My most frightening memory of her occurred when I was twelve and my sister was nineteen. Here are the facts of the day that I still remember: I hear my sister's' screech: distinct like a scrawl, a litany of betrayals. As she screams, my mother, in turn, shouts, high pitched and relentless; a guttural yowl that's vicious and wrathful, pouring out of her like hot, hot lava. The soft hum--the light and welcoming spark which usually resides within her--is now gone. Her warmth has been overrun by her cruelty.As I hear them both scream I come out from the backyard and enter clumsily into the dining room, where I sense them to be. I see my mother, her body cloaked in dissatisfaction, squeezing in her right hand one of our large kitchen knives. The handle is black and her knuckles are red and chalky. She suddenly sways like a block of lightning--sparring, colliding, ruthlessly, trying to stab my sister.
I oscillated between the two halves of me: the one that was trying to please her and the one that was trying to live.
A day earlier I had sat with her at that very table that she now chased my sister around. I talked about boys, and she listened. There are many lucid beautiful moments like this that I can remember; when she was so perfect. I wanted so desperately to have that idealized kind of mother, and maybe she wanted to play that role, too. But now, she is full fury, her eyes wide and tyrannical. Her irises look like large black discs and the white, juxtaposed, stands out like cream white snow, big and manic. Her hair is a messy knot at the back of her head, bits of it flying like sparks around her face. Livid and bursting with ferocity, she lunges at my sister with an unkempt precision. My sister screams and screams and screams as she runs around the table, like she's on a track, a flat circle that keeps on going and going, the loop that never ends. As I'm watching, suddenly, out of nowhere, my mother is at me--cat and mouse. Now, I'm her prey; I'm the passerby who gets hit by the great amass of rubble. I start running, too, and the blade misses me a few times. I hear it hit the wood of the blunt table, then the wall. My sister just screams.
She says something but I'm far away, wondering what my happiness would have looked like if not for her deterioration. I can't fathom a life where her words, her tricks, her hands, weren't hurting me. I've lived under her dictatorship, afraid to be my own person. Yet, now, we are calm, people-to-people. She smiles that half-wandering smile and asks, as if she senses my distance: "Why don't you love me?"At first I'm impatient, I snap back a curt answer. Her eyes are dulcet, kind even in her pain.Here's the thing: I do love her. I pulled back a long time ago to save myself. I didn't want to be adrift in the purgatory I resided for almost nineteen years of my life, so I ran away. Now, there's literally an ocean, or two, that separates us. I talk to her when I can. I ask her to take her medication, but always in a mild mannered way, never pushy, always as a 'suggestion.' I understand that the biggest fear for her is that she is crazy, and I can't blame her for that. So much of her life exists in the spaces designating who she couldn't be. So much of what she did to us when we were younger--and sometimes still to this day--was in a searching motion. While she was trying to hurt us, she was simultaneously trying to rediscover herself. She hurts us because we are the only things of value to her, self-destructively, because it hurts her as well. That's not a consolation prize, that's just my take, because in order for my own sanity, I need to reconcile her with the things she's done. In order to let go, I need to see her pain in the myriad ways she sees it.For whatever reason, I don't have the rage inside of me anymore. Truth is, it could have been me. I see so much of myself in her--the way she listens to my stories of being a person, of traveling, working, writing, and, even though she gives me unhelpful advice, I see the way her eyes light up when I share myself with her. In those moments her humanity wins, and the painful, violent memories fade. They become ghosts that exist but don't linger. The fact of the matter is that growing older means letting go. Like Bertha Mason sitting in the gilded room with the rooftop view of heaths and green pastures, my mother's illness is stark and vengeful, and it has dictated her whole life. When you have parents that are ill, at a certain point you have to remove them from judgment--sometimes.Then again. What do I owe her?She is my abuser. And I love her anyway. It's complicated, and it's constantly evolving, but these days I hate her less and less because I see her for all that she is, not just as my mother. I see her as a failed adult, one that shouldn't have had children, but also as a victim of her time, of her own abuse, the abuse she never talks about. A self-hating artist, my mother became a monster in response to society's brutal expectations of what she should have become. She's never been happy, and that hurts. For me, delineating between my mother's goodness and her badness is a blurry line. Do I blame her for things? Of course, but I'm beginning to understand that my journey doesn't need to be defined by hers.My mother always fidgets. Maybe it's to remind herself that she is alive; maybe it's because stillness is too terrifying, too close to death. When she's alone, she'll have to confront all her demons, and she's not ready for that end, not yet. She doesn't remember the things she's done to us. Sometimes she even accuses us of overreacting, of making up lies, but these days I need little from her. As I watch her through the screen of my MacBook, I remind myself that one day she will die. My heart swells up, pushing at my chest with an ache. My eyes begin to water, but I can never cry in front of my mother--so, patiently, I breathe in. I nod my head, and smile, and I listen to her butt joke.
If I dreamt up a mother who wouldn't hurt me, or my father and sister, or herself, could I transform my life?