(In 1997, in one last effort to mend the rift between myself and my mother, I moved out of state to live with her and her latest hubby. This morning I came across a couple of journal entries regarding this disastrous decision. I’m glad I wrote down these words, for it’s helpful for me to read them years later and realize how much progress I’ve made.)
October 28, 1997
During the turbulence on the flight here I thought, it’s okay if we crash. Where did that come from? Why this sudden death wish?
Here I am, living with Mom again, here where life is muffled, handled oh so gently so that there is no danger of breakage, or splinters which make for rough edges. I consider my attachment to my sons, and think bravely, They’re grown now; it was time to move on. But at night, alone in the dark, it’s a different story. When nothing jars the stifling stillness which hovers about me like a repugnant wannabe lover, nothing except the occasional shrill siren (and for once I know it isn’t a police car or ambulance transporting one of my sons), my thoughts become feverish. What have I done? How can I be here, transplanted once more into someone else’s life?
The attention here to the tedious details of life; the minutely organized furnishings and decor; the moments of each day planned out so carefully so that there are no missteps, no sudden jolting surprises, oh this is not my world.
Life here is not messy, but sterile. Nothing clashes, and I sink into a lethargic stupor while the radio plays Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Andy Williams, music which had the same drowsy effect on me as a child. Here there are no overt dysfunctions; no plunging needles or emotions. Everything is nicely homogenized, sanitized.
Perhaps when I reach my sixties, I will ease into this muted style of living with the same sense of relief one experiences crawling into the comfort of a warm bed at the end of an exhausting day. Perhaps by then I will treasure, and thrive on, knowing that I have a place for everything, and everything in its place. By then I might savor spending an entire morning pondering what to put together for lunch, or taking a week to decide what shade of material to use for a couch pillow.
These, and a hundred more like them, are the details of which my mother’s life consists. It’s not that it’s a bad life, it’s simply not enough for me. I drown in it and it’s the same drowning sensation I fought all of my childhood.
Someone, I suppose, must care what’s for lunch, or what color of material will look best against the couch. I just can’t. Rather, I find myself wondering how soon before my granddaughter forgets me. I long for the softness of her toddler skin, long to hear one of my sons burst through the door with a cheerful, “Hi Mumsie!”
A part of me longs perversely to live in some rundown flea bag of a hotel, or on the street in a cardboard box, even, to counteract this stupefying, suffocating life. This pretense that all is well with the world because we are safely cocooned away from any kind of real life where people rage and hit rock bottom and make fools of themselves—oh, I can’t bear the fakery. I tried to get in step with it during my childhood years; I had to on the surface, at least, to survive. But here now, from my vantage point of adulthood, my heart cries out against this emotional treachery.
October 31, 1997
My mother speaks, I fidget. She goes off into one of her sprawling anecdotes (oh, but when was her life so full of amusement and adventure? When? Did I blink and miss it?), and I space out. Somewhere within the nuances of her words lies a hidden message I am meant to decode. (If only I had my childhood decoder ring with me!) She needs/wants something from me which I can’t possibly give. Absolution? But that is far beyond the realm of my mortal sphere, for I’m finite like her.
The past can’t be erased, nor reconstructed to better suit her. Forgiveness is not the same as saying it didn’t happen, or that it did but didn’t much affect me. There is an anxiousness about her which repels me, for I can easily guess its source. She needs to make me all better so that she can feel okay, off the hook, regarding my stepdad’s abuse of me. She needs me to flatter her with such phrases as you did the best you could or that was a long time ago, water under the bridge. Must I, once again, be the scapegoat in this family, this time sacrificed on the altar of her image? Isn’t it okay to be who and what I am, to call things by their proper names (depression, suicidal tendencies, for instance) rather than to pretend in order to lessen her guilt?
Oh, my mother and I are caught up in some kind of floating dance, always out of step so that she attempts to catch my arm at the same moment I’m swept away from her by some undercurrent of diffidence. I glimpse the puzzlement on her face: she thought we would not only do the same dance, the identical routine, but would be partners as well. I’m always just out of reach and must be, I think, or her desperate grasp will pull us both under into a drowning death.
She delves into the past, tells me that my brother recently commented on our stepdad’s physical abuse of him. Her features take on a sudden expression of confused fragility; at once I am full of anger and impatience.
“I just don’t remember it,” she insists, sadly shaking her head. “I must not have been there when it happened.” And so I’m put into the unenviable position of informing her that, yes, she was there when the stepdad used his fists on my brother, for so was I. Her barely audible, “Okay, that’s enough, honey,” at the scene of the crime, made about as much impact as tissue falling on plush carpeting. How did she know when enough was enough? I can’t help wondering now. Did she have some violence limit set into place in some compartment in her head, just in case?
Now that I’ve confirmed my brother’s account of events, we slog through her woeful, “But how could I let someone treat my kids that way? What was I thinking?” Well, who knows? Maybe she was wondering what to fix for dinner, or that a little violence was a small price to pay for the security of a steady paycheck. How would I know? I am, without a doubt, the wrong person to answer such asinine questions.