… the musings of a thirty-something, married, Southern teen librarian with a 14-year-old's sense of humor, an awkward spirit, and a stubborn, mouthy, redheaded country boy to accompany her through life.
I’m writing this on November 17, 2020, at 5:00 in the morning, the first day that I can take a pregnancy test with doctor approval. I’ll post it the day I have a baby.
I couldn’t sleep at all the night before last, getting around three to four hours, total. Progesterone gives me weird dreams and I was anxious over whether or not the last 10 days of shots and headaches and nausea and a swollen belly were worth it. I spent all of yesterday trying to prepare for the crushing disappointment of a failed transfer and the inevitable two to three days in bed that would surely follow. I attended the staff meeting, since the other option was Wednesday, when I planned to be staring at the ceiling in a catatonic state. I also completed all of my weeding, since the end of November really sneaks up on us in libraries, after we close for Thanksgiving and Black Friday and have a weekend.
Weeding is the process of pulling and processing old books, to make room in the collection for new books. It’s not an incredibly taxing job, if you’re not on hormones that make you uniquely ill. By the end of the day, my swollen belly felt even worse and my head hurt. Since I couldn’t stem the tide of my emotions, going from hopeful to tears, I took two flexiril at about 8:00 and went to bed around 9:30, setting the pregnancy test out for easy access, at around 6:00, before Jake went to work, but late enough that we wouldn’t lose much sleep.
I woke around 4:30, my belly aching, and anxious. I wanted to take the test right away. Then I never wanted to take the test and either get a period or a baby. Then I wanted to go back to sleep and take it later in the morning, as planned. Finally, as bladder pinged at me, I admitted that waiting was pointless and would have zero impact on the outcome. I made my way into the bathroom, half asleep, grabbed the test and peed in the cup… only to promptly drop it, spilling urine all over the bathroom. I tried to tear open the test with my teeth, realizing that it definitely had pee on it and only barely managed to cut it open with nail clippers. I was able to tilt the cup and use the remaining sample to actually take the test and was distracted during the wait time with cleaning the bathroom. Finally, I pulled on my big girl panties, to review the test… and it was positive.
I immediately ran into the bedroom, turned on the light, and jumped on the bed to wake a startled husband.
Jake: “What?” Me: “It’s positive.“ Jake: ::hugs me and pulls me to him:: Me: “The perk of spilling pee all over the bathroom, when you take a pregnancy test, is that you have something to do while you wait for the results.” Jake: ::laughs and tries to pull me further into the bed, when he realizes I’m breathing hard:: Jake: “Are you okay?” Me: “Yeah, I’m just…” ::I search for the right words:: “…covered in pee.”
So, I took a shower, while Jake threw the bathmats in the wash and came to bed, where Jake was already mostly asleep again, just a like a man. I lie there for a bit, realized I was never going to get back to sleep and got up to write a blog, until Wal-Mart opens at 7:00, cuz Covid-19, so I can buy ten $1 pregnancy tests to get me through tomorrow, when I’ll hear confirmation from the doctor’s office, after bloodwork.
When your mother dies, people will be heartbroken. They’ll cry and grieve and mourn at her bedside and again at her funeral. There will be moments when they think of her and remember she’s dead and it will tear them up all over again. They’ll comfort themselves with the knowledge that she had a good life. My mother died on Monday and no one cares.
I hadn’t spoken to my mother in four and a half years. She was not a well woman. A variety of untreated mental illnesses and a man who enabled them manifested in a range of problematic behavior, from paranoia and intense hypochondria to manipulation and cruelty. She was overbearing to the point that any allowance for a relationship resulted in her constant calls, texts, and showing up at my apartment or work, which always derailed into the above behavior. I once declined a lunch invitation, because I had to work, only to receive the response “What happened to the daughter I loved?” More than once, she told of an illness or surgery and deliberately lead me to believe the situation was life-threatening, only to later admit that it was mild or elective. If I suggested she get help, it was always part of a larger plot against her.
These interactions were not limited to me. My brother would respond to this behavior with as much vitriol as he could muster, something that was not in short supply when it came to our mother. She had few friends, if any. She’d long since distanced herself from her extended family, when she married my dad. She’d “quit” her job years earlier, citing ambiguous health problems that didn’t really add up; though I suspect she was fired for chronic tardiness, among other things. Even my grandmother, a woman capable of more grace and forgiveness than anyone I’ve ever known, eventually reached her limit, when my mother self-published a book vilifying her and distributed copies to her whole family. Although I truly don’t think my mother was capable of understanding this betrayal and actually expected praise, my grandma couldn’t get past it and our Christmases became separate that year.
On my 26th birthday, my mother took me out for the day. We had a nice time at first, as we usually did. We went shopping, ate sushi, and she gave me the complete boxed set of the Harry Potter movies on Blu-Ray. Afterward, she needed to make a “quick stop” at Best Buy, which turned into a two hour errand. I worked two jobs at the time and desperately wanted to get home to get some things done and spend time with my dog. I became increasingly frustrated, but tried to keep calm. I eventually offered to have my dad take me home, since he lived nearby. This sent my mother into a rage that resulted in a heated fight on the drive home. I remember telling her she needed mental help, as she began to deliberately drive recklessly, and her cruelly mocking me for self-harming in high school. After she dropped me off at my apartment, I heard a thump. She had hurled the leftover birthday cookie at my door and sped off. I was done. Happy birthday, Belle.
