punkwalrus (punkwalrus) wrote,

Dedicated to My Mother

I received a very touching e-mail from someone last week. His name is Mike, and he was a friend of mine in elementary school. Even thought I kind of suspected it at the time, his family life was not ideal. But he said something very touching, and it's moved me deeply, and I keep coming back to it. This entry has taken a week to write and re-edit, and contains a personal memory I don't like very well. I warn you, this is pretty depressing. But I am hoping that I can release this into the wild, and help some of you understand why I have forgiven my mother.

From Mike:
I read in your blog about your mother, and it made me very sad. She was
always very nice to me. I remember playing board games and drinking ovaltine
at your place many times. I never said anything about it to you at the
time, because I did not know what to say, but I cried like a baby when I
heard she had died.

I think this is one of the nicest personal tributes to my mother I have ever heard. He explained in another letter that my mother was like a second mother to him when his relationship with his mother was strained. Wow. I was stunned. Some voice in my head went, "You know what this means? It means someone else remembered!"

I have been kind of bummed since my mother died that it seemed pretty much everyone had written her off. I felt like I was the only one who remembered her on a personal level, and even though my memories of her are less than ideal, she was a really good person. Mike's letter awakened something deep in me that I have been needing to hear for a long time.

My memories of her fight often. I recall she was an artist, a cook, a funny and witty person. I also know she was sad, angry, frustrated, and an alcoholic. Mike never saw that side because her alcoholism got really bad right around 4th grade, when I lost a lot of friends. I am not sure why I stopped being friends with Mike (he was a great guy and fun person), but I think it was a general sort of drifting away I had at the time. Home life was turning dark, and the storm clouds that had been broiling in the distance were now over top of me, and my long night had begun. I think part of me is still mad she never fought for me, and that I had to take care of her and the house so much. I see it now, when I do housework, saying the same crap I said to myself when I was doing it at age 10. I know somewhere deep within myself I equate housework with abandonment: my mother felt that way because she was unappreciated, I felt that way because I had to do it when she didn't or my father got angry, and he had no idea, no appreciation for any housework I did. I got angry at her because I felt so alone. But I did love her.

I loved her because when she was sober, she was a lot of fun. She liked to play games, to sing (badly), cook, paint, act silly, and generally was so likable, you'd never know the pain she was trying to hide. All growing up, I kept hearing about how many friends she used to have, and how sociable she was. When my parents were a real couple, and traveling around Europe because of my father's business, she apparently was the ultimate socialite. She'd often move ahead of my father, set up camp, make friends with the neighbors, find out all the local places you could get stuff, and often become a social hub for the area ... sometimes even in the middle of nowhere, like some tiny mountain town in Italy. People spoke of her the way historians speak of Dolly Madison or Molly Brown. I did get some of that when I was young, and apparently, so did Mike. In fact, a few times people speak of her like this. A girl I was friends with very young, Allison, mentioned similar things. I recall one kid said at my mother's funeral that, "Your mom always had those huge birthday parties for you." I am glad someone enjoyed them, because I always felt awkward since she invited practically the whole class, and I wasn't friends with a lot of those kids. I mean, not to sound ungrateful, but they were more for her than they were for me. I once hid during most of one party, and she didn't notice for hours. But as weirded out as I was then, I'd give quite a lot now to go back in time and go through just one more.

