Mother’s Day, Just Another Day

My mother died in October 2002. It’s rather hard to believe it has been almost 10 years. I hear my friends talking about a beloved mother they have lost. How never a day goes by but what they don’t mourn because they miss them so badly. Even after 15 years, they get teary just mentioning their moms and remembering the special bond of love they shared. This causes me to scratch my head in wonder, but I toss off my befuddled thoughts with a causal “oh, well” and move on. Until Mother’s Day kind of throws it all back in my face. And I think once again of how pathetic it probably is that I haven’t shed so much as a tear over my own deceased mother. Not one tear.
We didn’t have that kind of relationship.
When I think about my mother, which I rarely do unless I’m trying to untangle the twisted maze of my past as I seek healing for my broken soul, I do not miss her or think of her with fondness. Her memory evokes a rather sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. I’m flooded with feelings of confusion, fear, ambiguity, pain. Not pain from the loss of her, but pain because of the horrible things she did and said to me, the unrealistic and unhealthy demands she made of me, the way she abused, rejected and neglected me. I feel confusion because of the many crazy-making messages she conveyed to me in a million subtitle and blatant ways. She was a manipulator, a narcissist, devious and demanding, demeaning and destructive. I existed to bring her fulfillment. To make her look good. To complete her life. To fill up her empty world with goodness and happiness and success. Cue the butterflies. Well, maybe not.
My mother used me. She used me as a maid and servant: to clean the house, to do the dishes, to do laundry and iron and dust and vacuum and clean toilets and cook and mop floors and clean windows and mow the yard. She used me as a sounding board, telling me all of her many problems, often spewing her disappointment with my father in gory detail. I knew about their fights, problems they had sexually and emotionally. The complexities of their relationship were, thanks to her over-sharing,  an open book to me. She also used me to complain to about her co-workers (when she worked), telling me repetitively about how badly they treated her. How unfair they were to her. How mean-spirited they were. Truly, she complained about everyone and everything, pouring out her poison to me in mega doses that often overwhelmed me. Telling me why she was angry and how horribly she had been hurt by all the people in the universe. Everyone had let her down. They all thought they were better than her. They all treated her unbearably, including her own family. Poor, pitiful Willie! No one understood her. No one did her right. EVERYONE, in fact, did her wrong.
She dressed me the way she wanted to dress in clothes she wanted to wear, but couldn’t because she was so overweight. She cut my hair in cute little pixie cuts, which is what she preferred. I begged her to let my hair grow out, but that wasn’t the image she wanted to project, so I was shorn against my will time and time again. She demanded that I smile. That I act happy, always. She (and my father) also demanded that I make straight A’s. That I be subversively polite and keep my head down. That I have no needs, no requirements, cause no trouble, make no sound. Do what I was told when I was told to do it. Perform. It was all about how well I could perform in the role in which I had been cast at any given moment.
As I got older, I didn’t perform well.
I still made A’s. I kept my mouth shut and didn’t tell anyone about the abuse. I tried very hard not to have needs. I tried to pass silently through the house without creating any ripples. But I didn’t smile. And I stopped caring what she or my father thought about me. I stopped caring about fulfilling them, how many of their needs, wants and desires I did or didn’t meet or how perfectly or imperfectly I performed the many tasks they demanded I perform. In essence, I lost my mother when I was in my early teens. Because that is when my heart and soul could no longer bear the burden of her. That’s when I lost all respect. It’s when my heart closed completely.  That’s when love died.
Through the years, I prayed that God would put some people in my life who would act as stand-in parents; people who would speak into my life in a positive, healthy way to help me overcome all the damage my own parents inflicted. People who could maybe even love me just a little. But that was a tall order. I asked too much. It never happened. So I’ve continued to struggle through the muck alone, trying to find my way to sanity and health. If I ever get there, it will be no thanks to my mother. My mother who said she loved me, even as she choked the life out of me. She said she loved me when she told me how far short I fell and how horribly I disappointed. For years and years, I believed what she offered me was love…the best she could do, not perfect, but love, none the less. Love, I concluded, was a very painful, terrifying, destructive force.
I have finally come to understand it wasn’t love at all. She controlled me by telling me she loved me while always demanding more; squeezing compliance from my tortured being. She manipulated me into obedience by making me feel so terrible for failing her, I couldn’t bear the weight of my failure. I tried harder and harder, no matter how much it cost me or how much it wounded me. It wasn’t about me, after all. It was about her. Always her. Until I erased her from my heart. And then I was finally able to find a modicum of peace.
She tore out my heart, but not when she died. She did it all while she was alive. Which is why I have always hated Mother’s Day. And why I never have and probably never will weep over the loss of her.

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