Though I never received an apology, less than a year later, I tried to reconnect for a few months, only to have similar results and once again cease contact. A year or two after that, she showed up at my work one day and, instead of turning her away, I had a nice conversation with her, about my job, Jake, my pets, the life I had planned. She told me of some ailments that the doctors “couldn’t explain” and described symptoms that seemed either fabricated or psychological, knowing her history, but I left it alone. I’d missed her. I’d missed having a mother, even one who wasn’t mentally stable and I couldn’t speak on her health with certainty. I was still hesitant to take the relationship much further, however, as the above events were just the latest of my efforts at a mother/daughter bond throughout my twenties.
Four months later, my mother showed up at my new job site, which was still under construction, bypassed all signs and laborers and entered “just to say hi,” though she lived an hour and a half away. I couldn’t get her to leave, even after insisting that I could get in real trouble for having my mother visit an ongoing construction site. She was baffled at why it was a problem and I had to rudely insist she go. This time she was using a walker, for symptoms that may or may not have been legitimate. I’ll never know. The system director arrived thirty minutes later and I still think I could have, at the very least, seriously damaged my reputation with the director and other members of upper management. It finally set in that it was all or none with her. After 10 years of similar behavior, I no longer had the energy for all, so I chose none. That’s the last time I spoke to her, December of 2016.
This was my adult relationship with my mother. It doesn’t even touch on the abuse of my teen years. I’d grown up with the “wait until your father gets home” threat and my mother had no idea how to discipline a teenager on her own. More often than not, she tried to be my best friend and we had some great times eating cookie dough and watching bad horror movies, talking about our favorite shows and books, gossiping over the cute boys at school. Then, she’d inevitably want me to do something I didn’t want to do and the argument would escalate to physical abuse. After a particularly brutal night, in which she dragged me across the house by my hair, I began discussing moving in with my dad, who was simply the lesser evil at the time, and she told me a story about how he had molested me, insisting I’d blocked it out. Not only did I no longer consider moving in with him, I didn’t talk to him for five years, from the ages of 13-18.
Not long after, my mother somehow managed to have me prescribed a 250mg daily dose of Wellbutrin, without in-person therapy. During our arguments, she’d frequently threaten to have me committed to a psych ward. The physical abuse worsened and each time, she felt horrible, once even insisting that I beat her back with the same dog leash. It was a volatile relationship, in which she had all the power… until she left me, during my senior year, to live with the boyfriend she’d met online, the man she eventually married and seemingly decided was her whole world. Only then did I put the pieces together and accept that my dad might not have been perfect, but he wasn’t a child molester and my mother was, at best, mentally ill and terrified of being alone.
She wasn’t always like this. Before the separation and eventual divorce, before the brain tumor, she showed signs of mental instability, but they were far less frequent, usually just rages far exceeding what the situation warranted or manic episodes where she’d focus on a single cleaning task for days, creating diagrams we couldn’t read yet, with strict instructions to follow them. In between, she made birthday pancakes and planned elaborate parties, took us on vacations, alone or with my grandmother, volunteered for every school activity, using her leave for field trips and our end of the year bashes. She stayed home with us when we were sick and took us to lunch when she had to take off to drive us to a dentist appointment. She painted green footprints in the bathtub on St. Patrick’s Day and put food dye in the milk. She drove us to every after school activity and helped us with gymnastics and softball, despite how absolutely awful I was at both. She let us keep every stray dog and doted on her poodle. She always loved us, I’d dare say more than my father did, and simply grew increasingly worse at it as her mental state degraded. Over the years, she just became an impossible person to have a relationship with, creating for herself a lonely and sad life since she remarried, with no bonds outside her husband; who encouraged and enabled her every delusion, solidifying her hatred for and distance from my grandmother and her family, my brother’s absolute disdain for her, and my own lack of contact.
Last Monday, my mother had a heart attack. She died on the table twice and was completely brain dead when they brought her back. On Saturday, the day before Mother’s day, they unplugged her and I was able to visit, completely alone, due to Covid-19 restrictions, while Jake waited in the lobby. I expected her to be frail and peaceful, but she was morbidly obese, appeared to be bloated with broken blood vessels in her arms and hands, and her breathing was labored through the effort of working her collapsed lung. I gave her husband the latest ultrasound picture of the babies and asked that she be buried with it, somewhat grateful that she didn’t live to know that she wouldn’t be allowed to see them unless she received the help she denied she needed. I spent the next day ignoring “Happy Mother’s Day” texts, while waiting for that fated one from my brother. I’d always hoped that my mom would get treatment, therapy or medication or both, that we could eventually have something, that I’d once again see a shadow of the woman she used to be… and now it’s over. There’s no more time. As that succinct text message said “mom’s gone”… really and truly this time.
When I was little, my grandma used to take my brother and I out and give us whatever we wanted, usually sugar of some kind. She’d bring us home and I’d be hyped up on M&M’s or ice cream and my mom would be exasperated with her and tell me that one day, when I had children, she would do the same. She would have been my age at the time. When she was my age, my mom pictured a future where she was allowed and alive to see my children. She should have had that. She should have had a better life. She should have been surrounded by her kids and grandchildren and a hodge podge of friends. Instead, she had a lonely and pitiful existence with only the companionship of a miserable little man who exacerbated the many mental issues that ultimately ruined her.