Sometimes I think I could sum up my mother's policy of raising me by the phrase, "She meant well." Her heart was in the right place, no doubt about that, and I fully believe that anything good in me probably came from her. Often, when I try and find my "root" in morality, her voices are there. I am truly the closest thing she has to a living legacy. But that also has the flip side of many of my neuroses. I had this nagging, pleading, "Please, mama... LEAVE HIM!" voice ever since I was a kid. When I visited Sweden the first time, I realized that I was not alone. Apparently, everyone was saying that. All this time I felt like I was the only one that knew, the only one that saw. They knew. They may have never seen, but they knew she was unhappy. Sometimes I think much of my anger towards my father is her spirit still channeling the frustration, resentment, and anger she felt towards him. From my mother's milk into my soul. But she never left him. She never even so much as hinted that she wanted to. I used to be so angry at this, but now as an adult, I realized that she was probably trapped in her own fears and stubbornness. I have no idea, this is just speculation, but I have always felt that maybe she married my father because she saw him as a good provider (he was hard working, and probably still is), a way to get out of the slums of Chicago, and when everyone said, "Arv is a bad, bad man..." my mother mustered up the resolve to prove them all wrong. Hell, maybe she hooked up with my dad as a revenge against someone who said something to her; she was a very stubborn, resolved young woman, from what I heard. But I haven't actually heard the actual reasons why she dated and married my dad. I do know (by her own admission) that she thought she could "turn my father around" and get him to live an ideal life with the white picket fence and all. She wanted kids, he said, "No way." Then he joined the Navy. When he got out, she said, "Kids now?" and he said, "I don't like children." Then he got a job touring the world. Finally, she decided to go off the birth control, and she got pregnant while they were in Italy, and from what I heard, my father was so furious, that their love life all but ceased. In fact, one day (when I was 13), my mother sobbed and confessed her whole love life to me, stating they hadn't had sex since 1972 (about 4 years after I was born), and she was so lonely. For a while she was convinced that he would get used to me, and she was convinced he didn't hate me, even though he put me in jeopardy quite often, had abandoned me in public places numerous times, and tried to get me used to "living on my own" in a cruel "sink or swim" fashion. Oh, and the fact he said he hated me, I was a disappointment, useless, and wish I'd never been born ... out loud, in front of both of us ... well, that's why mommy drinks. I don't say that to be funny, that is the main reason why I forgive her alcoholism. Her life was so tragic, and I can't say, "Mama, you should have..." because I was scared, too. Terrified. Maybe for different reasons, but I see my mother more as veteran of the same war as I was in ... and then became a casualty. She really couldn't help what she did, and yes, she made some mistakes, but we all make mistakes in life from time to time.

One of the most sobering times of my life is when my father beat me so badly, I was barely able to walk, and I kept coughing and vomiting blood (part of the "overreacting" I was accused of by him... I am such an acting master, making my lungs bleed on command). I think I was about 13 or so, it would have been about 7th grade, since the thing that really tipped him over the edge was I threatened to tell the social workers what he had been doing to me. My father's response was to beat me severely, eventually knocking me to the floor, and kick me repeatedly. And I mean he just didn't let up. I had landed underneath a chair in such a way I could not easily protect myself or escape as he kicked me in the face, head, chest, stomach, groin, and legs like a machine. My mother watched the whole thing, which was unusual, because my father usually did not hurt me this badly unless we were alone. She did nothing. She said nothing. I confronted her, with blood dribbling down the corners of my mouth, asking her if she saw that. She said nothing, but kept watching the pot of spaghetti on the stove. I looked at her eyes, and they looked like someone rapidly erasing tapes. I have seen that look since then, and I know it's the look of a "it didn't happen, it didn't happen." I saw that look on people's faces during 9/11. Too numb to look horrified, to weak to be horrified, just clinging to the mast of denial on a sinking ship of your life because it's all you can hope for. In my head, I heard the words, "And now, you know you are truly alone." That seems a bit dramatic, but it's how I felt. So, I stumbled down the stairs, and the blood was coming out in raspy coughs. I felt so sick because my father had repeatedly kicked me in the stomach, chest, and head. I went to my bathroom, and threw up what was to be the first of many spasms of blood. I am not sure if my stomach was really that injured, or just the anxiety made me heave. I was dizzy, and my vomit was tainted with blood. Blood and other stuff came out of my nose and mouth, and it was getting everywhere in thin, sticky strands. I think I might have been hysterically crying, gasping, or something. Hard to say. I felt so alone, so terrified. I mean, bullies had beaten me up many times in school, but most of them stop after a few seconds. They just want to knock you down, mess with your head, and then they move on, all proud and stuff. All I could see was the look of anger and delight on my father's eyes with the gruesome smile on his gritted teeth. And I did think for a little bit I was going to die because all this blood kept coming out of me, I couldn't stop coughing and retching. I mean, looking back, I probably didn't lose more than a pint total, but it seemed like a lot more. Then, the back of my neck felt cool. My mother was behind me with a damp washcloth, and she wiped off my face and said some soothing thing I can't recall now, but I recall it being something along the lines of "you're not the only one that suffers when this happens." I didn't feel so alone anymore.

