Things My Mother Told Me…

“I don’t think you are that lovable.  When I think about it, no one will ever love you the way your father loved me. You’re already too old for someone to love you that long during your life.”  When she said this to me, my father had died less than a year ago.  Clearly, he was the only parent who had loved me.  If, that is, I am indeed lovable at all.

There is a long list of things I wish my mother had never told me, all of which have been divulged in the time since my father died.  No, I’m wrong already, she has been giving me these small jewels of information for years, I’ve just been sheltered in how I have translated the information.

Like so many children, I had an idealized perception of my parents’ unending love for me. I faithfully believed that my parents would always support me, that there was always a safety net called “home” to cradle me in times of dire need or desperation. That belief began to puncture around the same time my mother’s cardiologist recommended she drink one glass of red wine a day. I’m not sure it still qualifies as one glass when the goblet holds the contents of two-thirds of a bottle of Merlot.

“It’s not my job to take care of you, or any of my kids. You are all adults and I’m not responsible anymore for caring about you. Everyone tells me so.” She slurs through her proclamation in the weeks following my father’s heart attack. While I’m sure the statements from her friends and family involve some comment about how we are adults and my mother should practice self-care, what she has heard is that she is alleviated fully of any responsibility to monitor our emotional welfare following my father’s sudden demise. She locks herself in her bedroom and wails, glugging down additional glasses of boxed wine, which she stores under her bathroom sink along with a half-empty handle of Smirnoff.

I’m not sure when her glass of wine a day became a problem, but my sister, a decade my junior, relays that this is the only mother she has ever known. We’re lost now, or lost again.  Adopted children, maybe, always remain orphans a tiny bit. We will always be orphans now.

“Your dad, he wasn’t perfect. He did a lot of things wrong. He didn’t even try to be intimate with me for five years. But he loved me. He did.”  Yes, counseling my mother through her own issues with feeling loved and wanting me to love her, despite her assertions that I, myself, cannot be loved, is perhaps the most trying element of those drunken conversations.  She wants reassurance, she wants validation, that even without true intimacy, my father loved her. I tell her that he did, even though she wouldn’t remember that I said it later. Even one minute later, as we repeated the conversation verbatim.  Yes, my father loved you.

It is not a lie.

“I might have to put the dog to sleep.  Now I know she isn’t really in pain, but she’s just so much work, and she isn’t my dog.  I never wanted her.  Your dad should’ve taken her when he left.”  She says this, as though in the midst of his heart attack, my father motioned to our family pet, who has been with us for over a decade, and asked her if she would like to die too. If the border collie had known that no human in the house would ever stroke her furry mane again until her own death, she may have agreed.

Years ago, I wanted the dog.  I was moving out of state for the first time, and I thought the transition would be easier if I had the dog with me, the dog who adored me and always made me feel less alone. But my mother had refused, claiming I was selfishly stealing my sister’s pet from her. Yet now, it’s a threat. If I don’t take the dog, she will let her die. She didn’t do it right away.  My mother waited a few months before she killed her.  She called me three weeks later and nonchalantly mentioned the dog was dead.  “I told you, didn’t I?  Well, it doesn’t matter, she went in peace. We buried her by the side of a road or something.  I don’t really remember.  I know you said you wanted to cremate her, but that was too expensive, so we just buried her. In peace.”

We.  My mother had been part of a we for so many decades that she had to replace the we.   My dad died, and my mother “had a new love of her life within weeks of his death.  It was obvious that there was no newness to the new relationship, except that it was no longer the “deep, dark secret” that she used to gurgle about when she was inebriated, now it was a public exhibition of her infidelity.  He new love was uncouth, untethered, unconventional – a true opportunist.  With a large house and a business to sell, my mother was an opportunity.  Around this same time, my mother only took our calls by speaker phone and with supervision.  Her new love answered for her, spoke for her, coached her responses. The script was always the same: she was having fun, we were selfish bastard children.  I wanted to feel sorry for her, but it was easier to watch her trickle into yet another relationship where all of her thoughts were created by the other person.

When I was a little girl, my mother and I used to watch made-for-tv movies together, mostly featuring women making bad choices or trapped in bad circumstances. When women abandoned their children for flashy men, or refused to leave abusers and controllers who hurt their kids, my mother would proclaim gravely, “I would never choose a man over my kids; my kids are the most important thing in the world to me.”  I’m not sure when that vow became a lie: the moment it left her lips, or years later, when it was no longer convenient and her new boyfriend told her that selfishness was the true path to happiness.  “I can’t see you if you don’t want to meet with him,” she said though I had not spoken to her for a year.  I extended the olive branch, offering to meet alone, without her lover as a chaperone.  She refused to abandon him and chose not to see me. It was the anniversary of the day I was adopted.

“This isn’t home for anyone,” she said when she unceremoniously sold our family home.  “I hope that you all leave and find your own homes.”  She wanted us all to disperse, to find the wind and blow like leaves. We did.  We weren’t meant to grow roots, only wings. She didn’t seem to notice or care if the wings had developed, if the others had the capacity to fly or not.  She only cared that the nest was to be empty and she would be free to find flight.

