My mother was a wonderfully flawed human being much like all of us. She was a contradiction and a mystery to me. She loved me but she abandoned me. She missed me but she was always in trouble. She was brutally honest at times and yet she lied incessantly. She must have been thankful to me dad providing a good life for me and yet she seemed to hate him. My mother was someone I did not really know and yet I did. Most of my family and her friends knew here more intimately than I did and yet I was someone she seemed to treasure.
I don’t claim to understand her and I can only speak of what has been relayed to me. I hear these stories and I am able to weave them into an understanding of the person she allowed me to see through inconsistent phone calls. My mother was one of six children. She was no doubt a middle child seeking attention but she seemed to have a knack for obtaining this attention. She was outgoing, made friends easily and certainly beloved by most who met her. She was undoubtably very close and very dependent on her siblings. The photos I have her from when she was a child show her happy, gregarious and innocent. I see myself in her through these photos. She never did explain her family to me. She seemed to always want me for herself. There was never an effort for me to know my aunts, uncles and cousins – when she called me she only wanted to talk about the present and she never wanted to discuss anything but how much she loved and missed me. Because I was so young and so shy and so afraid of adults, I never challenged her on this until I was older and had found my voice.
My mom never tell the tale of how she lost her parents and the effect this had on her and her siblings. Her mother and father died within a short period of time of each other. A family grieving wondering what to do with six kids shipped them all off to different family members. My mother was separated from her siblings not just by a few houses or towns, but by many miles and states. She was brought to Texas to live with a more religious family; this was not a life she was accustomed to. My mother the outgoing showman…the one who put on plays for the neighborhood, the one who would later get up on stage with Chuck Berry and dance, the gymnast, the singer, the artist, the writer, the joker and the one who would destroy herself through substance abuse because she could not tolerate the pain of remembering. My mother was taken from everything she knew but at least someone was willing and had the means to raise her.
I know almost nothing about the Texas family except that she disliked the restrictions and ran to them when times got tough. I know that she never described her time there as happy, but I imagine this had more to do with grieving her parents and needing her siblings to grieve with rather than being unloved. It must have been earth shattering for her not to have anyone she depended on near her during this time and numbing to be away from anything familiar. This would have been a formative time for her. Puberty was just around the corner, it is a time when children start to separate from their parents emotionally and children begin to see highlights of who they will be as an adult. My mother was wounded and had no remedy for the pain.
She journaled to me while she was pregnant and through my first 2 years of life. She wrote about her joy of being a mother, her depression, her worries of being a new mother, how much I stimulated and amazed her, I can see flecks of anger about my dad in her writing, I can hear her smile when she was writing and mostly she wrote about how much she loved me. In these letters, she seemed genuinely happy. It is in these letters I am assured of a mothers love and I am able to forget her flaws. I was someone who would always be hers. I would always be her daughter. I can remember her happiness when she was playing soft ball with her red glove. That smile would find me every time I needed it. I am able to remember my antics as a young free child that would infuriate her at the moment but send her into hysterics as she would relive the story. In my mother’s eyes, I could do no wrong. Not even when I eventually rejected her.
My dad, however, would not always be hers to own and control. They had an arrangement that became disagreeable to both of them. She had, as I explained, always been adept at getting attention and the manner in which she attempted this with my dad is not something he has ever forgiven her for and I imagine she never forgave herself either. When she was most angry at my dad he would ignore her. She just wanted to have safety and security in this relationship and my dad was not able to provide this to her. This only turned her anger into a seething fury; she knew the one thing that would get him to engage in a battle with her was if she upset me; hurt me. And so she did. And I remember the fear even though I have tried to forget. And I remember their fights: physical, emotional and a loudness that could silence a screaming stadium.
Eventually my dad left and eventually my mom discovered substances that would soothe her for longer periods of time. She was agreeable to letting my dad take me and saw no reason to fight it because she believed it would be temporary. It was not. I had a stable home and a mostly stable home life. My mother was thankful for it and insanely jealous of it. Her drug induced telephone calls to me were a stranger. She was scattered, cruel at times, inflicted guilt, babbling and needing reassurance that her daughter loved her. I was scared of her when she called and she was high. My dad not wanting to disrupt her relationship with me allowed these calls. He explained to me that he did not want to protect me from my mother. She was who she was and I needed to love her for all of her and not just one side. No one is single faceted and there were good times with her. He always said it was up to me to dictate my relationships with my family. I actually preferred when she was in jail because she was sober and I could follow her train of thought. She was funny, loving, sad at times and wanting to see me. But, she only came once when I was 5 years old. The next time I would see her it just be the shell of her body she left behind.
My mother is an easy target to be angry at, but this is not all of who she was. This was mostly who she let me see and I see her through a child’s eyes that were trying to make sense of her life and surroundings. I stopped contact with her when I was about 12 years old. She was too far gone and too angry when she was calling. I had found my voice at this age and I started using it. I was also very angry, very hurt and confused with our relationship. I was scared of her coming to visit me and yet I could not understand what kept her from me. I asked her not to call anymore until she got sober. To my amazement she stopped heroin for sometime, we reconnected but unfortunately alcohol became her new demon friend. For my own mental health I could no longer entertain a relationship with her. Her family tried many times to help her, but she was sick and she was hurt. I believe my mother suffered from a debilitating form of depression and this was what she eventually succumbed to.
I believe any of us could take successful aim at our parents, but what we fail to see is the love they have provided to us in their attempts to be good parents and good people. Our parents want us to see them as good people. They want to be our heros, our teachers and our role models. My mother selflessly gave up her daughter because she knew she could not provide a better life than what was being offered. She let me go so I could succeed. If that is not complete evidence of a mother’s love, I do not know what is.
So as you read this story, I ask you to look at a few things: first and foremost the names have been changed and some of the details altered to protect those I love; there are no villains in this story (except for my 4th grade teacher); and this story is both my catharsis and my joy. I love all 3 of my parents and I am a better person for all of them.