So she did mean well. She didn't want to see me suffer. I can't imagine what it must be like for a mother to see her only child being beaten by her own husband so viciously and joyfully like that. Part of me thinks that what I have seen her put up with was just the tip of the iceberg. I never saw my father lay a hand on my mother, nor did he ever openly insult her. He didn't even engage in any arguments, really, he just ignored her, or said, "Okay! Relax! Go to bed!" or something, which was slung like the term "whatever!" is now. He showed a LOT more respect and care for her than he did me, and I genuinely think they did love each other on some level. My mother certainly did love him, and not the "scared of him" kind of love, I think she did earnestly care for him. Too bad he didn't really seem to feel as strongly. But sometimes I wonder just what happened between them when I wasn't around. Was my father always this cruel and vicious? My mother never, ever had a bad word to say about him to me. Well, when she was drunk, sometimes she'd shout stuff, but it was mostly cries of, "Why don't you get along," and "He loves us, he just doesn't know how to show it." I always thought that if you really loved someone, showing it was like... one of the major must-haves in a relationship. My father's second wife seems nice. When I did some background checks on her, I found out that her father was very abusive, so that kind of makes sense. My mother's father was very strict, although I wouldn't call him abusive. Controlling, maybe. Maybe women like my mother and Nicole just want to be told what to do by a man; maybe they feel safer and more secure that way. My father is very controlling. But I have known, since I was about 12, that my birth "ruined everything," and that was my mother's last big stand on anything. Having to protect me from him tired her out a lot. I know because she usually had some sort of underhanded plan to get me what I needed. But sometimes it came out funny, like, "Your father is going to be upset if he sees you with those glasses, please don't wear them in his presence," which she could pull off because she controlled the finances.

That's right, she was in charge of the money. This has always baffled people, even her friends, that she had so much control in the house with the money, shopping, and everything, why she didn't pool up some dough, and high-tail it out of town? Well, as I said, she loved my father. She saw him as the provider, and I always got the hint that she felt she owed him something. So she put up with the pain, lonliness, and weird rules. Weird rules? Yes, my father had weird rules. One that seemed odd was even though my mother had a valid driver's license (renewed it every four years), and used to ferry my father all over town before I was born, she was not allowed to drive any of the cars (although, she did become an alcoholic, so that was sort of a good idea, now that I think about it). I only saw my mother behind the wheel once, and that was because she had to back the car out of the carport for some reason. But even though she was in charge of the money, she apparently could not make any "large purchases" without my father's permission. Like she had to beg and plead to get a Cuisinart, sewing machine, and radio. These were HUGE issues that dragged on for years. In my father's defense, when he finally caved in, she never used them. This explained why she wasn't allowed to save money for my college education. Or the air conditioner.

