Monday, August 3, 2009

We had it rough.

My mother and I had it rough.

I think I was so hard for her because I was sort of a pre-death reincarnation of herself. Also, the subject of my birth and origins was a touchy one -- who do I come from, why won't you tell me, what would people say if I told them my husband wasn't your father? and I think it was a source of some embarrassment for her, to say the least. Not to mention constant aggravation once I realized the truth and started routinely begging for confirmation from her, which was always denied. She was too proud, and the truth hurt too much. I understood that and respected it. It was one of her many boundaries, and I could not force her into allowing me to cross it.

But man, I loved that woman. I loved her so much, it still aches inside of me. There's this place that was hollowed out, carved raw and left pulsing when she died. It takes my breath away sometimes, remembering out of nowhere that she's dead. (Not gone. Dead.) She was all I had, in a way. I don't know who my birth father is, and realized that at a very young age- so she was the well, the source, the only beginning, the entire history. I had so much - too much? - invested in her and our relationship, that it probably became difficult for her to live up to any of my expectations.

It was hard for my mother to live up to expectations in general. She had various and sundry medical conditions bouncing around inside her skull, some diagnosed, some not, but all adding just a pinch of disorder to situations that were commonplace for others. This included relations with the people around her - it's obviously going to be difficult for a very paranoid person to carry on a 'normal' relationship with someone, you understand. Or for someone with mild schizophrenia to view or handle routine circumstances with any degree of predictability.

Aside from her specific mental issues, her personality made it hard for her to sustain meaningful relationships. She hated birthdays, LOATHED Christmas. Any time someone expected something of her, she felt suffocated and resentful, like she had to arch and buck away from whatever she felt was binding her... be it social constructs or obligations, or her children...

See, there's not much difference between a friend wanting you to do something for them and a child expecting or needing a certain action. Not to someone like my mother. All of it boiled down to the same things: Constraint, obligation, expectations. Need. Demand. Want. All of it was often too much. It strained her.

And so, we had it rough. My older (younger?) sister has always been far more demanding emotionally than I am, far more needy than me. This was allowed and encouraged because there was something different and beautiful about her, something special and specific and queer. Something she could love without resentment. I observed this at a very young age - 3? 4? - and knew that while it was all I wanted in the world, to be adored the way my sister was by our mother, it would not be tolerated from me or anyone else. My mother needed me to be independent, needed me to stand alone. And so I did, because I loved her so much.

Over the years it became my responsibility to protect my older (younger. I always want to say younger. But she's not, she's 13 months older. Older, older, older,) sister, because her sweet nature left her needing protection and because it was what I could do for them both. Act as a buffer between my lovely (I say that without an ounce of sarcasm- she is everything good in the world, and I adore her completely) sister and the world around her, thus keeping the one thing my mother treasured above all else safe. It was what I did. It is what I do still. It is what I love and resent, this role I was obliged to take but now wouldn't know how to abandon.

By the time I was old enough to look my mother in the eye flat-foot, I started hearing you're too hard, you're too much work to love, I love you because I have to, because I'm your mother and I'm supposed to... by that time she had come around to brutal honesty because my personality and our likeness frustrated and often infuriated her, leaving her without any other weapon to wound me with. So she told me frequently and in great, imaginative detail how she hated what she had made me into.

It didn't matter, not really. I mean, at the time I could have killed her and never been sorry, just to stop the noise. But I didn't kill her, or even so much as raise a hand to her, because I loved her so fiercely that it was all I could to hate myself for not ever, ever being what she needed.

I only ever wanted to help her and never could have REALLY fathomed acting out against her, nor she against me. On my end this restraint was born of love and difference, the desire to keep her safe and happy.

My mother's restraint was a little bit different. By the time her Daily Rundown of Shit I Did Wrong (To Include Breathing and Blinking Occasionally) started, I was taller than she was by several inches, not that size tempered her fury much as it broke like waves against me. What kept her always raging at arm's length was that I could (did not frequently, but could) look at her without expression or reaction to the things she was doing or saying. I would watch her closely - you could never be certain she wasn't going to reach for a knife, although she only did once - and the more attention I paid, the more brightly her rage burned. She hated that I did not turn away from her. She longed to make everyone turn away so that she could be left alone with her self-loathing, without external expectations. She wanted badly to push us all away, occasionally desired to cause an emotional pain that could not be recovered from so that we would only hate her and leave her to hate herself.

