Compassion for the (Monstrous) Mother
I’m sick again, the kind of sleepy delirium you only get with a fever. It is one of those syrupy slow afternoons that feels dreamy and half-real, and I am missing my mother, as I tend to do when I am sick or scared or lonely. I’ve not spoken to my mother in over a year, and I expect to continue in much this same fashion for the rest of my natural life, but that doesn’t mean I cannot miss her when I’m too tired to know better.
My mother is indelibly a part of who I am, no matter how diligently I’ve tried to cut her out of me. I have her eyes, her coloring; her penchant for melancholy, her hatred of crowds and fear of heights; her voice in my head like a God damn klaxon bell — when my hands shake, I see her hands. I do not want to know if she sees mine in hers. That might just be what finally breaks me, for good; if my mother were to look at herself and see me staring back.
When you’ve pulled someone back from the edge of the fire so many times it becomes muscle memory, how are you ever supposed to let them go?
As if by sheer force of psychic will I am keeping my mother from absolute destruction, no matter the miles she puts between us. I was born to be my mother’s keeper, for she only gave me life so that I might sustain hers, and I fear it is what I will continue doing, whether consciously or unconsciously, her whole miserable and reckless life.
I was born two weeks late after my mother suffered a grueling 36-hour labor to bring me, silent and blue-lipped, into this world. As if I knew what was waiting for me outside the relative safety of my mother’s womb and was determined to stay there at all costs.
My father used to say when I was growing up, that I was a failed abortion, but I don’t think that’s necessarily true. I know that I was wanted — perhaps not for typical, warm, loving parental reasons you might think a child would be wanted for, but I was wanted all the same. They wanted me for different reasons, of course — to use, one, and to break down, the other. I’ll let you guess as to who’s who. But regardless of the means, the end is the same: I was a wanted child, and those words are nothing more than the bluster and bark of a broken man.
My father has said many cruel things to me over the years, as is the way of fathers, but there’s only one that has ever stuck with me, stubborn and unrelenting no matter how hard I try to excise it from my mind. It is, of course, that I am crazy, and — specifically — Just Like My Mother. There is nothing worse another human being could say to me in all of time and space.
I was thirteen when he said that to me. I’m 24 now.
I still lie awake some nights, pulling at my hair, frantically listening for a hint of her laugh in mine, a slight narrowing of my face. The change will be quick, and it will be irreversible, and I cannot, by any means, allow it to happen.
If I were to become my mother, it would mean the end.
I have never loved anyone like I love(d) my mother, and that is precisely why I hate her so. I am terrified and in awe of her, and even now I still feel the familiar urge to protect her, to fold her trembling body into mine and keep her there.
I think that my mother, ultimately, did not know what to do with me. She was so young, back then. Even younger than I am now. Only twenty, not even old enough to legally drink yet and already her dreams and her future have been pushed aside for the tedious needs of this squalling, feral child; once the very portrait of heroin chic she had now been reduced to bored housewife, bitter stay-at-home mom. With all of that in mind, I find it very hard to blame her overly much for forgetting to feed me every once in a while. It is just so constant, and she was surely so tired, and her husband was never home, so there was no one left but God to judge her if she held my little squirming body under the water for a bit too long — and my mother does not believe in God.
It was only once my father left that I believe she began to see me more as a tool and less as a burden; something she could use however she needed that would still love her at the end of the day because she was all it had. She was all I had. Of course I loved her, ferociously. I love her still, despite everything.
I still find it hard to reconcile with myself the fact that yes, it happened. Yes, all of my worst nightmares are, in fact, absolute truth. That I survived it. That I came out the other end. Was I always me? I don’t think I got the chance, back then, to really be any sort of “Me”. I was my mother’s and that is all I was.
I am something different, now, everchanging and elastic. I’m not sure what I’m becoming and can do nothing but my best.
Please God, though you have never listened to me; Please God, if you listen to anything I say just once, please let it be this. Please God let it be better than before.