Sometimes I Miss My Mother
by The Fat Lady Sings, Wed Mar 19, 2008 at 03:34:06 PM EDT
It has been quite some time since I posted a diary here. This is not about politics - it is personal. I hope there's room for something a bit different.
Well, that's not exactly true. It's more the concept of a mother that I miss - not that I really have a handle on what that is, exactly; never having had a functioning model to pull from. Yesterday I watched a program featuring teasing exchanges between adult siblings. I realized I had no idea how that felt - to speak to a family member without rancor; no underlying hatreds or agenda - no hysteria, violence or tears. It was strange. Of all the relatable human experiences - family life should be a constant. That's why silent movies were so universal. The language of pattern and form: smiles, tears, warmth, laughter. A woman appears; next to her stands a child. The image resonates, we all know what that is, what it signifies - only I don't. There is no warm rush of emotion, no opening of the heart. I am lost - at sea: alien.
What does it mean to fondly recall childhood memories, to mourn a parents passing, or celebrate their life? How does that feel? The day my mother died I felt nothing but relief. Ding, dong the bitch was dead! One of the songs from `A Chorus Line' warbled cheerily through my head. Really. I know it sounds awful - but it's true. I wouldn't say I was happy, exactly - but her death loosened my chains. And that song - it ran through me like water. I'd always identified with near every line in that particular show - but this verse always had special meaning. It's called "Nothing". A girl relates the inanities of college level drama classes - how none of it fit - especially the suggestions of one particular teacher. I was right there with her on that - been there, done that - and like her decided to ditch the bullshit and trust to my own instincts. Her instructor from hell was one Mr. Karp - mine was named Titwell (yes - that was indeed his real name). Anyway - the song fit the circumstance. Of course, it wasn't speaking to the death of a parent - but the emotion ran true, nonetheless:
Six months later I heard that Karp had died.
So I dug right down to the bottom of my soul...
And I cried.
But I felt... nothing.
That was it, it was over. No more tearful, recriminatory phone calls, no hate filled messages from a woman who used to tell me she'd rather I'd been aborted or born dead. My husband used to say I was unapproachable for days after talking with my mother - not to mention the screaming nightmares that disturbed his sleep when childhood memories invaded my dreams. It was over; finis. Finally I could break any remaining connections with my dangerously violent, alcoholic brother. No more forced association with my remaining, bigoted, judgmental sister. I was free; or as free as one can be, considering. I still have baggage - only now I decide how to pack it and with what (for the most part, anyway). Freedom, freedom, sing hallelujah!
But what does that freedom buy, exactly? How wonderful is it really to float through life unconnected to anything but the `now'? Something fabulous happens; and outside of friends (my family of the heart), there is no one to be proud of me. No one to wrap their arms around me and whisper "I always knew you'd do it". Conversely - when I feel flattened by the world (or the people in it) - when something hurts so bad it's like my souls on fire - there's no one who's known my every mood and shadow since forever to bathe me in the cool mist of their love. Both circumstances leave a bitter taste - particularly the latter. But when I'm happy, I can, at the very least, share my joy with god. When I'm in pain......that pain has roots that never seem to die. Inevitably it touches on something older - something un-killable. Every hurt reminds me of her, you see. They all connect in some unfathomable way. `Now' pain becomes `then' pain, deepening the suffering. And it wreaks hell with my emotional equilibrium, lemme tall ya!
I can think of two times in the past year when I wanted a mother so bad I actually dreamt of my own (and not in a bad way, which was HIGHLY unusual). One marked the beginning of something I had high hopes would signal a turning point in my career. The other signified that things premature demise. Each time, an aspect of the emotion I felt seemed to have no outlet. Oh I laughed, or I cried; I swept everyone up in the whirlwind of my joy, or I hunkered down in the corner, my throat sore from repressed tears. In either case, I would very much have liked to feel what I imagine a mothers arms would be like; or maybe I've watched too much Lifetime TV. All I have to go on are artist's images or descriptions. `The Pieta' springs to mind - Mary cradling her dead son, her eyes cast up to heaven, begging for surcease. Would my mother have cradled me like that? I think not. I used to fantasize about it though - the being dead part, I mean. In my child's fantasy, I'd be a watcher at my own funeral. My mother, suddenly struck by how much she had always loved me, weeps copiously, inconsolable (very Ralphie in `A Christmas Story').
