The Time I Saw My Mom After 5 Years of Not Speaking

This is the most recent update to the continuing drama surrounding my Grandma’s hip replacement, her near fatal visit to The Californian, and her boyfriend’s arrest for elder abuse.

So Friday I said I’d address my meeting with my estranged mother. I guess that’s as good a place to start as any, especially seeing as how that’s the least dramatic, least stressful part of the last few weeks.

The day after the jail incident, I took a half day from work and went back to Pasadena to check on grandma and see if she needed anything. I also asked her if she wanted to bail out her boyfriend and she said no. She wanted me to call the jail for her and tell him that she was through with him. I told her that was a call she needed to make herself, and she opted to call my uncle and my mother instead and tell them she was through with him. My mom, who had been banned from her hospital room just days before for “making trouble” between grandma and the boyfriend, jumped at the chance to be included again. My uncle was supportive, but doubtful (as I was) that this was a permanent change of heart.

Grandma wanted mom to help her pay her bills, so I had to go let her into the house to get the checkbook and everything. I expected to come face to face with my mom at some point during Grandma’s recovery, and I’d previously resolved to make absolutely no drama about it. I headed up to the house with that in mind.

She was waiting in the garden, trimming the roses. I heard her before I saw her, she was mostly obscured behind a large plant. I knew from talking to Grandma that she’d started loosing her hair because of the chemo, and I wondered what she would look like. I’ve always thought my mother was beautiful, I guess every kid does, and I think there’s something that radiates from her, despite her insanity, or maybe because of it. It comes across as an easy spirituality. In recent years I’ve started to wonder if it was just mania. Whatever it is, I’m glad to report it’s still there. She seems smaller, more delicate, but baldness suits her. She looks like a little Buddhist monk. The image was compounded by the fact that she was wearing an orange top.

We got all the stuff she needed to get to Grandma, she played with the dog a little, and we talked about the situation, about my skepticism that this would be the end. I sort of asked how she was so willing to help after being unceremoniously dumped earlier in the week, she got a little emotional and said “Because I love my mom.” I didn’t know what to do with that, so I just shrugged and left it there.

When it was time to go, we hugged, she told me she loved me, and after a second, I said I loved her too. Despite everything, that’s still true. I don’t know if this is the beginning of something, or just a temporary adjustment to our regularly scheduled programming. In all the private writing I’ve done on her, and all the examination of our history and my motives, I’ve realized that I’m the one who keeps trying to act like my abnormal family is normal. A couple of weeks ago, I was writing about how, in high school my mom would do this thing where she would start yelling at me in the living room while I was asleep in my bed, storm into my room, grab me by the ankle and drag me onto the floor, then she would stand over me screaming, while I tried to figure out what was happening in a tangle of blankets at her feet. In conjunction with the nights that she would wake me up crying and tell me she wanted too die, these wake up fights were brutal for my sense of continuity. I sat with this memory for a long time, trying to figure out what it was I did to get myself in that situation. I was writing about our history in order to put it to rest, and to figure out what my own behavior patterns were that lead to me feeling so resentful of her. Not for her sake, but for mine, to try to beak the cycle.

I mean, a kid should have a reasonable expectation of safety in their own home, in their own bed, but I didn’t get that. And that’s not my fault, but what is my fault is that after the first time I woke up with my mother crying in my bed, or her standing over me yelling, I should have at least realized that it was no longer reasonable to expect safety in my home, especially considering how everything else was falling apart around us. But that’s not the conclusion I came to. Maybe because I’d already been conditioned for abuse, maybe because I was 16, and the prospect that my only viable caretaker might be heading off the deep end was too much for me, but I continued to come home with the expectation that it was a safe place. If she kept me awake half the previous night, I made the frequently incorrect assumption that she’d let me sleep the next morning. And and I didn’t just do this once, I did it over and over, until two years later when I finally told Kate what my home life was like and she pointed out that it was abusive.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, I frequently find myself holding the shit end of the stick when it comes to my family, and not just because they’re bad people (they are), but because I keep taking the stick, thinking surely they’ve run out of shit by now. Slowly, painfully, I’m learning that there’s always more where that came from. Just because my mom didn’t do anything insane while we were at Grandma’s house sorting out checkbooks and shit doesn’t mean that we’re going to go skipping off into the sunset together. That was the assumption I made when I was a kid. If she’d been especially heinous, I assumed that meant she would be tired out, if she’d been especially good, I assumed that meant she was turning over a new leaf, and it meant neither. She was just being herself, and I could count on her to continue to be her unpredictable self in perpetuity, no matter what I did or didn’t do.

After the meeting with my mom is when the drama really kicked up. Every day has been worse than the last, but we’re already well over a thousand words here, so I’ll adjourn to tomorrow, when I’ll tell you about the next day, and Grandma’s boyfriend’s triumphant return.