Sunday, August 18, 2013

My Mother, Pt. 3

Since today is my mother's 53rd birthday, I decided to finish the series on her that I started over two years ago. 
I'll do my best to pick up where I left off.
The summer that we lived with her in that little Sunnyslope apartment was the first experience I had with her being an alcoholic. The first time she was the only parent there to watch, and so I finally started to notice things. Things like the slurred speech at 10 am, the wobbly walk when she came home from work, the way that her work day ended at all kinds of hours, anytime between 5 pm and 6 the next morning, but she was a nurse in a doctor's office. 
She'd go out drinking after work, and sometimes come home the next morning still in her scrubs.
My mother and I were never close, but that summer I was 8 and still thought we might be someday.
But she was either sleeping, or wandering around the house with beer-blind eyes, not seeing any of us, so when my sisters and I moved out, I didn't let myself cry.
It wasn't for another two years that I lived with her again, or even so much spent a weekend at her house.
When I was 10 she showed up on the back of a motorcycle, driven by a man who then I only knew as my dad's friend Alan. 
I found out later it was her boyfriend and they were living together.
I still wonder what those two years without her three daughters was like.
How it was to go from seeing your children every day, to not seeing them at all.
Eventually summer rolled around again, and she came to the house one afternoon by herself, to tell us that Alan said we could come live at his house for the summer with them if we wanted to. 
I didn't want to go and neither did Michele, but Erica always butted heads with our dad more than we did, so she was the first to volunteer. 
On the weekends my dad would drive me to their house though, a squat, perfectly square little gray brick house, again in Sunnyslope. There was a sad little yard with a sagging chain link fence, and a German Shepherd that Alan said was older than me, and I believed him.
But inside, Erica spent her days drinking Pepsi and watching MTV, and generally being left alone, which in comparison to my Dad's house, seemed awesome. No one was yelling at her to do chores, or hitting her if they weren't done right. As far as I could see, if she left Anita alone, Anita returned the favor. 
So I moved in.
There were neighbor kids and very few rules.
Late nights of Uno games, and a young mom down the street who took an interest in us.
Anita spent her time either in her room, drinking until Alan came home and then drank with him in the kitchen, or she worked. Off and on in hospitals and doctor's offices, but when staying sober between 8 and 5 became too hard, she took a job as a clerk at the corner store and nobody said anything about it.
For years things went on like this.
I moved back into and back out of her house several times, for various reasons.
The majority of the time it was like living alone, only without being responsible for any bills, and some of the time she'd get angry drunk, and want to fight. 
Other times she'd get nice and tight and then want to go grocery shopping with all of us girls, who had little choice but to pile in the back seat of her Honda and let her take us swerving down the mountain to the store, all of us pretending there was nothing abnormal about it.

Her and I never had a relationship.
We didn't kiss, we didn't hug. In fact we both went out of our way to avoid touching each other at all.
Saying we loved each other was rare, and always forced.
My sisters had to remind her of my birthday.

Eventually I moved out of both my parent's homes and on my own.
Over the course of my first year in that little apartment, all on my own with a 2 year old daughter, and what seemed like endless paths in front of me for what my life, and my relationship with my kid could be like, I started getting mad at my mother, for the first time.
My whole life I had assumed our relationship was normal.
If not always normal, then certainly not that far from it.
But standing in the kitchen, face to face with my own child, I didn't understand her indifference.
I couldn't.

So one night, I decided to ask her about it.
All my life other people had explained my mother to me. I wanted to give her the chance to speak for herself. 
I stayed up all night, so that I could call her at 5 a.m. when I knew she'd be up getting my step dad ready for work, but wouldn't have started drinking yet for the day.
As the phone rang, my heart hammered in my chest.
When I heard her voice, soft and pretty, like it always had been, unexpected tears rushed to my eyes.
Her voice was the hand on my cheek at night, only once.
It was the soft murmur in the living room that I would stay up at night and listen for before I could fall asleep.
It was the flame of red hair that I watched get smaller and smaller in all the rear windows of all the cars that she put me in and waved goodbye, as she sent me back to live with my dad, my sister, my grandma, my aunts or uncles or anyone but her.

I hadn't planned what I wanted to say, so when she answered, I just asked the one question I really couldn't get passed: why she didn't love me.
I expected her to sigh, to roll her eyes so hard I'd be able to hear it over the phone, to tell me I was being dramatic and silly and of course she loved me, and why on earth was I calling so damn early?
But instead she was quiet, for a long time.
When she finally spoke, she told the truth. I at least have to give her that. She spoke her truth, as best as she could, and explained how I had come to be, and what I had always represented to her, and what her own childhood had done to her.
She didn't deny anything, she made no excuses.

People ask me now if I'm angry at my mom. 
If I miss her.
If I hate her for what she did, or blame her for the issues I have now.
If I love her.
If I forgive her.

The answer to all of that, is no....and yes....
As I get older, I understand her more, and less at the same time.
I don't know if I miss her, because I didn't know her, but I know that I miss the idea of her.
For the idea of a mother that we all want, and really very few of us had - even people whose mothers tried much harder than mine to do it right.
There are times when I am so scared, or when I hurt so bad, that I feel myself asking for my mother deep down inside....but I know that I don't mean Anita.
I'm not asking for the woman who left me, who didn't look at me, who never wanted me. I'm not asking for the woman who sneered, and scowled, and punished me for the sins of my father. I don't want the person who smelled like alcohol, who didn't protect me, who dropped me off at the Emergency room and never came in, who fell down at my church play and who drove me drunk to the grocery store.
I want the idea of her, the smell of her in the morning, the soft anguish of her perfume. I want her hair in my face that time she held me when I cried, the color of her eyes. I want her wide hips, her soft tummy, the times she was sober enough and present enough to let me sink down to the bottom of her. I want the woman who let me hide behind her, who gave me my name, who taught me how to walk in heels.

I'm not angry at her, but I can't miss her, and I don't know how to hate her. 
But I'll always painfully, distantly, wishfully, and impossibly, 
love her.

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