Now she is a nomad, too young to retire, living off leftover money and waiting for my father’s social security. “He’d want that for me, to be able to take care of me,” she says, as I write checks for essential things and try to plan safety nets for my siblings.  My mother used to say her greatest fear in life was that she would get old and that none of her children would want to care for her, would not welcome her into our homes, that we would let her die alone.  “Even though,” she would say.  “Even though I took care of you your entire lives.”

Life is a series of ironies, it seems.




Often & Much

I think, sometimes, about the many mistakes I have made in the past. The past, like yesterday (or Sunday, specifically). I think, “how quickly will karma come?” I think about how quickly it has come before, when I’ve done things that were on the thin of falling off the moral compass. Often, I believe it’s why I spend so much time alone, or why I have been alone so much.

Other times, I think it’s my fierce affection for others who have enraptured me.  It is not just love affairs that have blinded me. Other people mistake my strength as a challenge to see my weakness and exploit it. Or as an opportunity to take advantage – maybe it’s all exploitation and manipulation.  I know it all feels yucky and confusing and empty.  Sometimes, I try to assign meaning or rationalize or correlate these disgusting mean meanies to bad things I have done, but the truth is: mean people are mean. They like being mean. They need no reason.

This city has been a vicious cycle of false friends and opportunists or judgmental folks who can’t understand that not all free-spirits have wind in their hair and bare feet.  I’m opinionated, not rigid. I’m professional, not conservative. I’m vocal, not judgmental.  Except with judgmental people, I tend to want to give them a taste of their own behavior – an incredibly pointless exercise which I somehow cannot stop.  I am strong because I was built that way, but my strength is independence, scurrying down tiny trails because a feeling led me there, not because the path was well-worn. I still follow a heart-string to the edge of the Universe, which is why I don’t think of myself as a natural leader; not everyone is meant to live on the edge of the Universe…don’t follow me unless you’re sure. Very few people have been sure, which circles back to why I am mostly alone.

So, I did a bad thing, and then immediately, something bad happened to me. Now I’m empty again, not just alone, but actually empty. It’s that rumble in the belly when you’re so hungry, it is no longer a pain, but a hollow… the faintest echo hollering back.  For now, I think what is needed is for me to feel the emptiness instead of fill it (see “vicious cycle of false friends”).

Maybe the echo has something to say.

Breathe, Goodbye, Exhale, Tomorrow

Song of the Moment: Rascal Flatts “Bless the Broken Road”

Somehow, no matter what the end looks like with us, it seems to be another beginning…

I keep up this picture of us, at this completely transitional time, when we learned about the other person, the truth of the other person, when we haphazardly fell in love. Maybe I always knew it would be fleeting. Maybe your intense need to believe that we would figure it out held us to each other.  Maybe passion disguised the mistakes, the flaws, the inherent thing about it that was always going to be a little bit uncomfortable and wrong.

I look at this photo, and I focus on your smile.  I see only my love.  We were broken before we were whole, fell into each other because of love, not despite all of the other bullshit. I leaned over, in that photograph choreographed by some event photographer, and it captured this moment when we became an “us.”  It didn’t last long, but I keep the photo, display it proudly, because the moment is so pure. Love was so very present, even if fleeting. Even if but for a tiny moment in the infinity of time.

I keep the photo, because I know I did the right thing when I loved you. I don’t keep thinking about all of the ways you failed me.  I don’t focus on the ending filled with harsh disappointments and betrayals and sadness, even though every person I know imagined the outcome would be exactly as it happened. A small failure, one after another. You always loved freedom more than you loved me.  I always loved you more than I could understand. I still don’t think you will comprehend how pure the love I have is, so entrenched in desire and comfort and affection that it can be nothing but true. I tried to leave, and my heart stayed in one place: it stayed in you.

This photograph is a reminder, that when one girl (me) follows her heart, her heart is not wrong, even if everything else falls down. I love you, I loved you, I will love you, even if that love means I must give you the freedom you crave and deserve. I am reminded, by that smile on your face, and the incredible memories of a decade, that you were meant for me and I was yours…just not forever.

From here forward, I will take comfort in knowing, we were right about us when everyone else believed we were wrong, when I thought I was mistaken, when you had faith that a hope and prayer could recover a fallen love. Maybe if we had both done it ever so slightly differently…

I am grateful, broken, blessed, loved, loving, wanton, cherishing, lost.  And yet, I am not angry, not wounded. There is no fault, my love, in goodbye this time. There is only tomorrow, and some future day, in the infinity of time, when we will both know… we were right about us. Even if only for a breath.

I will keep that photo, stare at your face, inhale that smile, not to be trapped in that one moment, but to take power in it. It was right, and I was right to come to you, to have you, and to love you, my one true love. The ending… will never matter as much as what I know to be true. A picture and a thousand words. A thousand times… I love you.