My mom died on Sunday. I found out because I regularly check the website of my hometown newspaper. Otherwise I never would have known. I hadn’t seen her for about twenty years, and the last correspondence we had was about nine years ago, before I moved overseas. And the rest of my family has no idea where I am. You can choose your family. Or at least you can choose not to have the one you were born with.
My first thought when I realized that I had just read my mother’s name in the obituary column was "Wow. She died." I did feel tears trying to creep out of my eyeballs, but they never made it. I cried a little when I heard that a colleague of my wife died a few weeks ago, a woman that I barely knew but did like. For my mother I don’t cry. Not yet anyway. My wife tells me that some people don’t grieve for four to six weeks after a loss. So maybe something will hit me. I’m not expecting it, though. I have already mourned the loss of my mother, or rather, the fact that I never had one. I can honestly say, without hatred or resentment (I outgrew that) that the woman ruined my life.
I must confess to a little curiosity. I wonder what the funeral was like. I wonder what they said about me. Because my mother’s funeral is all about me, dontcha know. Seriously, I’m sure the subject came up. I mean, if I was there, and there was a brother that no one had heard from in ten or twenty years, well, wouldn’t you want to know? The biggest question I’m sure all of them have is Why? None of them will stop to think that each and every one of her children have, at some point, cut her out of their lives. Or maybe they will think about it, but no one will say it out loud. We each had different reasons; we are each different people, and we were each abused by her in different ways. The only difference is that they all apologized and came back into the fold, or, as I think of if, back into the darkness of eternal denial. I’m the only one who didn’t, and I don’t regret it.
I could have regretted it. I’m sure I would have. If it weren’t for last attempt at communication with her . . .
I had just moved in with a friend and package from my mom was forwarded to me. (Sausage and cheese. I was vegan, but my roommates enjoyed it) I really didn’t want the Post Office to do that, but it had to be signed for, and my new address made it back to her. So she wrote me a letter saying she wanted to know how my life was going. This was the first letter from her that I had opened in about ten years. They came every couple of years, and the last one I opened started of with the sentence How dare you! How dare you treat your mother like this! I didn’t read any further, threw the letter away, and treated her mail like junk mail from then on. At least this letter was civilized. I was not quite so civilized in my response:
"You tell me. You’re the one who always told me I’d never amount to anything. You tell me how you think my life is going."
Just that one line. No greeting, no closing. Typed. She replied "I don’t remember ever saying anything like that."
That could have been true. Maybe she didn’t remember. So I tried to test her memory a little bit. Remember that I was still pretty angry at this point in my life. I was at the beginning of deep depression (that I didn’t recognize), and had just lost my job, and was trying to rebuild a career that I didn’t want (I didn’t recognize that, either.) So I wrote back:
If you don’t remember saying that, maybe you remember some of these: Do you remember threatening to give me away? Do you remember me telling you that I didn’t like the son-of-a-bitch grabbing me?
Her response: I would never give one of my children away! And as for [evil-stepfather number one] grabbing you, if you had told me such a thing, I would have put a stop to it! And what do you mean grabbing you? Do you mean sexually, as he did your sister?
And then she told me to get over it. That was the end of our correspondence. I tried to respond, but I was just too fucking angry to write coherently. And somewhere along the line I realized that it just didn’t matter. No matter how coherently I wrote, she would not comprehend what I was saying. Nothing I could say would ever penetrate that titanium shell of denial and self-righteousness. Just take what she said about her pet pervert (I actually called him that in the letter. I’m kind of proud of that tag): She wrote "if" I had told her such a thing. There was no fucking if. I told her in exactly those words I did not like him grabbing me. By adding the "if" she called me a liar. And then went on to admit that she knows he was fully capable of sexual abuse. But if there had been any abuse, she would have stopped it, had she only known about it. If only I had told her. Bullshit. That’s called blaming the victim. A seven year old can’t express himself much clearer than "I don’t like him grabbing me."
Oh, and the bit about my sister? He raped her regularly for two or three years. I woke up in the back of a station wagon to a rape in progress in the front seat once. When my sister finally confronted my mother about it after she had left home my mother said that she was making it all up and disowned her. She stuck to that story for at least fifteen years. Just so we’re clear about who we’re supposed to be mourning here.
I’m glad I did write to her those years ago. It was enlightening. I finally realized just how deep my mother’s denial of her own failures, and (I can’t emphasize this enough) how strong her sense of self-righteousness was. If I hadn’t come to terms with that, if I had had any unfinished business with her, her death would be devastating. As it is, I feel almost nothing.
Almost. As I sat in my chair, watching something on TV, something neutral, so I wouldn’t have to think, and thought about mother and her death and the fact that I would never see her again, or talk to her, and the fact that I wasn’t feeling much of anything, I did become aware of a feeling. I felt relief. Relief that I would never see her again, or talk to her. It was as if her existence had been a burden, or an obstacle. I felt free. Now I can be who I am, who I want to be, without fear of her judgment. I hadn’t even known that I still feared that, and I have been happy with my life for quite some years now, but still, it’s a relief. And I do feel sad that relief is the predominant emotion I have concerning my mother’s death. It shouldn’t have been that way.