The day after Mother’s Day, my mom died at sixty years old… and no one cares. Besides a lack of friends or coworkers, she had no siblings and wasn’t close with her own family. My father’s family was horrible to her, even before she deserved it, and I’ve spent my entire life hearing the nasty things they have to say about her. While I know my dad would love to offer his comfort and possibly even feels he can relate, from the death of my grandfather, I don’t recall anyone ever telling him they’d like to dance on his dad’s grave and I’m not really interested in discussing his choreography, no matter how justified his anger. Worried that I’d keep it to myself long enough to make it really awkward, though, I had Jake call him and deliver the news with instructions to tell everyone that I don’t want to talk… because beyond my husband and grandma, anyone who says they’re sorry is lying. They’re sorry for me, sorry for my grandma, sorry for my brother and his kids… but no one is sorry for my mother’s lost life, in any sense of the phrase. No one but my grandma and I will cry for her and even those are conflicted tears, because deep down, we’re both happy it’s over for her. She didn’t have a good life and it wasn’t going to get any better. She was losing her grip on reality faster and faster and her health was inarguably failing, as well. There won’t even be a funeral, as her husband insists that she didn’t want a service of any kind, which has always been completely out of character. He’ll be having her cremated to bury her alone, without anyone present, like a stray dog. The woman who made those birthday pancakes and binged on raw cookie dough was gone long ago, but now so is any hope that I’ll ever see her again… and no one cares.
Y’all, I’m ashamed to say that, after years of struggle, I’ve managed to take the small things for granted. I still smile when I’m able to buy the name brand Spaghetti O’s, when I only have to work 40 hours a week, when I get to spend an evening reading next to my husband, instead of rushing to an awkward first date. Yet, somehow, I’ve taken one of life’s many blessings as a given. Y’all, for 31 years, I have been living under the assumption that my girl parts were not up for public discussion… and I was mistaken.
Now, don’t get me wrong. There is, of course, a clear distinction between “public” and “family.” The ink had barely dried on my divorce papers, before my brother informed 23-year-old Belle that all the good ones were taken, so if she wanted to get married and have kids, she’d better get on it. The entirety of my twenties, in fact, were peppered with not-so-subtle suggestions that I procreate, even before Jake and I were engaged. Just last Christmas, my Aunt Dee sat down next to me, as I was holding my baby niece, and demanded “What about you? What’s your timeline? When are you having babies?” in lieu of silly pleasantries like “Hello” or “Merry Christmas.” Belle’s Girl Parts have been a favorite family discussion topic for years. Truth be told, save for my dad, the lot of them have had a stopwatch on my uterus for the better part of the last decade.
As for Jake’s family, who are far more old school than mine, I’ve actually been pleasantly surprised that they’ve only just begun to hint that we should get on the baby train, after two years of marriage. Though they don’t quite have the gall of my family, the comments are getting increasingly less subtle, and honestly… that’s okay. While it bothered me to hear these things from my own family, when I was working on my career and figuring out what I wanted from life, I never held any true ire or resentment. As blunt and nosy and opinionated as both sides can be, it’s forgivable… because they’re family. A foundation of nearly every familial portrayal in media is that they suck at boundaries, because they love you… and I can handle that. What I cannot handle, however, is the same lack of boundaries from the cashier at Dollar Tree.
Folks, I’ve worked retail, and still very much work in customer service, so I try to be courteous. When I get to the register, I put my phone down, greet the cashier, engage in any small talk, say thank you and just generally try not to act like an entitled ass. Usually, I receive the same respectful treatment, from someone who will likely never see me again, but still makes an effort to create a pleasant interaction by smiling, making chit chat and ignoring my purchases. So, last week, when I stopped in to grab a card for a coworker’s last day, I thought nothing of it when I piled a few ovulation tests on the conveyor belt, cuz why not? They’re a dollar and I’ve long since passed the time in my life where I’m embarrassed to buy tampons or condoms. Just as I couldn’t care less when a customer asks me for books on demonology and antique dolls (or I at least keep quiet about it), I know cashiers aren’t interested in my budget fertility experiments… or are they?!?!
Cashier # 1: “Oooooh! Are you trying to have a baby?!?!” Me: “I… um… I guess so?” Cashier # 1: “That’s so exciting! I always said that if I were going to have any more, I’d do it that way, so I could know exactly when they were coming. I’ve got an IUD now, though, so I’m good for five years.” Me: ::I literally do not even know your name:: “Oh, um, yeah I actually had one of those for a little while.” ::Why the hell am I telling this woman about my birth control?:: Cashier # 2: “What’s going on?”
Cashier # 1: “She’s trying to have a baby!”Cashier # 2: “Oh, that’s exciting!”
Cashier # 1: “Yeah, I had to use over-the-counter options before this, because I couldn’t use anything else.”
Me: “Yeah, that happens sometimes, I know everything else made me sick.” ::Are we really talking about your condom usage?::
… and then I thanked her, wished her a good day and left with my bag o’ pee sticks. That’s right, y’all. It is so ingrained in me to be a good customer, that I thanked the cashier who asked me “How ’bout that vagina?” My When my Aunt Dee asked about my timeline, I had the presence of mind to clap back that Jake keeps putting it in the wrong hole (Merry Christmas!), but a woman I’ve never met blasts my sex life over the loud speaker of a local discount store and I wish her a good day.
When did this happen?!?! When did my fertility become something that not only my family asks about in a pesky, yet somewhat endearing way, but strangers think makes for appropriate small talk?!? I’m all for lifting the taboo on pregnancy, liberating “expecting” 50s housewives from their mumus, and encouraging breastfeeding moms to make themselves comfortable in public, but there is a difference between oppressive taboos and basic privacy! For instance:
Telling a woman she should hide her pregnancy shames her for something she should be celebrating.
While humiliating a woman for feeding her baby in a public courthouse makes a healthy and natural activity taboo, asking a woman if she’s planning to breastfeed is prying into a private personal decision.
Congratulating someone on their pregnancy announcement shares in the joy of a growing family, but asking her about her girl parts is invasive and uncomfortable and I shouldn’t have to tell anyone that!
Naturally, I went home and shared this story with Jake. Me: “Next month, you get to buy the ovulation tests.”
Jake: “If it happens again, just tell them you’re breeding your dog.”
