My Mother Died Today
“Vicki call 9-1-1.” she said.
“I can’t feel my arms.”
They came…quickly…they put her in the ambulance…and she was gone.
She died on the way to the hospital.
This is the part where I am supposed to tell you what an amazing mother she was, but she struggled with this role.
She was an abused child and like most abused children the gaping wounds left from childhood oozed all over everything she tried to love.
That is something she and I had in common.
I remember her telling me that she wished I had been a girl.
“When I found out you were a boy, I tried to leave you at the hospital, but they didn’t want you either.”
I was five the first time she told me that.
When I was four, I awoke to a party she was having.
I sleepily stumbled out to the living room where she put a joint up to my lips and told me to “breathe in”.
I did and all the adults laughed.
I don’t remember anything after that.
In her defense, it WAS the 70s.
I have a million stories like this, but I am not angry with her.
I love her.
I used to be angry with her, but years of therapy guided me down those dark corridors and I realize that she never meant to hurt me.
And even though some people would say that she never loved me, I know that she did…the best that she knew how.
The men she brought into my life.
The men who would beat me and beat her…
She didn’t do this because she didn’t love me.
She did it because she wanted to be loved.
These predators could sense her desperation and they would come in, all smiles and kindness and then hit her and make fun of her weight problem.
They sensed that her loyalty to me was weak so they abused me with abandon.
I was an easy target.
A tiny, malnourished child with an abyss where my self-esteem should have been.
I used to lie under my bed, covered in blood from the latest beating, by the latest boyfriend, waiting for her to come and pull me out and hold me and tell me that she loved me and would protect me.
And I waited…and waited…and my heart grew hard and my veins filled with rage.
I became a force.
I would see one of her boyfriend’s hitting her and I would run full speed with whatever I could get my hands on, scale their backs and attack.
I was tiny and it didn’t take long for the men to knock me unconscious, but at least they stopped hitting her.
The men would leave, denouncing us both as crazy and she would tell me that my attack had cost her the man who loved her.
“If I have to choose between him and you, I choose him.” she would always say.
By the time I was a teenager I not only hated her, I hated anything that looked like her or where we came from.
I hated trailer parks and alcohol.
I hated poor people and obesity.
I hated the ignorant, stupid people I ran into everywhere I went, because they reminded me of what I had escaped from.
So why am I crying now?
Why do I wish things would have turned out differently?
Why do I wish I could have been with her to hold her as she passed?
Why do I wish I could have given her the tenderness those other men didn’t have the courage to give?
Because she was a good woman and she was doing her best.
She left me with people who molested me, but I know she wished she hadn’t.
She let me sleep in cars and on park benches and go days at a time without eating, but I know she wished she hadn’t.
I know she would have done better if she wasn’t so broken by her own childhood.
All she ever wanted was a man to love her.
A man who thought she was pretty.
She, like me, wanted someone to pull her bloodied body out from under the bed and take care of her.
And because no one ever did, she spent her life compromising her values, praying that someone would.
I realized all this about her when I was 19 in a therapy session.
It hit me suddenly and with great force.
And gradually the anger started to slip away.
I am not “healed”.
Overcoming abuse is something we never finish.
It is with me every day and I have been told by many therapists that the trauma will always be part of me.
Once my anger subsided I went to visit her, after years of being estranged.
She was suddenly very old and non threatening.
Her health problems all seemed to catch her at once.
She was mellow…and she had found a decent man.
She was happy.
My therapist advised me to get closure by talking with her about the abuse.
She said it never happened.
She said my father and her boyfriend’s had beaten me, but she never had.
She said she would have defended me, had she known they were doing it.
She denied all responsibility.
She denied saying all the horrible things that ripped out my heart and echoed in my mind for years.
As a consequence, I felt disconnected from her.
Like she was some strange old lady who I had just met.
Why wouldn’t she just admit it, so we could talk about it?
A few times as a parent I caught myself saying something jagged to one of my kids and I would stop and say “I’m sorry. I don’t mean that.”
Then a year ago, my son Dravin and I were arguing and I said something really awful to him.
I immediately teared up and said “I’m so sorry.” and he walked away and closed his door.
I followed him into his room.
“What I said had NOTHING to do with you. It’s a shadow of something else.”
The phone rang.
It was my mom.
I usually didn’t answer when she called but I picked up the phone crying.
“What’s wrong is I just treated my son the way you treated me?! I have spent my entire life trying to be better than that!! And I fucking hate myself right now! But I can’t hate myself!! Because if I do it will just lead to more compromises!! I know you didn’t abuse me mom!! I know you don’t believe that you did, but YOU DID and I deal with it everyday and it makes me afraid of people and it makes me not able to sleep at night and it shows up in my most important relationships and wrecks them and now it just caused me to be mean to my son and I can’t let THAT happen!! I won’t..”
“Hey.” she said softly “I’m sorry.”
I paused for a long time.
“Sorry for what?” I asked.
“For how I treated you. And how I let others treat you. Believe it or not, I didn’t know any better.”
“I know you didn’t, Mom. I figured that out a long time ago.”
When we hung up Dravin said “What did she say?”
“She said she was sorry.” I said “And I’m sorry, Dravin.”
And we hugged for a very long time.