It’s been four months now since I sent the last letter and my mother slipped, uncontested, out of my life. Since that time I’ve started my final year of my undergraduate career, P and I celebrated our third anniversary, I turned 30 years old, and several major holidays have come and gone. A new year is right around the corner – a year that will probably mark my first whole year without a mother.
It was as if she was waiting, waiting for permission to be done mothering. Once it was granted she ran, ran far far away. Last I heard she was in Mississippi. Or was it Missouri?
A childhood narcissism wells up within me. Doesn’t she miss me? How can she live without me? But, I forget. I only lived with her for fourteen years, most of which she doesn’t seem to remember. I haven’t lived with her for sixteen years now and her life has long since taken on its’ own rhythm.
At first she called once in a while, wanting to see me. Then, over the years, that dwindled to a slow stream of cards punctuating some, but not all, major holidays. It was probably no trouble at all to drop those, too. Knowing her, she’s grateful to keep what she would have spent on cards and postage.
But it’s still hard and it still hurts. Somedays I get a knot in stomach when I check the mail. Other days I compulsively check an old email account that my mother may still know. M tells me that hope is the last thing to die. But letting go of the hope that she’ll “come around” will make accepting myself easier. After a childhood spent subsisting on hope that someday it all might get better, it’s hard to kill what’s left. Unfortunately, that hope is holding me in a pattern of childhood pining for a future that will never come
Here’s how I picture it: if my heart were a house, there’s a little girl, sitting on a window bench in a dark room upstairs. On the sill is an oil lamp she’s been carefully tending the last 30 years, hoping the light will inspire her mother to come back to her.
Because doesn’t my mother miss me? Afterall, P assures me I’m a pretty great person to have around. Sure, sometimes I’m ornery and stubborn, but not always. I can be fun, creative, interesting. Why doesn’t she want me?
But then I wonder – do I actually miss her? And the sobering, heartbreaking truth is that I don’t. Holidays have felt lighter without the obligation to call her for an incredibly stressful conversation. I don’t miss her haunting, shadowing presence – like an overgrown little kid that wants to crawl into my lap and suffocate me with her overgrown, untended needs. All that I miss is an idealized version of what she represents: a mother. And she’ll never be the mother than I need. For reasons that extend far beyond me, she can’t.
My mother is not well. My mother is not well. My mother is not well.
I practice these words sometimes. Mostly I speak them in my head but, once in a while, when I’m feeling strong and brave, I whisper them aloud. Occasionally, I’ll say them in a normal voice to P or a good friend. My mother is not mentally stable and we’ve stopped talking.
It’s like getting into a bath that’s too hot, too painful. It’s a slow settling, a gradual acclimation and acceptance. That’s how I feel about those words, about that reality.
M tells me that denial and rationalization can work together to build walls so strong nothing can break through – not the cries of a child or the threat of severed communication. My mother is incapable of really listening to me and hearing my side of the story. She can’t accept what I have to say. She won’t accept responsibility for what she did to me and what she allowed to happen to me. She’s not a safe person, and she brings nothing into my life besides stress and anxiety. Believe me, I’ve tried mightily to find some good I can hold and focus on. But there’s nothing. Nothing.
And so that little girl tending that oil lamp is sitting on her hands so she doesn’t do what she’s been doing for thirty years – change the wick and refresh the oil. She sits in the dimming light waiting for the hope to finally die.