I’ve been pretty hesitant to revisit this Dollar Tree, though, even with it being so close to work. While a part of me wants to perform some kind of expansive social experiment and buy increasingly awkward items from various cashiers, another part shudders to think what will happen when I actually do get pregnant.
Update: Two weeks later, when Jake stopped by Dollar Tree to pick up more ovulation tests, the same cashier not only commented “Someone’s tryyyying,” but asked if I was his wife. I called her manager and explained that while I know she’s trying to be friendly, someone has got to explain to this woman that things people pee on aren’t up for discussion at checkout.
Three and a half years ago, Jake took me on a weekend trip, to meet his friends. We’d only been dating for seven months, but we were already beginning to see a future together. It was only a few weeks later that we went skiing and began to talk about marriage in hypotheticals. So it was, that we fit right in with his dating/engaged/married without children friends. The women made Pinterest recipes together and shared first date and wedding day stories. The men played beer pong and told appalling college tales. There were drinking games and card games and movies. It was a great time and I was surprised to feel so included with these people I’d just met. A year and a half later, I felt the same way, on our wedding day, when the women told me I completed the pack. So, this past weekend, when Jake told me his friends had planned another crawfish boil, I was excited.
When we met, only one set of Jake’s married friends had children and it was some time before I met them, as that couple’s weekend wasn’t really a family event. Over the next few years, however, more and more birth announcements, gender reveals, and baby showers came. Some of the new parents were just at that point in life, others perhaps just wanted to be. Regardless of intent, though, the babies came and the first thing I saw when we arrived at last weekend’s party was a swarm of small children.
It’s no secret that I don’t really like kids. I’ve never been drawn to them. Unless they’re family, and therefore require some level of affection and investment, I just don’t find them particularly interesting… and I’ve tried. I substitute taught for six years and I work in a public library, so it’s not for lack of exposure that children just aren’t my thing. Yet, I want my own. The word “trying” seems like a lot of information about my sex life, but Jake and I are… seeing what happens. So, while I can’t necessarily empathize with their day to day lives, I can sympathize with parents. I love watching my husband with our young nieces. I genuinely enjoy them, myself, so I know I have that in me, under the right circumstances. Working with older kids and teens is my life’s work and it makes me want to give my own children a good home life. I’m not there yet and children aren’t my specialty, but I do want them soon, so I can enjoy the company of parents and their families. Too bad the feeling wasn’t mutual last weekend.
I won’t go so far as to say that anyone was unkind to me, at this party. Jake and I walked in and did the introductions and reintroductions. People I’d never met hugged me and joked about erecting statues in my honor for marrying this wild cowboy of mine. Together, we gave updates on our careers and location, before Jake traded some back slaps and insults, on his way to play cornhole and horseshoes with his old college buddies… and I was left alone, in a crowd of moms.
Y’all, I tried. I was excited about this party and didn’t hesitate to sit down at a table of women my age and attempt to strike up a conversation. We traded pleasantries. I asked about their kids, told them we didn’t have any yet, and then… I simply vanished. I’d try the same routine with another group and another, but always, got the same result.
Feeling rejected, I sat down with Jake to eat crawfish, while he and his friends gabbed like tweens. Occasionally, they’d include me and I’d find myself laughing comfortably with my husband and his boys. Not wanting to detract from Jake’s good time by being clingy, however, I mostly watched as he and his buddies played washers and drank beer. Periodically, I’d attempt to start a conversation with one of the women, happy to listen to them talk about their families or careers or literally anything, but these chats never lasted more than a few minutes, before they sat down with other moms; ones they knew and ones they didn’t. Whereas once, when Jake and I were in the same stage of life, I felt welcomed and included among his friends, I now found myself on the sidelines, not out of maliciousness, but with a similar result, because I don’t yet have something I do want.
Jake: “Are you not having fun?”
Me: “I’m okay. Go have fun with your friends. You don’t need to babysit me.”
Jake: “You’re really bad at lying.”
Me: “It’s just… kind of like a middle school dance. I’m either sitting quietly alone or wandering around aimlessly, so I look like I have somewhere to be. No one wants to talk to me, cuz I’m not a mom.”
As the night wore on, it became clear that the only friend I’d made was the dog, who saw my weakness as an opportunity to get nummies… and that he did. Finally, I made one last attempt to socialize, walking over to a group of women who’d seemed friendly earlier. Immediately, I was asked if I had children. When I answered “not yet”, I was literally embraced by a woman named Molly, who launched into an inebriated tirade against the “breeders” who wouldn’t invite her to dinner, because she didn’t have a screaming brat to bring with her. Simply happy to have someone to talk to, I let her drag me away from the group, her husband and another couple in tow, and they all proceeded to long for the days of random hookups and a drunken concert they referred to as “Redneck Woodstock.” I remember hearing about that concert from Jake, on our third date. He told me that so many people just peed right next to the stage, it was like a latrine. When I mentioned this, I was informed that the beauty was in the freedom to pee right next to the stage. Never having been a gal who would enjoy such festivities, I did not mince words.
Me: “That sounds awful. That literally sounds like Hell.”
It didn’t matter, though, because Molly had decided that I was simply her sounding board and she’d had too much to drink to take in much of what I had to say. She told me she knew she liked me, that she just had to look past the pigtails and the cookies I brought. She told me how happy she was that Jake, who’d never liked her, had married a stoner liberal just like her.
Me: “I’m not a liberal or a stoner. I’ve smoked pot twice and I didn’t like it.”
She didn’t seem to hear me.
