My most humble apologies for my long absence from these pages. Things have been … shall we say, unique and somewhat stressful for the past few months, some for good and some for worse.
But I’m here now, and I suppose I should tell you what I’ve been up to. Except some of it I’d really rather not talk about.
See, my mother died this summer. She died. She didn’t pass away, pass on or check out. She died. The woman who tormented me for decades — and whose torment I took as my own for decades more — is out of my life forever.
Except she’s not, not really. In a sense, she’s in there more than she’s been since … well, since I got out from under her roof nearly 40 years ago.
There’s something about mothers. Why else would an adopted child go searching for the woman who abandoned him or her at birth? Oh, yeah, I know. I understand that sometimes it’s just the best thing for a young mother to do. But to a child … it’s abandonment. And yet, time and again, adopted children go looking for the woman who gave birth to them and then sent them away, out of a longing, I suppose, to find her and hear her say she regretted the move.
I wish mine had done it. And then I could have been one those adopted children desperately seeking my birth mother. And maybe, when I found her, she would have cried and said she was sorry she abandoned me and it was the only thing she could do because she just wasn’t ready to raise a child.
And maybe then we’d have the relationship I never had with her and knew I’d never have — one of mutual respect and (dare I say it) love.
I feel perfectly awful having said all that. Weird, isn’t it? I don’t hate her. I never have. I have been angry at her, and I think I am again now. I just feel cheated out of a calm and comforting childhood, not to mention a strong and secure adulthood that might have come out of that.
Didn’t happen that way.
On the surface, I suppose my childhood looked idyllic. But beneath the family vacations and holiday dinners and Sunday afternoon ice cream making, there was a deep and powerful insecurity.
I never knew when I’d do something that would set my mother off on a rage that would end with my being beaten and screamed at, called names and told how utterly stupid and useless I was. Took years, and I do mean years, to dredge all that out of my head, and I’m pretty sure it’s not all out even now. Most of it is, and I usually know right away when some little corner of my mind has found another piece of it to wave in front of my eyes.
I can’t begin to guess the reasons for what she did to me, how she chose to be a parent, but through the years I’ve become more than a little certain of two of them. One was her own upbringing. I never knew my maternal grandfather, but she certainly did, and from what I hear, discipline was his strong suit.
The second was my own fault, in a way. I just wasn’t what she expected from a first child. I asked too many questions, wouldn’t take no for an answer, wanted to see more than either of my parents had the ability to show me.
So now here it is almost Christmas and she’s been gone from this earth for nearly six months. I don’t miss her. My dad does. My sister does. I don’t. And I’m even grateful she’s gone, but not for me — for her. She had been miserable for the last several years of life as one physical ailment after another wore her down. She was always active, always moving, and when she ended up wheelchair-bound, I knew she hated it.
The first few years were filled with hope that this treatment or that one would fix it and she’d walk again, but when it became quite clear that she never would, I think that was the moment she stopped fighting quite so much.
She did fight, still. Fear of death is an epidemic in our Western culture. And she was afraid to die, something that astounds me in this primarily Christian nation of ours. Are Christians that uncertain of the quality of their lives that they fear they might not reach the heaven they so long for in life? Or is it that at the very end of their lives they suddenly realize just how uncertain they are of the reality of that thing they’ve clung to from birth?
I don’t know, don’t profess to know. The funeral itself was disturbing from that point of view. So much talk of my mother now being with Jesus, in that beautiful shining heaven, and how someday we’d all be there with her. I certainly hope not, but I think I have an idea of why many spouses commit suicide after the death of a partner.
Even more disturbing from that day was the constant stream of relatives and family friends telling me how sorry they were, how wonderful my mother had been. Yes, to them she was. Her dark side never showed outside the house, although I’ve seen it many times behind her eyes as she held something in until we were back in the privacy of our own home. Then, I’d be ordered to go sit in another room while she worked herself into the wrathful frenzy she needed to deal with me.
I remember few details about the incidents that precipitated these violent sessions with my mother, only that most were pure accidents. Knocking a vase from a counter. Crashing my bicycle. Slipping and falling into the creek and coming home all wet and muddy. Or sometimes things like not making the best grade. The BEST grade. I wasn’t allowed to slip — and fortunately rarely did, at least until high school when teachers could be more subjective with how they graded their students — both those they like and those they didn’t.
My therapist tells me I give my dad a pass on all this, that he could have stopped it. I don’t believe he knew about it. It never happened when he was home, and since he worked 12 hours a day, six days a week, that was rather often. When he got home, my mother would tell him she’d “spanked” me for something, and he’d tell me I needed to do better. But I never told him how brutal these “spankings” were — because I didn’t know until much later that it wasn’t normal. I thought that was how all kids were treated.
I’ve spent considerable time trying to convince myself that it wasn’t all that bad, and it wasn’t. There were and are much worse cases than mine, on a physical level. But the emotional and mental terror is no different, not to the mind of a child.
I do think she made some effort with me. I found out much later that my elementary school teachers had agreed to do whatever they could to keep me from being bored in school, and they did. They let me pick extra assignments, sent me to the library when I showed the slightest interest in any subject and gave me plenty of space to explore my natural curiosity. My mother was responsible for that.
There were good times in my family. Those vacations and holidays, and I love vanilla ice cream to this day, especially the homemade variety. But it was so very much a mixed bag.
I’ll be going up to my dad’s soon, to spend the first Christmas without her. He’ll need the comfort of his daughters there, and I am happy to give him that.
And maybe, for the first time, I might enjoy the experience.