Mother / daughter relationships are always fraught.
My mother never dated until she met my father. At age 29, she gets married. At age 30, I am born. They get divorced.
3 or 5. I am standing next to my mother hopping up and down because I have a question to ask. I do not remember the specifics. I do remember toddler me neeeedddeeeeeddd to know, but I was also afraid for the answer. So I asked. The answer was “no.” It was not the “no” of a parent shooing a child from some danger, or because the child was too young, or some other kind of parental “no.” It was the “no” from someone who could not be bothered.
9, 10, or 11. I am grounded. (Do parents still ground their kids now? It seems so antiquated.) I am not grounded for days or even for weeks, but for a total of 18 months. Infractions pile up like dirt to form a hill. Some of the infractions are things like forgetting to dry the dishes before a set time. Not watching my brother as closely as I should. Taking the rap for something my brother did. I cannot leave the house. Family cannot take me on trips. I cannot have friends over. A birthday party is canceled.
I read. A lot.
14 or 15. My mother swoons over me. You’re so pretty. You have boyfriends. You have all the things I could never do. I am so jealous of you. She plies me with compliments while withholding important teenage items. I’m not allowed to get a drivers license. She will not buy me school clothes, supplies, or give me cash for class trips. I start working at the mall busing tables for a chain restaurant. My father helps me when he can.
16, 17, and 18. She joins a dating service and starts a relationship with a man 20-years-older. She is gone from our house a lot and often overnight. She leaves money to buy groceries, the nearest store is a mile away, and I have no car. Thankfully my younger brother can get to and from school on a bus. It is decided we will move in with him and I’m given space in a finished basement. His 29-year-old son watches me like a hawk. That is a different story.
I try to emancipate myself. I fail.
- I am a few years away from my bipolar diagnosis. I try to commit suicide using my mothers antidepressants. I am found by friends who call 911 and feed me greasy hamburger to force me to throw up. Mother is called at work to come take care of me and she’s angry. So very angry. I leave with my friends to take a walk, smoke a cigarette. She locks me out of our house. After banging on the door for what seems like hours, she answers and tells me, matter-of-factly, the next time I want to kill myself to use knives instead of her drugs. If a friend had not been there to hear her statement, I would have thought it was all a dream.
- I dropped out of school several times and I was bullied when I came back the third time. It is decided I will move to Canada to be with my father if I want to finish high school. This nicely juxtaposes my being kicked out. I do not do well in Toronto. I smoke a lot. I cry a lot. My father, who has never spent more than a few days with me, is helpless. I am allowed to go back home after the school year has ended. I am ever so glad to be back in the States, but there are conditions. There are always conditions. I have to get a job. I have to have a car. I have to pay rent. I have to take care of my brother.
19 – 24. It’s the same story, different year. I am always in trouble. Nothing changes. I have been diagnosed bipolar and with a side of depression, but the drugs make me suicidal. I write furiously. I am awake for days on end. I chain-smoke endlessly. My grandfather dies and she refuses to attend the funeral. There is hush-hush about his beating and raping my grandmother. They all pretend everything is grand and he gets the send off of the decade. They always think the kids never know, and yet, we do.
- I move to San Francisco. I move in with a self-proclaimed dominatrix who could not dominate her cat. I get a job, I stop speaking to both of my parents.
I suppose I should mention at this point my mother had wrapped so many lies like presents about my father for so long, I believed him to be an evil man. It was after his death that I realized his goodness. I cry every year on his death anniversary.
25 – 30. For my 26th or 27th birthday, I receive a large envelope from her containing my birth certificate, her divorce papers, my immigration papers, and other random paperwork. Friends in attendance are puzzled. I have still have that envelope and it is stored amongst my more favorite things as some kind of reminder of something. I’m never sure what.
I move to Washington D.C.
- My father dies. I contact her for the first time in five years. She says nothing.
- I move back to Michigan, from where I have been for most of my life. I have come full circle. She is living in a small converted apartment in a building that used to be a motel. I am pacing outside and smoking. July 4th of my 32nd year, my mother tries to commit suicide by overdosing on insulin. The ambulance drivers assume I’m the one in crisis. I direct them to my mother. She arrives at the psychiatric hospital. I am outside having a cigarette and I overhear the intake nurses discussing whether or not to admit her because they do not want to do the paperwork. I cough loudly. They admit her.
I go back to college that winter.
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