Jake found me and Molly launched into her defense campaign, talking about how he used to hate her, but she’s totally changed. He joked and laughed with her, but I could tell his opinion hadn’t altered much over the years and that Molly’s behavior wasn’t doing anything to redeem her. I suddenly felt more defeated than ever. The only person who’d shown any genuine interest in me all night was a drunken party girl in her thirties, who referred to anyone who wants children as a “breeder”… and she made fun of my hair and my nice gesture. I had enough friends like that in my twenties and I didn’t even enjoy it then. I certainly can’t relate now. When Jake leaned in and whispered “Molly’s crazy, by the way,” I nearly burst into tears, because I’d gathered as much myself.
Me: “Don’t tell me any more. She’s the only person who’s talked to me all night.”
While Jake finished up his final game of washers, I hung my head and retreated to the car, walking the long way to avoid Molly and company, my shoes in hand as I trekked barefoot through standing water, so I wouldn’t be noticed. I crawled into the car and pulled out my Kindle, retreating into my forever friend: books.
Twenty minutes later, Jake climbed into the car next to me.
Jake: “Do you feel okay?”
Me: “Yeah. I’m fine.”
Jake: “I’m sorry you didn’t have fun.”
Me: “I’m glad you did.”
… and I meant it
The next morning, after I’d had some time to get my feelings in check, I told Jake that I didn’t dislike his friends. On the contrary, they’d been so nice to me before, that it felt worse to be so obviously excluded… and they are nice people. They try to include me in smaller groups… when the wives show. This isn’t a phenomenon Jake has to deal with, though, even though all of his friends have kids. Men’s lives are less likely to be consumed by fatherhood than women’s are to be consumed by motherhood. Men aren’t as naturally exclusionary as women… and Jake is generally the life of every party, so they’d fail if they tried.
I’m certain that none of the women intended to alienate me, that night. There were so many people there, that I imagine it was pretty easy to overlook one. Regardless, being ostracized by the Mom Club felt uniquely awful. Maybe one day, a year or two from now, when I’m once again one of the gang… in the same stage of life as everyone else, I’ll remember that feeling well enough to talk to the woman between marriage and motherhood. In the meantime, I have a husband who at least understands that he’ll never understand.
Me: “I think maybe you should come on more solo trips to hang out with your buddies. I don’t really want to do this again for a while.”
I had it all planned. I would mail the invitations and send a polite, but firm, text message to my mother, simply stating that too many bridges have been burned and she is, therefore, not invited to my wedding. I’d find a way to subtly mention the presence of security, so she knew that if she were to show, it wouldn’t be overlooked. Perhaps I’d even blame my dad, claiming he said he wouldn’t come if she did. After all, the only reason he claimed he was joking when he did say it, was because my step-mom yelled at him. Sure, I hadn’t worked out the details. I hadn’t really told Jake or Gail that she was texting me more lately, trying to mend fences, but I figured I’d let all that be Future Belle’s problem.
I had it all planned, more or less… until she showed up at my new job, unannounced, uninvited, and unwelcome, seeing as how we’re not open and are still a construction zone. When she said my name, I genuinely thought that this could not be happening. Not even she was demented enough to think I’d want to see her at the new job I didn’t tell her about and that it was appropriate to disturb me during my first week, when we were still surrounded by construction workers. I turned, and there she was, with her kicked puppy look, the one that always reminds me of a sad Kathy Bates, the reason I can’t watch movies with Kathy Bates. She stood at the walker I knew she’d been using, despite having informed me specifically that the doctors have told her again and again that there is nothing physically wrong with her… emphasis on physically.
Me: “What are you doing here?”
Her: “I just came to see you.”
Me: “We’re not open. You can’t be here.”
Her: “Okay, I just came to say hi.”
Me: “You have to leave. This is a construction zone.”
Her Husband: “Alright, we know. We just came to say hi.”
Me: “You have to go. Now.”
The director of the system had left only hours earlier. I can only imagine what he’d have thought if he had assumed I’d invited my, apparently invalid, mother to tour an unopened library. Fortunately, she and her husband left before anyone but the construction workers noticed, leaving me shaking. I never know what I feel when I see her… anger, pity, longing? This time “ambushed” ranked pretty high, as I typed out a text message to her. It was cruel and hateful and I was angry, but even in hindsight, I can only think how she refuses to respond to any other expression of my wishes. I have asked to be left alone (particularly at work), in every other way I can fathom, so the only thing left, it seemed, was to be ugly… or reprimanded professionally. I pressed send, terrified that her husband, Victor, would return to berate me for it.
Mental illness receives the most blame for who my mother has become, of course, but I place Victor second in that column. My mother has always been… embarrassingly weak. Even when she was young, she was a chameleon through and through, adapting her personality to those who surround her. With my dad, she was convinced she wanted to live on ten acres and spend her money on boots and livestock, neither of which ever gave her any real benefit. After things went south there, she let herself be completely absorbed in having young children, both dressing and acting like a child in many ways, from oversized Tweety Bird t-shirts and fanny packs, to childish humor and hobbies. Perhaps that was part of the cause of the divorce, not necessarily the effect, but I’ll never know. Then, she met this weird little man, who wears a conductor’s hat, lives in isolation, and makes his money from odd jobs and pyramid schemes, both of which naturally required her money, before she quit nursing to watch Netflix and self-diagnose herself on WebMD all day. This was the same man who convinced her to leave me and move in with him my senior year of high school, the reason she couldn’t “afford” my college application fees, the man who frequently tells her how horrible everyone in her life has been to her, increasing his isolation of her to only his home, where he plays into her contrived illnesses and doesn’t allow her to drive.
I think, often, about how different my mother would be, had she married someone even remotely normal. Perhaps she’d still be working, exposing herself to the outside world and the people in it. Maybe she’d share some random hobby with him, like disc golf or traveling with Renaissance Fairs. Maybe she’d still exist, period, because she is simply a shell of herself, today, and a poor one at that. Gone is the woman who insisted we wear my Gramma’s matching Christmas outfits for the family photo… who volunteered to chaperone every field trip and supplied cupcakes for every class party… who took me out of daycare just because she had the day off. I don’t even recognize her anymore, but I miss the woman she was.
