A couple of years after my father died, my mother called me to tell me that I didn’t need to keep putting money into her bank account. For years, I had been supplementing my parent’s retirement income because I knew things were tight for them. I continued that after my father’s death. But when she called, my mother explained to me that her needs were simple now and since my father was gone, she didn’t go out to eat or shop the way she used to. She was at that point in life where she was downsizing rather than buying and accumulating. The house was paid off. She didn’t drive, so had no expenses related to a car. The money she received from my father’s pension plus her own social security check was more than adequate. Money was actually building up at a rather rapid rate. So, not only did she want me to stop supplementing her income, she wanted to give me a gift…$3000, in fact. She wanted me to use it for counseling. It was her way, she insisted, of saying thank you. Her way of expressing gratitude to me for keeping silent. For allowing her and my father to live out their lives without having to pay the price for their abuse of me. She was particularly appreciative that I never turned my father in to authorities, allowing them to grow old with each other, allowing my father to die without having to answer for his actions. She thanked me for my sacrifice. Wrote me a check to pay me off. Signed. Sealed. Delivered. Done. And that was that. Her conscience was clear. Restitution had, in her mind, been made. The debt was cleared. Paid in full. All for $3000. Reluctantly, I accepted her payment. I didn’t want to offend by declining. By throwing it back in her face in disgust, which was my first impulse. I gave $1000 of it away to a friend in need. The rest I put on account with the counselor I had started seeing a few months after my father died. It was gone in no time. The money offered didn’t even begin to come close to paying for my care. I’m still seeing the counselor. Still trying to find a point of health and wholeness. Still spending a ton of money years after the “gift” (and my mother) is gone. She died in peace 4 years after my father passed away. I don’t miss either one of them…never have…which sometimes makes me feel guilty. But the fact of the matter is, I lost them long before they actually died. And they gave me so many “gifts” to remember them by. Gifts that have outlived them and the $3000 payment I received from my mother. Gifts that I’ve been trying diligently to get rid of. Pain. Brokenness. Fear. Worthlessness. Self-hate. Self-blame. Depression. Shame. Lack of confidence. Numbness. Distorted thinking. Isolation. A wounded soul. Loss. Hopelessness. Destruction. Gifts that are far more enduring than the paltry funds given to clear her conscience. She died before my ex left me for another woman and my world crumbled into dust and ashes. Before I earnestly tried to kill myself. Before my eating disorder flared out of control. Before I lost the ability to pretend I was semi-normal and before I was nearly crippled emotionally , becoming almost unable to function. Before I could no longer wear the mask and play the role of an ordinary individual. Not only did they never have to pay the price for abusing me, they never had to face what that abuse had done to me. They both died thinking I was fairly successful, loved, healthy and unaffected. They both died believing I had a good life, which proved they hadn’t done such a bad job raising me after all.
Her payoff galled me for several reasons. I guess the most obvious was, in paying me off, she acknowledged she knew what my father had done to me. She knew, but did nothing to protect me. It explained her hatred of me…she blamed me even as I blamed myself. And she chose my father over me. He was her knight in shining armor, by god, and NOTHING was going to tarnish him in her eyes. Not even the fact that he sexually abused their daughter. It also spoke volumes that she wanted me to go away and get fixed without having to be bothered with the process herself. Everything was about her, even the gift. It made her feel better to give it and that was what was important. Not that I actually got better. Giving me the money allowed her to believe she had done her part without actually having to do anything herself. And then, there’s the complete inadequacy of the amount. It’s a paltry sum considering the expense involved in getting the help one needs to recover from such major trauma. Not to mention trying to deal with the issues that found their beginning in that ugly caldron of abuse. Things such as a voracious eating disorder, a victim mentality and total lack of self-esteem. And lastly, there’s her belief that money would be an adequate payoff for the total destruction of my life and being. That this was all I was worth. That this should balance the books of the universe and pay me in full for any and all inconvenience and subsequent damage. This compensation for my sacrifice was to have made everything right…and it did for her. Her debt, in her eyes, was now paid in full.
I felt rather numb at the time. I was aware the whole situation bothered me on many levels in many ways. But I couldn’t really articulate or dissect it. I was still deeply entrenched in a dissociative state where I was protected from such atrocities. I felt unease. I felt a strange sensation. I felt movement within me. But nothing connected and nothing broke through. I simply went on. After all, by this point in my life, I had learned not to expect anything from her. As much as I wanted a mother, I had come to terms with the fact that I never had one and never would. But I was aware on some deep level that this hurt. Even though I couldn’t feel it. The pain was there. Hidden far away where it could do no damage.
I took the payoff for a debt that could never be paid because nothing could ever make the wrong right. But I had forgiven the debt anyway and payment was not expected. I guess the biggest surprise of all was that she had enough of a conscience left to propel her to do something, thereby acknowledging a wrong had been done to me. There was some satisfaction in this acceptance of wrongdoing on her part. And that acceptance of guilt and responsibility, even though minimal, fleeting, glossed over and hastily put to rest, is the thing that is most satisfying to me now. It is, indeed, a priceless treasure…all wrapped up in a paltry, inadequate, insulting $3000 gift.