But I could not turn away from her. How could I? Even in her fits, her frustration, her terrible anger at me that was brought on by nothing other than that we'd had the misfortune of my being born to her, she was beautiful. She was captivating to me. She was all I had, and I could no more leave her there to commit emotional suicide than I could slit her wrists myself. I knew even when she was tearing me apart at the seams that she loved me... She just didn't know what to do with it. And because I did not and could not turn my back on her, she could never summon the courage to strike me with any real determination. Having been terribly abused and tortured by her first husband, she could not wound the one that looked at her with only concern, love, and confusion in her eyes.

And so we had it rough. Me, constantly trying to keep her in check. Her, forever trying to thrust me away by any means necessary so that she could just be left the fuck alone already. My anger, frustration, FURY would occasionally rise to meet hers, but mostly I could not match the passion with which she threw herself into destroying me.

It was an odd thing. I know my mother loved me intensely. I know she was proud of me because she would say so occasionally, after I got older and moved out from under her feet. When we could breathe without the taste of each other's exhaled breath in our mouths, we found that we liked one another quite a lot. I was shocked at how easily I could surprise her into laughing with me, absolutely blown apart and rebuilt the first time I saw in her face a love that was untempered by frustration or anger. I can still see that expression in my mind, the surprise in her beautiful eyes at realizing that we were the same and it was okay. I can clearly remember the relief, thinking Dear God, finally.

By the time she died, we were quite close. Very close. My older (younger) sister was still the favorite. Our oldest sister was a close second. Then there was me, pulling up the rear, but at least I was on the list...

My mother had issues. Big ones. Serious ones. We all do, and if someone tells you they don't, they're a dirty liar and you should get away from them before the Earth cracks beneath their feet. (Because liars, if no one else, go to hell.) But I loved her intensely. Still do. She was perfect in the way that we all are. She taught me to see people, not disorders, and understand that everyone has motives and reasons behind everything they do and say- no matter how obscure or hard to understand. She showed me how to hate the deed, not the doer, how to love unconditionally and hang on 'till it hurts and after. How to push aside the iron curtain around someone you love and reach them underneath.

I was just thinking about that. Feeling the baby kick, wishing she was here. She would have been so happy to have herself another grandson. I would have been so happy to give her one.

I am the fighter that she made me into. I am the hard one, the difficult one. I am the one that does the things the others will not do. I am her daughter, and I am so proud of that. She was my everything once, and it will always be enough that I was part of hers, too.


  1. Don't know what to say, except, well written.

  2. It what way would you say you are most like her reincarnation? She must have been a very compelling person to inspire this incredible post because I'm not sure I would feel the same. I feel how much and how intensely you loved her. I am looking forward to reading your past posts to play catch up. Truly beautifully written.

  3. @ Happy: I could pass for her twin at every age, from birth to now. Our voices are/were incredibly similar, as were our personalities. She moved out of the house at 17, was married to a VERY ABUSIVE man in the military, they were stationed on a small island (Crete.) ... I moved out at 17, was engaged to a very abusive man in the military, he was stationed on an island (Japan). We both became pregnant for the first time at 19- she had my oldest sister, I miscarried when she died and my fiance attacked me.

    I believe it was very hard for her to see the similarities between herself (she hated herself more than anyone else) and me. The disgust bled over onto me in that way.

    (Other similarities: Her father died of cancer, prompting her to find the strength to leave her husband. She died of cancer, prompting me to leave my fiance.

    That's where the similarities have stopped, so far. She had her first psychotic break at 25 and went on to have several more throughout her lifetime. I have not had one. Yet. Keeping my fingers crossed.)

  4. I wonder if she wanted to be more like your sister? Do you think strong willed people wonder what it is like on the other end? What is it that inspires that in others? In some ways, it is a recognition of your strength that comes through in this post the most. Thanks for your answer and will keep my fingers crossed, too.