In a weak moment, I called Jake and shared a touch of my mommy drama. I often joke with him that he can’t know the magnitude of it all until after we’re married and he’s trapped. I immediately regretted telling him. Despite my willingness to share everything else, I find I want to keep this particular pain from Jake. I left work just a few hours later and spent the evening ignoring his calls and crying over the horrible text I’d sent my mother, thinking that a man so respectful of his own parents was far too good for me. I thought about watching the home videos I have on a disc, but I know they would just make me long even more for someone who’s gone, and I’m not that masochistic. I thought of my wedding day, of dressing with only my Gramma and bridesmaids by my side, of the whispers from those who will never understand and I cried. I thought about having no mentor for marriage and motherhood and I cried. I thought about how I can’t do all of this without the mother I had at 7-years-old and how I’ll never see her again and I cried. I reread my text message and I cried.
Stop coming to my work. Period. I cannot talk to you. I’m working. I choose not to see you when I’m not working and forcing me to see you when I am is completely inappropriate. I didn’t tell you I switched libraries for a reason. Don’t come see me. Just assume that you are never invited to any part of my life. My wedding. The births of my children. Stay. Away. Do not respond to this message in any way other than to respect my wishes. I am not discussing this or anything with you.
I’m an active Facebook user. I love seeing people grow up and be happy. That’s why, even though I knew I’d regret it, I still thumbed through all of the photos of my friends with their moms. The sentiments were all the same. She’s their best friend, their major source of support, and an amazing grandma. She’s seen them through everything and taught them everything they needed to know about life.
Naturally, there were no shout-outs to the children of the mentally ill.
When I was nine, I found out I needed to wear deodorant when my dad snapped that I stank, assuming my mother had had that talk with me. I opened my first training bra in front of my family on Christmas, from an aunt who was trying to send my mother a hint. I came home crying, one day in middle school, because the other kids said I had a mustache. I mostly gave up on makeup in eighth grade, because I didn’t really know how to apply it and had no one to show me. My mother didn’t teach me any of the things I needed to know as a teenager and certainly not as an adult, considering she left me to live with her boyfriend two hours away, during my senior year.
I wish I could only feel anger. I know that’s not healthy, but I think it might be more bearable than this deep-set ache I’m feeling these days as I remember the good times we did have. Even though absent-minded about things like making sure there were tampons in the house, that I was wearing the right cup size, and keeping the electricity on… even when she was filling my head with lies about my dad molesting me and dosing me with 250 mg of Welbutrin so I wouldn’t leave her abuse… there were good times with her. In my mother’s addled mind, we were only ever the Gilmore Girls, laughing over B movies and eating raw cookie dough. The mind of the mentally ill cannot be deciphered, so I don’t know how she rationalizes all of those other things, if she even acknowledges them. All I know is that she’s sitting at home on Mother’s Day, wondering what happened, why her babies don’t love her, while I’m sitting at home desperately missing the woman who hid the Easter eggs twenty times, because I had so much fun searching for them.
To this day, my big, tough, redneck dad still tears up talking about the mistakes he made. I’m the one who assures him it’s all good. There’s nothing to be done about it, not a DeLorean in sight, and we can go from here. I’ve tried that so many times with my mother and it’s ended the exact same way each and every time as I hysterically weep into the phone to either Gail or my Gramma that I wish Kitty Forman was my mom.
The last time I initiated contact with my mother was two years ago. I say initiated, because she’s taken to showing up at my work, claiming there’s something physically wrong with her, deliberately speaking in stilted sentences and walking slowly. She’s told me herself the doctors can’t find anything and I’ve watched her become animated and drop the act as she gets engaged in conversation. My grandpa was our pediatrician and although he loved my mother, he thought she was making us sick, long before such things were used as plot twists in horror movies and Law and Order episodes. Today, either she or her husband is doing the same and I just can’t be a part of it. She refuses to get mental help and I refuse to entertain her insanity. I’m at a point in my life where I have to choose, and I choose me and my future family. So, today, as all the normal folks purchase flowers, take their mothers to lunch and movies, I think of all the future moments for which I won’t have a mom.
My mother won’t be there to help me choose a wedding dress, argue about how I have to have flowers, or even meet Jake, because I can’t invite her to the wedding. She’s burned too many bridges and too many people are uncomfortable around her, myself included. She won’t be able to guide me through my first pregnancy or answer questions about how to get the baby to stop crying. She’ll never take a three generations photograph on Mother’s Day, with me and my daughter. I won’t even have anyone to walk me through basic aging, like grey hair and menopause. I have so many good people in my life, including many who mother me, like Gail, my Gramma, Laura, Karol, my step-mom Lena, my Grandma Kay, and most certainly a mother-in-law one day. I’ll never have my mom, though… just a shell who resembles her less and less… and that hurts more than her absence. I suppose that’s just how it goes for the children of the mentally ill and you all have my sympathy.
There’s no other relationship that, no matter how abusive or toxic, society tells us we’re obligated to repair. Grandparents are often photographs and maybe a birthday card. Brothers and sisters can live entire lives without crossing paths, once they’ve reached adulthood. Dads are practically optional in American society. We’re not even obligated to our spouses. Mothers, though… mothers are worshiped. It’s really quite beautiful that we demand such respect for women who gave their youth, their bodies, their tears, and their hearts to their children, only to watch them leave. This week, the Humans of New York Facebook page is covered with stories of actual mothers who gave every part of themselves to better their children’s lives. All over the country, people are having Gilmore Girls marathons, ordering flowers, maybe even catching planes… because it’s your mom.
