This post has been sitting in my draft folder, mostly complete, for years. Writing about my relationship with my Mom is tremendously difficult for me; I feel like I need to justify myself, defend myself, and to do that I feel like I need to give ALL the information, to prove my position a thousand different ways because then you’ll understand this isn’t a phase, or my misinterpreting a conversation, that I’m a good person with a crap history. But the truth is, I cannot provide twenty years of background in a blog post. I cannot stop a reader from assuming I’m just ungrateful and emotionally stunted and an unforgiving bitch. And I cannot continue to fight for the right to have my own history and feelings and emotions matter. They matter. My experience is my own.
Many years ago I read and loved The Glass Castle, a searing memoir from Jeannette Walls of depravity, neglect, and one woman beating impossible odds. I remember loving the tenacity and sheer will power that brought Walls from an incredibly poor, dirty, trodden-down mining town in West Virginia to a town car on Park Avenue in New York City. Walls father was a raging alcoholic, her mother probably bi-polar, and the Walls kids were left to fend for themselves, fighting hunger, incredibly poverty, lack of shoes, clothes, blankets, no running water, electricity, trash removal services, or any sort of plumbing. They were left to fight child molesters and violent bullies on their own, their parents telling them (if they even noticed) that it would be good for them to stand up for themselves. The Glass Castle is not a happy book, it is heartbreaking.
Several years later (when I was in a much different relationship with my mother) I re-read it for book club and Walls’ experience hit me over the head and heart in ways it never had before. For the last 20 years or so I have had a tenuous-at-best relationship with my own mother, but for the last 7 I have hardly spoken to her at all. Before I moved to Arizona, she lived less than 45 miles from me yet I would only see her at family functions hosted by one of my siblings, never at her home, and I do not speak to her on the phone, or by email, or holiday cards, or text messages, or carrier pigeons. I don’t even think she has my current address. (To be fair, she never reached out to me either, and my phone number and email address have been the same for almost 15 years.) After reading The Glass Castle it became pretty clear to me that on some level my Mom suffers from some messed up brain chemistry. I don’t know if she is bi-polar, but she has a lot of symptoms that would lead me to believe she might be somewhere on the spectrum of social personality disorder. Conversations with my Dad, sociologist sister, and two or three of my aunts have confirmed this could very well be the case.
I did not grow up in a happy place, before I left home I experienced parental physical and mental abuse to a pretty significant degree, and was sexually molested by a family member and his teenage friends for several years while I was young (ages five-ish until I was probably nine). I don’t really have many memories of being at home while I was growing up. I remember some big events–birthdays, Christmas, cousins coming to stay for a few days–and I remember a lot of things about being at school, or church, staying at my grandparents house, or playing outside with the neighbor kids…but I have very few memories of being inside my home, most of the memories I do have are very dark: being hit with a yard stick; being hit with a dried cutting from a rose bush, thorns still intact; being dragged out of my hiding place in the closet and my stomach stomped on until I could feel her foot wiggling on my spine; being repeatedly touched and teased by a very messed up teenage boy in front of his friends….and then being touched and poked and prodded some more by those friends; being trapped in the closet under the stairs with the neighbor boy and my clothes pulled and bunched so he could see me while he touched himself, I vividly remember what he smelled like, what the musty cardboard boxes smelled like. None of those are isolated instances, most happened over and over, and there are countless other similarly disturbing experiences. I have always had nightmares–never ending nightmares–about monsters and boogey men coming into my room at night and hurting me while those I loved (and who I thought loved me) stood by and watched passively, never lifting a finger to help me.
Most of those memories–the worst ones, for sure–were buried for years. As a teenager I half-suspected something really terrible had happened to me when I was a kid, but I wouldn’t have been able to definitively tell you what it was. In November of my senior year of high school I was sitting in an AP Psychology class learning about neuro defense mechanisms, one of which is repressing memories that are too painful to deal with, or for which the brain does not have the skill or energy to process. And as I sat there in my 2nd period class, all these sort-of grainy old snapshot memories suddenly turned into a horror film that just would not stop rolling. I remembered everything. I remembered who, and where, and when, and for how long. I left class sobbing, my best friend following right behind me. She caught up to me in the hall and choking through my sobs I told her what I thought happened. We left school immediately and spent the rest of the day talking. Later that night when I went home I told my Mom what had happened and asked her if what I was remembering was true.
….she said she knew what was happening. She knew, at the time, what was happening. And she left me with this boy anyway. For years. I didn’t know what to say (I still don’t), my Mom started crying and the only thing she said was “You never said anything, so I guess I thought it didn’t bother you.”
I can’t…I don’t…I still don’t have a response to that.
The next few weeks were impossible, I hardly got out of bed, I lost a lot of weight, my grades plummeted. When I did go to school I started blacking out and was taken to the office to lie down and I’d sleep there the rest of the day. This was November, by early January my Mom kicked me out. Technically the reason was because I came home late three nights in a row (12:05 when my curfew was midnight; yes, I’m serious). I remember my Mom screaming at me that I was just impossible to live with, to get out. So, at age 17, halfway through my senior year of high school, I left home and have never gone back.
Sixteen years and hundreds of therapy sessions later I consider myself a mostly well-adjusted adult. I have dealt with the abuses of my childhood and have moved on. Sure, they still pop up every now and then, and must be acknowledged, given a cursory examination, and then repacked before putting them back on the shelf, but for the most part those terrible memories are not part of my daily life.
Last year I had a huge breakthrough, I finally got to tell my mother, to her face (and with no small quantity of swears and screams) what I thought of her, what I remembered, and how she had failed me, how as an adult she should have known better. It was….it was really, really hard. And also exhilarating to finally be free of all those words. I wrote about it here, thinking that perhaps this would be the first step towards some kind of reconciliation. There has been no reconciliation. I do not care enough to put in any time or effort to regenerate a dead relationship with my mother, and she has not reached out either. I don’t know if that is old habits dying hard, or if she truly does not want or need a relationship with me. I am certain, however, that I do not need or want a relationship with her. And I’m okay with that. I am at peace with that. I kept thinking that after a huge blow up with all the chips down and feelings out in the open I’d finally want to explore having a mother in my life.
Turns out, nope, I don’t.
And she doesn’t either.
And that no longer hurts. I am sitting here staring out my window, trying to get myself to feel something about this: Harriet, your Mom doesn’t care about you. She doesn’t love you. She was horrible for years and despite all the manipulations and emotional blackmail, she still doesn’t want you in her life. You are unwanted and unloved.
Nothing. I feel nothing.
That’s not entirely true. Sometimes I do feel sorry for her, I am fully aware that she has something messed up in her brain that is, most likely, at the root of her actions and behavior. Part of me knows she cannot control that, but part of me also knows that there are things she can do to be a better mother, sister, and friend. Medication, therapy, something. She chooses to pretend that a) everything is fine, and b) the things that are not fine are not her fault, because she’s the victim in all scenarios and has zero responsibility for their outcome. She is not willing to see, or she is incapable of seeing, and that is not something I need to take on and fix.
I feel nothing. I have felt nothing for years. I feel even less nothing now than I did a year ago. I am not heartless. But when it comes to my relationship with my Mom, I feel…nothing.