Two huge fights about those last two. See, my maternal grandparents started out poor, but ended up doing better and better as they got older, and finally moved out of the slums of Chicago to a nice house in Iron Mountain, Michigan, near Segola, where they used to vacation. I would have never called them wealthy, but apparently in the 1960s, they paid for my fother's education. It was money well spent, he got a PhD, moved to Washington, and became very rich off of US tax dollars, working for consultants. Of course... he never gave anything back. And he kept taking. The first big fight was the air conditioner. Our house in McLean was built at the same time 90% of the other houses were, and that was in the early 1950s. By the late 1970s, our air conditioner and furnace was very old, and dying. The heater didn't heat too well, and then A/C would dribble water and flood the laundry room every time it was on. My father refused to pay for a new one, and said he grew up without A/C, so it wasn't needed. In fact, if my mother ran the A/C because the house was too hot to stand, when my father got home, he'd open up all the windows. Finally, at the end of her strength, her parents said they'd pay for a new one. And my father promptly ordered the most expensive one he could find. Replaced the whole system. Heating, A/C, Humifier, everything but the ducts. And when it finally got installed, he still opened the windows when he got home. My mother's counter-strike was she bought large standing fans for all the rooms, and ran them all the time. The outcome must have lead to nothing but huge energy bills. The college eductation thing was one I had always thought she didn't win... until I visited Sweden in 1994. Turns out my grandmother sent my mother a huge sum of money so I could afford college right before my mother died. I didn't even know about it. My COUSINS knew about it, and they were very, very, very angry when I told them I had never heard of it (or the family heirlooms). Did my father steal it? I don't know. It would seem so, but think about it this way: he probably didn't even know it existed. He didn't run the finances, how could he? He probably saw this huge lump sum of money and said, "Hey, happy birthday to me!" He probably thought the heirlooms were just junk, because if it wasn't valuable to him, it simple wasn't valuable!

I can't say I got nothing when my mother died. I did get Social Security for a few months until I graduated high school. I used that toward my private college fund, which was deposited into a checking account my mother and I opened up a few years earlier. It was where my paychecks went, and when she died, the first thing I did was put the name into my name only. Smart move, because my father asked about it and I lied and said it was closed. He would have probably taken all of it if I had let him. The private college fund turned into my "roommate deposit/rent fund," when I moved in with Bruce and Cheryl. That's how I was able to pay my rent, on time, in full, even those few months when I didn't have a job. Later it got used to pay for my outrageous phone bills to West Virginia calling my finacee, and then later helped pay part of the ring. Then it was gone, but I think money well spent.

I think finally, she just couldn't take it anymore. The constant drinking to kill the pain and the addiction to pain medicine and tranquilizers was one of just a few inevitable ends such a life can have. The reality got worse and worse for her. When I was 15, my father was taken to the courthouse for child abuse charges, she cried through the whole thing. They put me into therapy, and I got better, but she didn't. They REALLY tried to get my mother to come, but she didn't want to face her problems, she wanted them to just go away. The few times she did visit my therapists, she'd be crying about halfway through because they asked all the good questions she didn't want to think about. She wanted us to be one happy family with the white picket fence, not face that my father did not fit this mold. When I became a teen, and started being on my own more and more, she must have felt truly alone. Some relatives have said my mother had me because she felt so lonely on the road, and I was probably all she had to live for. Then she found out, albeit incorrectly, that I was dying, and that must have been it. Why go on?

Sadly her death did improve my life. I mean, in the short term, it sucked. It was terrible, and I think I was in shock for about 2 years. But really, because she died, and my father got remarried and left, I was on my own, but found good friends who set me up right, pointed me in a better direction, and helped me along this journey. I may not have gone to college like I had planned, but that wasn't for me. I know that now. I met Christine, had CR, and became a writer and computer programmer. I would never trade the life I have now with anyone else's. My life, despite my petty complaints, is actually quite good. I am grateful for the lessons and shelter she was able to give me, and for giving a husband to a great wife, a father to a great son, and a freind to some of th best people in the world. And the good in her still glows in me, and carries on to share with others.

And now I know it glows in Mike, which was a really good way to start the new year. Thank you, Mike.

This entry was originally posted at http://www.punkwalrus.com/blog/archives/00000367.html
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