“It’s your mom.”
That’s what they say. That’s what they always say, no matter the time of year, like it excuses everything. They don’t understand that just because I have a mom… it doesn’t mean I have a mom. All of these relationships can be explained away in a sentence or two…
“Oh, I never really knew my grandparents.”
“My siblings and I aren’t really close.”
“I don’t have a dad.”
… but tell someone you won’t be calling your mom on Mother’s Day and you’re lucky if you only get a loaded silence. I, myself, share your sweet memories of school field trips, movie marathons, and birthday pancakes. I smile over remembered arguments about what to wear on picture day, how to fix my hair, and whether or not I could watch that movie. I understand your fondness for your mother, because I remember what it was like to have one. Those memories, however, have long since been overshadowed by the far more recent ones of threats, manipulation, abuse, and abandonment. I didn’t get to debate over the value of Greek life, during my senior year. I got left for an online boyfriend two hours away. I didn’t just argue with my mother over wedding plans. I got to inform her that if she hit me one more time, I’d be pressing charges. I didn’t get pancakes for my last mother/daughter birthday. I got screamed at for suggesting therapy. I got a birthday cookie hurled at my front door.
It’s not that I don’t want to see my mom. It’s that she’s not here, anymore. I miss my birthday pancakes so much it hurts. It hurts a lot more, though, to reconcile and sit across from someone who looks like her and sounds like her, and think I finally have her back… only to end up crying over episodes of That 70’s Show about how I wish Kitty Foreman could be my mom… because that’s what we do. You have lunch and manicures with your mother, with whom your biggest disagreement was a boyfriend or car or apartment. The women whose mothers have been taken by addiction or mental illness… we fantasize about our favorite fictional moms and do our best to get our mothering elsewhere. If we’re lucky, we have caring dads, aunts, friends, to walk us through the hard times… but it’s never enough, because there’s just something about mothers.
::Last week to Gail:: Me: I hope she’s nice to me. I’m really looking forward to it.
::text:: Me: I’m crying in my mother’s SUV now. I am perpetually 14 years old in her presence. Me: The night got a whole lot worse. Worst birthday celebration EVER. Gail: Where are you? Do you need a ride home? Are you okay? What happened?
Dad: “Just quit crying and tell me what happened.” … Me: “… and then she told me I never had to speak to her again for the rest of my life.” Dad: “I can’t believe she fucking said that. She has no business being anyone’s fucking mother. Me: “… and… and… she bought me a present I actually liked, instead of like last year, when she yelled at me for not wearing the lipstick… and… and it was normal before that and then she… she… ruined everything!” Dad: “Did you call your grandma?” Me: “I talked to her earlier, before this all happened.” Dad: “Well, call your grandma and see if you she can help you calm down.”
Me: “… and then she started telling me that she had a bad example as a mom and that you stole us from her. When I told her that I forgot you were an evil baby stealer, she said she’d never said that. She had literally just said that! I hate when she starts in on you!!!! It’s like a haze of rage!!!!!” Gramma: “Belle, don’t worry about it. She can’t upset me. I know what she thinks about me. It doesn’t even phase me anymore.”
Me: “… and then she told me my Gramma convinced me she was crazy, so I told her that the time she mooned us on the front lawn while screaming like a banshee and flipping us off did that for me and that my Gramma defends her. She insisted that I told her my Gramma said she was crazy and I explained that she must have just been distracted, because she was foaming at the mouth and with the taste of all that crazy, it must’ve been hard to concentrate.” Gail: ::snort:: “At least it was still funny.” Me: “Ugh. I lost it. I said all those things I joke about when I call you pissed, so I don’t say them to her. When I said that she said ‘… and what were you doing? Cutting yourself?’ My mom threw my self-mutilation in my face during my birthday celebration.“ Gail: ::silence:: “I’m so sorry.” Me: “I wish she would get help, but if I tell her that, she gets pissed and insists my Gramma told me to say it.”
::text:: Me: … and then she hurled the cookies at my front door and drove off. Jane: Wow. All I can say is wow.
::text:: I’m so sorry I ruined your birthday. I was trying very hard to make it special. I love you always no matter what. I’m always here if you need me. I will give you space. You know my phone number & address. I hope your real birthday is very happy.
It’s adorable how much my dad does not know how to deal with his crying daughter, when the solution isn’t money. I have such good people in my life, but I miss the mom that put birthday candles in pancakes. She’s gone though, and I don’t know why.
“And my mother began to go crazy. Not crazy in a let’s paint the kitchen bright red! sort of way. But crazy in a gas oven, toothpaste sandwich, I am God sort of way. Gone were the days when she would stand on the deck lighting lemon-scented candles without then having to eat the wax.” – Running with Scissors
When I was little, my mom chaperoned every field trip, even though she worked. She used to make a really big deal out of birthdays. She cooked pancakes with candles before school and made sure we had a gift to go with them. Small holidays were even special. She made heart-shaped pancakes on Valentine’s Day and put green food dye in the milk on St. Patrick’s Day. She even painted little green footprints all over the bathtub, where the leprechauns had been. She then made my brother, Bo, and I clean them up while the ten-year-old in the bathroom bawled his eyes out like a little bitch with a skinned knee, screaming “I HATE LEPRECHAUNS!”
Seriously, Bo believed in this shit waaaay too long. We had to sit him down the night before his wedding and explain why Santa wouldn’t come that year.*
* I’m lying.
“Why does she have to be so fucking crazy?!?!?! Has she… oh, I don’t know… given not being crazy a try?!?! It’s not that fucking hard! I’m doing it right the fuck now!!!”
