Mother's Day is one of my least favorite days of the year on two levels. First, despite having ample opportunity, I have chosen not to be a mother, so there's not a damn thing in it for me. Secondly, I am estranged from my own mother, and have opted to see her only three times in the last 25 years. The essay below explains both decisions above.
(Written April 2011) My mother swears I never liked her. She claims I emerged from the womb, gave her a harsh once over, and immediately began to wail. I imagine this moment differently. I imagine how she must have looked to my eight-minute-old self--a giant with false eyelashes veiling a Valium-glazed gaze wearing a beet-colored wig teased higher than I was long. I picture her waving at me with fingers heavy with diamonds, bling blinding my new baby blues. I see her with that signature smirk, reaching for a cigarette, and then asking the doctor for more drugs. That moment, I realized the woman was seriously lacking in maternal instinct and it would be wise not to become attached.
Over the years, she proved again and again, that my initial infant impression of her was absolutely warranted.
When I came home from kindergarten field day, with a red ribbon instead of blue, she said, “No one ever remembers who comes in second. If you don’t win. Don’t bother.” Or, something of a similar sentiment. My mother was full of daggers of wisdom which she threw with deadly accuracy, nearly always hitting a vital organ…most often my heart. "Donna Ison, you could make a preacher cuss." "Give you an inch, and you’ll take a mile." "You could break an anvil." And, from her perspective, the cruelest cut of all--"I swear you are just like your father." I took that one as a compliment.
Throughout elementary school, the affection I refused my mother, I bestowed on animals. I brought home every stray and give-away, and she systematically disposed of each one.
“What happened to my puppy?”
“He ran away. He must not have like it here with you.”
“What happened to my kitten?”
“A scary man in a dark car pulled up and snatched it off the carport. He’ll probably eat it”
“What happened to my hamster?"
“Suicide. When I came home from the salon, I found him hanging in his Habitrail wedged beside the water bottle.”
At eleven, come Christmas Eve, my mother was absent. My father explained that she was in the psych ward recuperating from yet another nervous breakdown. Over the years, I’d seen her nerves stretched thin, tied in sailor’s knots, and shooting like silly string across the room. And, of course, I’d been on her last one more times than I can count. Luckily, she had pills for it…bottles and bottles of pills in all shapes, sizes, colors, and levels of legality. When they stopped helping her wake up, calm down, gain energy, lose memory, and escape from reality, she went in for a psychotropic tune-up. On Christmas morn, she called to wish me merry, supposedly from her hospital room, but I could hear an announcer in the background saying, “In Race 6, post position one, Speedy Pete, In post position two, it’s Ace in the Hole…” She was at the dog track. Who needs family, when you’ve got Florida?
I was sixteen when I finally got it. It was one of the rare occasions that I was at her house, instead of my grandmother’s. I was lounging on the couch wearing stirrup pants and an oversized “Frankie Says Relax” tee shirt with my hair piled into the high and wild ponytail that I deemed “the farkle.” A woman, who I’d never met, stopped by to see my mother. She asked, “Is that your daughter?” Ignoring the real me on the sofa, my mother pointed to a sweetly smiling portrait of me on the wall, and replied, “Yes, that’s my daughter, Donna.”
Our relationship became crystal clear in that moment. She was no more comfortable having a three-dimensional daughter than I was in having a mandatory mother.
Soon after, I left home knowing that not even a pack of wargs could ever drag me back. My parents knew it too. So, they sold my childhood house and filed for a past-due divorce. When my mother came to visit me at college that fall, I found her utterly unrecognizable. She’d let her hair go grey and her girdle go by the wayside. In the place of her designer duds, she wore a pink sweat suit emblazoned with a flowers and a bible verse. The only jewelry she wore was a crystal cross pin. Apparently, she’d found God, and lost all fashion sense. I like to call it her Jesus makeover. She settled in her beloved Florida and set about a life of repentance.
I’d love to tell you it worked…that I grew up and we grew close and now she’s my best friend. But, I’d be lying. I’ve only seen her three times in the last twenty-two years.
In my eyes my mother is still some supernatural succubus who is just hiding behind her born-again façade until the antichrist arrives and she takes her rightful place as his bride and then destroys me. But, I know deep down that she is just a human being who will die one day as humans do. And, I know that she did the best she could through her Halcion haze. But just like my red ribbon, her best wasn’t good enough. When she does die, I will not attend the funeral. And, I will not feel one damn bit guilty.
As much as this story implies, I don't really hate my mother. I don't really know my mother. But, I must admit that this year I've softened a bit. I didn't send flowers or a card, but I thought about it. And, I may even give her a call. After all, she did give me life...seems like the least I could do.
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