I don’t think about my mother much. I don’t talk about her much. She hasn’t been part of my life in a real way in more than a decade. She doesn’t come up. Even when I think about what my life was like as a kid, I often avoid thinking about her: I remember, for instance, how often I was cold, but that memory is dissociated from the fact that she was responsible for keeping me warm. I remember being alone, but it isn’t framed in terms of her absence, though it was, in large part, her absences that made me alone.
But my shrink asks about her, and all these recollections–about my life then, about her, too–come up. And the anger hasn’t gone anywhere all these years. It’s just gotten covered over with dust. I know this nearly every time I see her, and my body goes into the utter tension of contained fury. Contained so as not to hurt her. So as not to hurt myself by being malicious. Contained for years in the argument with myself over whether she, herself, was malicious or off.
And I realize that I’ve never said my piece to her. And something in me knows that this is the next step.
I could say my piece to my father because it was hard to imagine that doing so could hurt him. I’ve never really been able to reach him. He’s never indicated much attachment to me. And when I said my piece to him, when I mailed that letter saying: you have broken my heart, something in me broke free, and the depression I’d been in for a quarter century lifted. It wasn’t all about the letter, of course. There was a lot of work I had been doing for a few years at that point, and it finally gelled. But the letter was a critical piece.
I’ve never even really thought about doing the same with my mother, partly because she is less present in my life, but also because I’ve always tried to protect her. The dynamic of my childhood–her needs coming first, my being the one in a caretaker role–is still in place in this way.
And I have seen my mother hurt. It is possible to reach her. If I say my piece, I will hurt her. And I’ve never really seen her as strong enough to handle that. Which is a child’s assessment of things. Which is not accurate to the reality that she moved across the world and created a new life for herself. That, looking at her life, she appears to have some kinds of deep resilience despite her neuroticism. Like mother, like daughter, in those respects, I suppose.
It feels like a test. Have I finally become selfish enough? Can I put myself first? Can I love myself better and harder than I love, or want to protect or spare, anyone else?
It feels like making a kill: sacrificing someone else for myself. The test: do I know, yet, in my bones, that I’m worth it? Can I be present to, and loyal to, my own needs and emotions long enough and hard enough to do what is best for me rather than getting lost in empathy for her?