That’s generally how the conversation starts with Gail, these days…
“… and you know that in her twisted labyrinth of a brain, that’s exactly how it happened, the fucking lunatic! Hoggle is running around with a bracelet and a peach. David Bowie is somewhere in my mother’s brain wearing a completely inappropriate outfit for a children’s movie!”
… that’s where it leads…
::tearfully:: “Why does she have to be like this? Why does she do this to people? I don’t understand.”
… and that’s where it ends up.
God bless Gail for having been around for the past ten years and understanding, without explanation, that my mother is just abusive and crazy. We joke about being each other’s moms and raising each other from age fifteen. Gail wasn’t just the one to hear about every single high school crush, listen to me rant about my Sims characters and the latest Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode…
I interrupt this serious blog entry to say that I was a fucking awesome teenager.
… and get kicked out of a Wal-Mart with me for sword fighting in the craft section with dalrods. She was also the one to sleep in my car with me when I was too drunk to get up the stairs after I kicked my ex-husband out, taught me to put on eyeliner when I found myself 23 and single, and comfort me each and every time my mother went off the deep end.
When I was 13, I was going through a tough time, acting out because the only authority figure in the house had left. My mother wanted me to see a therapist and I refused. Through a series of events, the argument escalated and would’ve ended in a 911 call if she hadn’t grabbed me by the hair and thrown me away from the phone. It was a bad day. It was the day I started sucking my thumb again, though I hadn’t since I was 10. It was the day I threw out that dog leash and was relieved to find my toes weren’t broken.
When I was 14, my brother and I got into an argument and he stormed out, while I was painting the dining room. My mother screamed that it was my fault he left. The argument escalated and when she swung her purse at my head, she missed and hit the wet wall. She was furious, because I’d destroyed her purse and swung the step ladder next. I told everyone who asked about the scratch, that ran the length of my face, that I had a cat. It wasn’t technically a lie.
At 19, I told my mother to stop inviting people I didn’t know to my wedding. The argument escalated and she raised her hand to hit me across the face when I snapped “If you hit me, I will hit you back and then I will press charges.” She hasn’t raised a hand to me since, but she still plays her games.
Summer of 2011, Gail and I decided that a trip to New Mexico with my mother and her husband wouldn’t be a terrible idea, since we’d have a different room and drive a different car and it was on my mom’s tab. In hindsight, I’m kind of glad we went, because Gail understands my mommy issues on an entirely new level after hearing the woman scream at me for taking a quick trip to return something at Wal-Mart across the street since she was 30 minutes late… and watching me hyperventilate at Carlsbad Caverns because my mother was going to yell at me for getting separated from her and no one on this planet can make me regress to a frightened 14-year-old like my mother.
“Belle, calm down, sweetie. You’re not fifteen anymore. If she yells at you, we’ll leave, okay? We’ll go back to the hotel, we’ll get our stuff, and we’ll go home. Your Gramma will help with the gas. It’s okay.”
Those eleven days of being a psych major were far from wasted. That girl would be great at that.
All of this wouldn’t be so bad if my mother were consistent, but that’s just not how mental illness works. She’ll act crazy and yell at me about the lipgloss I told her I wouldn’t use, but she bought anyway. She’ll get upset that my background picture on my phone is of me and my Gramma. She’ll text me to tell me she doesn’t love me anymore, because she thinks I’m lying about having to work. I understand you don’t just stop being mentally ill, but she won’t even admit she has a problem or get help. She’s just certain the world is against her. Then, for six months, she’s my mom. She’s the woman who ate cookie dough with me while we watched Smallville. She’s slightly grating and has abysmal table manners, but she’s not cruel or abusive… so I let my guard down… like I have during these last six months.
Me: “It’s really going to suck when she starts eating the candle wax again.”
Gail: “Ugh. Yes… and I’m going to have to pick up the pieces. I hate your mother.”
The only other person Gail hates is the man who told her he couldn’t wait until their daughter got sexy.
I can’t believe he got the van in the divorce.
I once called my Gramma crying and referred to the fact that my mom was adopted when I said…
“Why did you even pick her?!? You could’ve chosen the baby to the left! What, were you approached by a man in a cloak? Did you make some kind of deal?!?!”
“I’m from the adoption agency.” Yeah… seems legit.
So, a couple of weeks ago, when I called and cried “You could’ve chosen the baby to the left!”, she responded with “Uh oh. What the hell has she done now?” My Gramma does not swear. My mother is threatened by no one as much as she is my Gramma, the woman who took me to spend the night with her the night my mother screamed at us both to fuck off and mooned my Gramma on the front lawn, when I was 15. According to my mother, she stole Bo and I away from her. So, when I was out with my mother and called my Gramma to tell her I was busy and that’s why I’d missed her calls, my mother was threatened and asked why I had to make the call when she was sitting right next to me. Not being 15 anymore, I was visibly pissed, because she hadn’t cared one bit about my constantly texting Gail. So, my mother has been texting and calling non-stop for the past week. The last text was to state that we were having Smithie’s barbecue for my Gramma’s birthday, Sunday at 11:30. I told my mother that my Gramma said she wanted Sim’s, not Smithie’s and she assured me that she’d just asked her.
Me: “Did you want Smithie’s or did mom?”
Gramma: “Well, I mentioned Sim’s and she said she thought that Smithie’s would be a better sit-down place…”
This led to a tearful rant on my part that I soon realized was only upsetting my Gramma, so I called Gail.
“Why does she have to be so fucking crazy?!?!?! Has she… oh, I don’t know… given not being crazy a try?!?! It’s not that fucking hard! I’m doing it right the fuck now!!!”
There’s a cheap, sapphire necklace that came with a pancake and candle breakfast when I was eight. I put it away for safekeeping, because the woman who gave it to me is long gone… and I don’t know why.