Reality intruded when I was 12. I know I've spoken about this before - and in greater detail - but the impression stamped itself on my psyche with indelible ink. Some things you just never forget - not ever. So please forgive the re-telling. It's germane to the subject at hand, believe me. You see, when I was 12, my mother's mother died - the great unsmiling monolith. Now my grandmother was a real piece of work - cruel, judgmental. I was afraid of her - everybody was. She lived with my mother's older sister (a story all by herself, that one). Whatever dysfunction my mother learned - it was at this woman's extremely bony knee. Of course I attended her funeral. I'd have preferred not to - but was offered little choice. It was open casket. Frankly - I thought she looked exactly as she had in life - emotionless; her mouth set in perpetual frown - like some wax figure out of Madame Tussauds. No one was crying, which I found kind of odd. I mean - I didn't like her - but surely her own children could muster up the odd tear. Interestingly, my uncle (her only son) didn't make it back from New York. He belonged to a Catholic contemplative order - very restrictive - so maybe that was the excuse. I do know they allowed them out on occasion, however. He had come to visit at one point - when I was around 9. It the first time I ever recall seeing him, actually: a small, nervous man easily spooked. I had gone to hug him and he screamed at my mother to `get me off'. His exact words? "Get that great lumbering oaf off me!" Of course I was roundly scolded for touching my uncle. Yes - I know - I have a very strange family. Nutters, the lot.
So perhaps it was best Uncle John stayed locked deep within his Abbey somewhere in upstate New York. Those who did manage to attend were odd enough. Me? I just stood at the back of the room, praying for it to be over - and soon. It was very close in there - almost stifling. The scent of the flowers overwhelmed the tiny space. I don't like heavy perfumes. They trigger my asthma. And the heat made me dizzy. All the chairs were filled, so I had to stand against the back wall. It was very uncomfortable. I stared out over the collected heads (all grey), and wondered what they were thinking. No one was talking. Everyone just faced forward, hands held quietly in their laps. It was like being inside a Twilight Zone episode. There was nothing human in the entire room. Those chairs could have been filled with robots, or mannequins. It was like a painting - very surreal; Glenn Ness - but colder......empty chairs leached of all color.
Suddenly and without any warning whatsoever, my mother marched up - grasping my hand with such ferocity her nails literally drew blood. Practically dragging me, she approached the casket. Gazing down upon the dead face of her own mother, her voice pitched so low only I could hear it, mine let loose with a vituperative harangue I've never heard the likes of anywhere in this world. She HATED that woman. HATED her. Years of slights, catalogs of injuries - all buzzed around my ears like angry bees. It was horrible. I found myself watching her mouth (I couldn't just stare at my grandmother - it creeped me out). I often watch people's mouths when they speak. It fascinates me. You can tell if a person's lying by how they hold that part of their face, you know. My mother's was moving so fast I could actually hear her dentures clicking. Flecks of spittle landed first on her chin, then on my grandmother - discoloring the printed silk of her dress. It was all too much. I thought I was going to be sick.
My mother wanted a witness to all the hate she bore her own mother. That's why she hauled me up there with her. I always served as her witness. To everything. In between episodes of abuse - she treated me like a confidant - an equal in comprehension and understanding. Only I heard the innermost secrets of her soul - whether I wanted to or not. Priests weren't granted such access. I had an `E' ticket ride. She told me everything - from her own sister's attempts at suicide - to the one man she loved and lost to her best friend (obviously not my father). Oh - there were fantasies. Mothers grip on reality was tenuous at best - but if even half the things she told me were true - then her mother deserved everything that was said. I just wish she hadn't picked such a public forum, and made me complicit. I was too young to process such information. That required adult understanding. I might have been frighteningly mature for my age - but that maturity didn't extend into reasoned psychological analysis - not at age 12. Not even now, actually - all these years later. The memory still elicits a negative, visceral response. I've never forgotten it. It sure made me give up the idea of death spontaneously generating repressed love, though. If my mother could say such dreadful things to her own mother - how much hatred did she harbor towards me? What horrible worlds would shroud my body into its grave?
I actually found out the particulars of that when my mother died. I refused to go, you see. Oh - my sister tried to guilt me into it - but I held my ground. My mother had always been quite vocal in her opinion of her children. I knew she despised me. Thing was - I'd finally gotten to the point where I could no longer hold my tongue. I'd have answered her back - and what kind of person would that have made me? Telling a dying woman that her youngest daughter held her in the utmost contempt? I'm not like that. I don't hurt people - even when provoked. The rush I might feel at having bested my tormentor pales when compared to the empty feeling cruelty of any kind generates. Well - at least it does in me. So I stayed home. My sister was kind enough to fill me in on the particulars, however - just in case I'd forgotten how my mother really felt. I know she died with my name on her lips - muttering a curse.
So when I say that sometimes I miss my mother - the mother I'm talking about exists purely in fantasy. I have no practicable idea of what a mother is, should, or could be. I wish I did, though. I could use a mother right now. I've just lost something I treasured. Lost. Ha! Had forcibly removed, mores like it. That cool mist would really soothe right about now. So - what does a fantasy mother sound like? What would she say? What comfort could she offer?
I have absolutely no idea. This isn't a script.
Cross-posted in all the usual places