Wednesday was my Mom’s birthday. For many people who live far away from their parents, it’s probably not a big deal to call home, send a card, whatever it is you do to celebrate the birth of the woman who brought you into the world.
For me, it’s not quite like that. I hate to skip over chapters in the story to give you this piece, but it’s timely because it’s October and this month depresses the sh*t out of me for a number of reasons. This is even more weird to write about because, as I type this, my very best friend in the world is going into labor with her first child.
I don’t usually enjoy talking to my Mom. It sucks. I say,”I love my Mom,” like most people say, “I love long weekends,” or “I love Sam Adams beer.” Just doesn’t have that emotional ring to it. If you haven’t read up on previous chapters of my life, I suggest starting with “Slow Piroutte for the Dancing Girl,” and perhaps check out my conversation on Mother’s Day.
I didn’t have that chemical bond a child forms with his/her mother those first few seconds, hours and days. I was taken away at birth and placed in another woman’s care for three years. Four years after my mother got me back, I was “taken away” again, this time to live with my grandparents – who I view as my true parental figures because they were my custodians for longer than anyone else.
This thing with my grandparents taking care of me caused a great deal of pain for my mother. She thought that they’d have me for a year until she got well again and then maybe she could get the mommy thing right. Problem was, I wasn’t having it.
At seven years old, I knew I never wanted to live with her again. She didn’t understand that for years, until I was 14, actually . . . but we’ll get to that story later. I haven’t seen her since I was 14. And she thought it was my grandparents’ fault that I didn’t want to live with her anymore.
So ever since I was seven, Mom and I have had to rely on a series of phone calls and the annual two-week visit during summer months to cultivate some sort of closeness. This is just fucking weird to talk about – but that experiment never really worked. I listen to her talk about all of her problems and it’s just . . . click . . . disconnect. I can’t feel anything.
If anything, I’m proud of her. People have gone through less than she has and backed out of life. She’s lost both her kids, received not a whole lot of support from my family and has fought tooth and nail to gain some sort of education in Jamestown.
She’s also the source of so many things about my character that I treasure. Her ability to speak her mind, regardless of the consequences, is inspiring. I care about hurting certain people, but for the most part I let people have it – and bluntly – when I am not happy with something they’ve done. My mother has been arrested because of her mouth several times. She refuses to become a kinder, gentler version of herself because that’s just not who she is. I love her for that, too. And without her DNA, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be a writer. My brother writes, I wrote poetry before anything else, and that’s what she’s been doing since before I was in the womb. If our story makes us rich some day, God bless her, but keep her far away from me.
But so many of her problems, like anyone’s problems, have been of her own making. My grandfather has tried and continues to try to help her. It’s hard for me not to be biased towards him because he helped to shelter me and give me the environment I needed to become who I am today. I haven’t talked about him here a whole lot, but I absolutely adore him. He didn’t owe me a single thing, yet he took me in as his own flesh and blood and raised me. I know what he’s done to reach out to her, and he is repaid by my mother lashing out at him and his wife because they are the Evil Ones Who Took Me and Wouldn’t Give Me Back.
Consider this though: Every holiday after I was seven years old (the year I moved to live with my grandparents), I played the dutiful child and talked to my Mom. Every holiday, she is the one who told me that it wasn’t fair that both of her children should be taken away and that I should come back to live with her. Every holiday, my grandparents were the bad guys, and who were we to enjoy the family and the love and the warmth that everyone should have on holidays? Who were we? Why should we be happy, and not her? And why did I get to be close to her father when she never really got to because her parents got divorced? Why? Answer that, Emily.
I don’t know the answer to most of those questions. All I know is that she made me miserable every f*cking time. Take that one bitter, manipulative, mentally-ill character away, and I had a fucking made-for-TV family. After all the turkey and the mashed potatoes and the Christmas cookies, I’d be there in the dark in the formal living room talking to Mom, listening to her literally sob on the end of the line . . . while the sounds of my cousins opening presents and aunts and uncles clinking glasses of wine came floating in from the family room and the kitchen. No one else had to deal with her. She had shut all of them out and I was the only one she was concerned with winning back to her “side.” I fought those battles alone.
If anyone wonders where my diplomacy and stupid sense of loyalty come from, it’s from those years tethered to phone calls in the dark.
I searched out words that wouldn’t unravel Mom’s sense of entitlement to technical maternity while at the same time struggling to explain that I was doing the right thing by living with my grandparents. Diplomatic to Mom, loyal to Grandma and Grampa. Diplomacy. Loyalty. My out-of-whack feeling meters for those two emotions color everything, and I’ve had a hell of a time trying to wrestle free.
Why should I feel ashamed of my detachment when it wasn’t my fault she couldn’t mother me? It’s not that I do feel ashamed; it’s that every time I hear her cry when I call her on her birthday, my birthday or some other happy day, I feel like I should feel ashamed. Like I’m feeling nothing where there should be some weighty sense of grief for what I lost.
But what did I lose? I step back and then the anger comes, because I realize she has put me in the middle of so many battles with her own father. For one to use one’s daughter as a pawn against one’s father is a type of behavior I can’t really stomach. So, I’ll leave you with this:
From Mom, postmarked May 9, 2003. Addressed to me, my brother, Grandma L. (not the one who raised me, but my Grampa’s first wife) and Grampa. (Ellipsis are hers, not mine.)
The time for celebration has come, at least for me.
For my Em who might not be able to make it to my graduation, I love you and just think of me walking up to get my diploma, just as I thought of you getting yours. I forfeited seeing you graduate so I could buy a computer to help me do the work it would take to get to this point. I’m almost there.
To Corey, my son, I love you . . . keep this memento so you can look back and see what a struggle life can be and what is actually worth fighting for. You and I and Em have accomplished great things . . . and better things to come . . .
Mom . . .hope you can be here for my graduation . . . but if you can’t I’ll be thinking of you and how you started college so long ago and decided to raise all seven of us kids . . . I’ll be graduating and trying to find employment just as you did when dad left and you were on your own still taking care of me, Steve and Tom.
Dad . . . I am getting my diploma from College just as [my aunt/her sister] did . . . I don’t think she had any family around to share in her accomplishments . . . You may not be there for my graduation but you were there for Em’s . . . you raised her? You raised me? Where did your heart go? I love you . . . your love is displaced. I have been on my own . . . now I’m on the road and in the running as far as what are deemed accomplishments in life . . . I am outspoken and honest . . . I’ll never change for the worse.”