My mom had a bout of shingles break out last week which necessitated me spending most of last Sunday with her -- hospital run, drug store, food, etc. No problem. She enjoyed my company and total dedication to her that day. The circumstances were not the best but it forced us to spend some time together. Something I'm ashamed to say I usually keep to a minimum as it usually doesn't end well. She asked me at one point, why we weren't able to talk like we used to. Problem, number one -- we've NEVER talked like she was remembering. She couldn't see the extreme side-eye I gave to that statement. I brushed it off with the "we're just too different, don't have a lot in common, blah, blah, blah). No hurt feelings, no drama.
But it wasn't the truth and it's been bugging me ever since. It's no secret that our past has been a little tension filled (It's Complicated). I am trying my best to overcome the dysfunction that I knew as my childhood home. I've spent a lot of money on therapy (yes black women go to therapy), books, and an anti-depressant or two trying to figure "me" out. During my work with an extremely talented therapist, I made a lot of progress and realized the only way my mom and I were going to get closer is if I talked to her from my heart. The therapist coached me on how to initiate the conversation and carry it out in non-threatening terms but also to get my truth heard.
I was pumped! I practiced and made notes on the events "that changed who I was" (yes, I watch Dr. Phil, too). The conversation started off well. Mom was listening and seemed open to what I was saying. I was talking about my dad's drinking and the way it made me feel. All was going well as long as I was saying he sucked (not exactly what I was saying but that summed it up). When I started trying to explain how her behavior impacted me as a woman today, it was down hill. The conversation turned from how I was affected to hysterical tears from her about how I was trying to blame her for everything that ever went wrong in my life. My truth telling moment was over. I had to make her feel better and so I did. Never mind my issues -- again. You were perfect mom. Yes, you did the best you could. No I'm not blaming you. I'm sorry. I was crying on the inside though. I wanted my mom to hear my truth.
I wanted her to know how scared I was that summer night when I was 13. Dad was beating the crap out of her and we (my brothers and I) helped get her out of the house and to the safety of one of her few friends that knew what was going on. I wanted her to know that daddy was so mad at me for helping her escape that he wouldn't let me back in the house. I wanted her to know that I slept in the back of that truck that he drove from Bob Sumerel Tire because I didn't know where else to go (no cell phones then and I didn't have any money for pay phone or no one to call if I had the money). I wanted her to know that in the middle of the night, sniffing the smell of tires while trying to sleep, I had to use the bathroom. So I peed beside the truck. I wanted her to know how humiliated I was as I stooped beside that truck, crying because I didn't feel safe to go across the typical residential street and use the bathroom. I wanted her to know that the smell of a tire shop now always , always takes me back to that night. I hate buying tires to this day because of the smell. I wonder why I didn't go to a neighbor or try to call the police to help me that night. Truth is, it wasn't an option. The abuse had been going on for so long and even more importantly, I had learned all too well, that we don't go "telling mama's business" to ANYONE. You know, what goes on in this house stays in this house. P-E-R-I-O-D. What I really wanted her to do was tell "Carolyn" to let me go back and get my baby girl. She knew daddy had never physically abused us but the emotional abuse we took until he finally passed out was brutal. We got expert at tuning him out though (or so I thought) and got really skilled in the art of manipulation to get him to go to sleep. Most of the time.
I wanted her to know that I didn't invite too many friends over (especially on the weekends) not because I preferred being alone but because I never knew when it was going to be a jump off night. Even though I'm sure (now) that everyone in the neighborhood knew, then I felt I would DIE if dad started drinking and fighting and I had friends over. After all, when I was in orchestra and made first chair -- FIRST CHAIR - playing violin the teacher would bring me home after practice sometimes. He rolled up on one of those fights dropping me off one evening. I quit orchestra then and haven't picked up a violin again. I loved playing the violin, too. I quit anything and everything that involved someone even wanting to come to our house unless I knew their home was as ratchety as mine was emotionally.
I wanted to tell her that my the drunk adult male cousin (yeah on daddy's side) that came to our house
It had been subtly taught to me not to bring up anything that even hinted at the dysfunction in our home. So I didn't. In fact, I didn't bring up anything. Anything and everything I had a question about, I quickly found out a book was written on the subject. The library was truly my favorite place.
But I also wanted to tell her I understood a little bit more now. I had a good understanding of the disease of alcoholism and how it played out in our family. I wanted her to know that I sort of understood the psychological damage that an abused woman suffers. I wanted her to know that as bad as it was, I had learned a lot of valuable lessons that made me the woman I am today. I wanted her to know that she had done a good job given the circumstances. Statistically, I should have had five kids, and my brothers should have had kids from numerous women or should have been in jail. None of that happened. Three of my brothers are in marriages that have lasted a lot longer than mine did. One is "shacking" with a Sarah Palin, Glen beck lover (I expect him to wake up soon). I, as the only girl, had one child, and I'm the grandmother to one beautiful little girl who is spoiled rotten. I wanted her to know she had five children that she raised to be some of the most caring and compassionate people I know. I wanted her know that in spite of everything, we made it through.
But I never got to tell her my truth that night. In all honesty, I will probably never get to tell her my truth and, unfortunately, I'll never know hers. That's a shame. If we had just taken a couple of hours to speak out truths to each other, I'm sure our relationship would be different today. Instead, I was holding on to bitterness and resentment that she wouldn't give me that little bit of time. She wouldn't be uncomfortable for a couple of hours to let me release the pain I had been living with for years. Perhaps the pain of those memories was too much. My mom is the master of appearances, so maybe she truly didn't remember what I remembered. Maybe her Leave It To Beaver/Norman Rockwell memories are truly what she has to remember in order to erase the horrible marriage she lived through. I don't know and probably never will.
I gave a big sigh of relief when I realized all I wanted was to tell a part of my truth. While it would have been nice if I had been able to share it with my mom, it didn't happen and probably won't. That's okay. I can let it go now. But the lesson I learned is we all want to be heard. I don't think the intention is to blame and accuse but to be heard. We want to know that we matter -- that our truth is important to SOMEBODY. That truth can be hard for those on the receiving end to hear. It took a long time, but I finally realized it wasn't going to happen. My mom wasn't gonna hear my truth and I could either accept that or drive myself crazy (ier) that it wasn't happening. At this point in my mother's life is it really fair to burden her with all of my childhood aches and how they've been the root of EVERY BAD DECISION I've made in my adult life? There's a part of me that says "hell yeah, you need to know". The other part of me says, why? Is anything going to change as a result of her hearing my truth? Nope. But I can listen and nurture myself. At some point, it becomes our job to give ourselves what we need emotionally. Yes, the damaged child wants the parent to fix it -- it's the natural order of things -- but the adult says you can take care of yourself. It has become time for me to accept my mistakes -- to recognize that I can't blame my parents forever -- time for me to accept my truth, take my lessons, and let it go.