In my life, I’ve had several mothers. In one way, I’ve had a series of caretakers who were there for me when my own mother was not. In another way, I’ve had different experiences of my actual mother at different points in my life.
In early childhood, she was almost mythical. Randomly, at any point in the day or night my mother could descend onto my grandparent’s house in just as random a state. One day she would rumble up in her giant flatbed truck in black skinny jeans with four or five guys in matching grungy outfits like junkie backup dancers. She would be all smiles, and would look so cool and I would beg her to take me with her away from the boring emotional and occasional physical abuse of my quiet suburban home. And she would sweep back through the gate and into her big truck, and off into a life that had to be so much more interesting than me.
Other times she would creep in the back door, quiet and small. I remember seeing our bathroom once, covered in blood. She had been beaten so badly that it dripped from her hair.
Sometimes she brought me presents: dirty trinkets she found in the trash. Which is where they returned as soon as she left. Deposited there by my grandmother, concerned for my health.
Sometimes she cursed at me and sometimes she didn’t even see me. Once or twice she convinced me to give her something of value, so that it could be sold. Once or twice she convinced me to give her something I valued, so that she wouldn’t forget me. Stuffed animals I gave her, I knew went to their doom.
Sometimes she would color with me, and I would sit in her lap, and once she taught me how amazing tomatoes and cottage cheese taste together. It made a lasting impression.
But no matter how she came, she would always leave the same – with an empty promise of return. And I would feel sick. Sick that she left, sick over what she took with her instead of taking me, and sick that she was not coming back. Even though I would wait at the gate for her, wanting to be carried away into a life of danger, and men and fantastic excitement.
It’s so much easier to think that someone never loved you, than to think that they did and that it wasn’t enough.
I grew to hate my mother, she had abandoned me, she had chosen drugs over me. She’d rather be homeless, in jail or worse than be a mother to me. I thought I could forget how much I had loved her. The pain of being small and being left at the gate fueled my resentment. If I just forgot that I ever wanted to go with her, I would never have to be left by her again. I had no mother then. A pattern I seem to have repeated.
Unfortunately for my bitterness, my mother got sober when I was nine. After years of hating her, telling her I hated her and fighting her, challenging her to leave again, I finally grew to trust her, to love her. So much of me was healed by the relationship I had with her in my early teens. Sadly, it didn’t last.
Emotional abuse, mental instability and prescription drug use on her part lead to me moving out two moths before high school graduation. Walking out with the last of my stuff, I thought for sure that the moment my foot hit the threshold, I’d puff away and scatter like dust into the air. She had convinced me so completely that I was fundamentally incapable of caring for myself that, although I thought I might survive without her, I really wasn’t sure.
Once again, I waited for her to return. To return to sobriety, to return to sanity, to return to me, her daughter. I gave her things I had no right to give her, I did for her what she could do for herself – even if that meant that my own needs were neglected. I took her calls in the middle of the night, crying and asking if she was a bad mother, crying and telling me she wanted to die. I thought that if I just stayed at that gate like a good girl, eventually she’d come back the mother I knew.
But what mother was that? Surely not the truck driver, or the domestic violence victim. Not the woman I vowed revenge on, the woman I hated and claimed I would hate forever. The mother I looked for was the one I had known for the shortest. For three years, I had known the woman my mother should have been. For five years I waited to see if she would come back.
Finally in May of 2007, I told her I loved her but that I couldn’t take her calls.
It’s easier to tell people that she has died.
It’s easier to say that she only ever used me to get things she wanted, and that she had no real love for me at any point in time. And if she never loved me, I can go on denying how much I love her. It’s more sad to admit that she was a wonderful woman, a spiritual, kind, thoughtful mother whom I loved and I lost to drugs and insanity.
Anger is simple, and hate is simpler. They occupy no grey areas. Honoring my memory of the good times is complicated. How can I cherish the things that she taught me, the useful, amazing things that she showed me about the world and still know that I can’t talk to her, can’t see her or hear her. How can I reconcile the way she manipulated me to support her drug habit emotionally and financially with how much she taught me about being grateful for life, and enjoying the world outside of myself?
I don’t want to pretend that she’s someone she’s not. She was mean, and self-serving and violent but she was also creative, and thoughtful and so many of the wonderful characteristics I remember about her in better times I see in myself more and more every year. If I hate everything about her, I hate a lot about myself too.