing on the scene. Some of those solemn oaths will stick. I promise never to get high with my girls in college and tell them in front of their roommates that they were almost aborted. I promise never to describe some hella monster cock that you would never even guess this married HR guy had, I mean, look at him. I promise not to spend their college money on a teal Pontiac Sunfire. These are just random examples of terrible things someone’s mother could possibly do (COUGH) that do not even scratch the surface really, and how much time do you have anyway?
Something good happened recently, though. Maybe. My mother has been appropriately, and by her own hand, medicated. I think this has allowed a tiny window of self-awareness to open up. My sister and I suspect that she may have been unbalanced since possibly her early 20s, maybe longer. I moved in with her when I was about 6 and she was 23.
How does it feel, I keep asking myself, to know that history could have been rewritten and my entire childhood could have had a different tone? It kind of feels like…nothing. Big deal, I think to myself. Everyone has some kind of childhood. Really, and I am not kidding, it makes for very amusing stories now. I want to amuse my girls with them when I’m older but I don’t want them to feel sorry for me. Franny cried once when she realized I have almost no family and then I was all, ” I have you, ya lolo.”
I had a glimpse into a loving childhood with my grandparents and this sounds very self-flagellating but I really think that early love and that stable environment that they provided–it was a liferaft for what came later. There was a part of me that knew what it was like to be loved correctly and without conditions and to feel safe and I kind of knew I was biding my time. I assumed that mothers were crazy and fathers were sadists. I saw a lot of that at my friends’ houses as well.
The really evil thing was that my theory about mothers and fathers kind of held out. My mother made certain to tear down my relationship with my grandmother by telling me stories about when she was young–about watching her stepsiblings get whacked with pots and pans, about sexual abuse, about her stepsister being possessed by the Devil and a priest coming to the house (go team Baptist). What happened between then and when they became my grandparents? Why was I being spared all this trouble?
I also wondered when my life was going to change. I became a mother eleven years ago…I held my breath for a long time. When would I start burning my children with cigarettes? My mother painted my father as all the bad things I was turning out to be in high school–gay, depressive, an atheist, into Monty Python. Cripes, when would my fatal flaw blow up and leave a big smoking crater in my life and everyone elses’?
So my sister got an email apology from my mother on her birthday, which was Sunday. Big one: 25. We ran into a yoga teacher that day I have known for many years who has been working with Morgan recently and had lovely things to say about her. “She’s very bright,” she said. I know that. I used to change her diapers. I’ve seen a lot.
The email was a long one about my mother’s life now in Texas. She’s with family and is seeing something like parallel lives down there–her stepbrother’s children describe him as abusive, and some of them are estranged from him. Perhaps that was food for thought now that her head is clearer. I wasn’t sure my mother would ever have a moment of clarity, since I didn’t know she could or would be “fixed.” No one is ever completely fixed–you are still yourself and your experiences shape you. I don’t begrudge my sister that apology, nor do I feel really happy about it. I think my mother has tried to apologize to me over the years, but she didn’t really understand or remember what for. These things don’t stick.
My mother, when we spent time together, used to call me a “closet Catholic” and was always telling me I took things too seriously. I remember her dismissing my college application letter as “pretentious” (to be fair, it was). Later I realized that it was me having a conscience and trying to find a sense of purpose. You can learn a lot from sociopaths and sociopathic tendencies and how people like this navigate through the world. You can learn how to charm people without turning it on them when they are weak. You can learn what motivates people without using their desires against them, or to rip what you want out of them. You can see people as vulnerable and flawed and love them anyway, instead of feeling superior. And you can get tested regularly for her very treatable condition, like she could have been years ago (I’m negative).