It’s a strange balance, really, when recounting one’s relationship with a mother. There’s such tension between telling it plainly and letting loose the pent up rage that’s been fucken stewing inside for years. The decade or more of mutual misunderstanding, the maturation of self, but the mother clinging on to the thought of you as a dependent child, and treating you thusly. And they do care, they just do so, often, in fucken terrible ways.
See, and that’s the thing. We all make sense to ourselves, and since that’s true, we rarely explain our actions, and rarely feel the need to. Why would we? This makes total sense. Fucken duh I was going to do that. Figure it out for your goddamned self.
I read a friend’s account of a recent prolonged visit with her mother, and the sewage of memories which were in turn dredged up.
We find ourselves baffled by paradox: something pleasant here, something less so here. An apocalyptic fuck up here, another one here. I mean, there’s no question which way the scales slide in this narrative.
But maybe what I’m surprised by more than anything is the normalization that we children do, the fucken rationalization that we do when we trace back. We need it to make sense, we need all these tragedies to fit neatly in a box. And that’s why we write about them. Because we care about them, and we want to think that there was some higher purpose, some bigger reason, as to why we suffered at the hands of our mothers. We become their apologists in the hopes of it all making sense. If the pain of years ago is today meticulously arranged, we think, it will hurt less.
And it does make sense, in a way, but maybe not the way we think it might, or should. Because to them, they raised us, and got us out of the fucken house, and boom, end of story. And they were goddamned right to be mad about her girlfriend, or justified in hitting me when she found a box of condoms. This all made sense to them.
I raised you, you didn’t die, you seem sane enough where I don’t need to worry more. I did a good job, leave me the fuck alone.
What they will probably never think: I am sorry for the lack of emotional nurturing.
What they will probably never say: I made some serious errors.
What we wish they would: Tell me about the times I hurt you.
What we wish they would: A child should not have been treated like I treated you.
What they might say: I did my goddamned best.
What they might say: Your father, don’t even get me fucken started.
What they have said: I don’t think you’ve been a good child to me.
What they still say: Drive carefully on your way home.
Could you take some of your stuff with you next time you visit?
We grow up, it’s true, we race on ahead to check things off the list, and these childhood memories become tiny people with big voices and discomforting strength, and they live inside of us, and then they take over when we are adults, and we find ourselves distressed, and in the case of my friend, and in the case of me, this can take on unsavory habits.
In the writing trade, you’re taught to let the audience get mad for you. Don’t get mad or be bitter on the page. It flattens things out.
So I can’t say, You fucken bitch, do you have any idea?
So I shouldn’t say, The less I talk to you, the happier I am.
But there is fucken rage, and it lives on, and I tell my therapist that it isn’t just rage, it’s a desire for action, to throttle the direct object of my anger, to bludgeon it until it sees what I want it to see.
Take a look, asshole – that crying child is your handiwork.
And: I’m glad I fucken hurt you. I’m glad I broke you, too.
Because the rage is a cover up for the sadness, the pain, the vulnerable little shits that we once were, and therefore still are today. Secondary emotion is what the social workers call it.
And it lives on, but it stays clamped down until it doesn’t, and then man, there are fireworks. It’s a drunken Thanksgiving with all of us yelling, or me reading a book in the adjoining room while my parents still threaten a divorce that they haven’t followed through on for almost 20 years, me nearly crying about it later.
So fine, we’re not angry, we’re telling you calmly. My friend, in her rendition, is not angry. There is confusion, yes, the gropings and attempts to extract some higher meaning out of the ether, something more satisfying than She just fucked up, and fucked up big. And there probably is some meaning in there. There’s the story of her mother. Because her mother was rational unto herself. Still is as she makes her husband work three jobs as she lives a life lavish beyond her means; still as she blames her newer children. Still, as she stays in a hotel room to visit her daughter. That’s the story. Or another story. Either way, the answers lie down that path, and as a child of that story, it’s a fucken scary route to want to take. Digging up the past is rarely a fun and easy thing to do. Especially when it deals in the business of rearing kin.
It all makes sense to her mother, and that’s my friend’s struggle – to make sense of that shit.
It’s my fucken struggle, too.
It’s what we’re left with. I don’t think they’d remember the things that left the marks. Or at least not remember them the way we did. Or at least not feel the need to defend.
My friend isn’t angry, at least not on the page; the detached voice, the quiet, uncertain analysis, has the intended effect of unsettling me. You put up with that shit? I asked her in my head.
Problems of the first world, yes, but problems nonetheless. The impulsive decisions of my friend’s mother, the gross neglect, the social conservatism of my own mother, and her absolute need for control – these are things we are left figuring out, because they couldn’t do it for their goddamned selves.
We’re picking up the shattered vases of our youth. We’re tending to our younger selves. We piece it all back together, but we can see the fault lines, the cracks, the fragments that got lost. And that’s fine, there’s nothing wrong with it, really. Just goddamn, I wish there were less work to do. It didn’t have to be this way. But it is this way, and while there isn’t redemption at the end (there never is, there shouldn’t be, who wants to read about a happy fucken ending?), there’s solace, and there’s finally calm, as we leave them behind, and give at last ourselves the love that we wish we had gotten back then. Filling the deficit daily. It’s exhausting. And it’s shitty to admit that getting angry doesn’t help one fucken bit. So I don’t. Instead, I administer a spoonful of self-acceptance, and hope that my friend might be doing the same.