To Be Dumped by Your Mom
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because bad childhoods come from some place too.
I need a trigger warning for the topic of family.
For me, family brings up memories of isolation, neglect and abandonment. But let me start at the beginning.
Just after my 14th birthday, having dutifully read a library copy of Our Bodies, Ourselves, I approached my world-weary single mother, a hardcore feminist, for reassurance on what seemed to be the impending doom of menstruation.
As a hardcore feminist, my mother spent her time attending city council meetings to get Playboy banned from the grocery store magazine rack, writing letters to state representatives regarding all manner of oppression against women and criticizing the Symbionese Liberation Army’s Cinque — one of the kidnappers of Patty Hearst — on Berkeley’s KPFA radio station. Why the latter? Because on her list of “revolutionary” complaints, sexism was nowhere to be found.
As a parent, however, my mother was detached and often unapproachable. My 14-year-old self was more wary of what it meant to get my period than wary of her, so I asked her, very simply, to walk me through it.
It didn’t go well. The details are fuzzy, but there was shouting, there were tears and fragile objects may have been hurled against a wall.
Next thing I knew, my mom was calmly telling me, “I’m sick of being a mother, find somewhere else to live.”
I was crushed. Broken. Frightened. Most of all, sad.
The next day, when the dust had settled, I called my father. He was an artist, a poet and a painter; he and my mother met at a peace rally in 1961. They never married, but they stayed together for three or four years. When they broke up, I remember trying to cling to my father’s legs as he was leaving, suitcase packed. Then I watched from a window and cried as he walked away down the sidewalk. I was their only child.
My mother said she just lost affection for him. Then she had a fling with an old flame. Then she declared herself asexual and had no more partners. My father was a virgin — a very shy virgin — when he and my mother met. He was a mess after what happened.
But living with him wouldn’t be ideal, since he was, and still is, somewhat of an enigmatic person. When he was lost, Scientology roped him in, and there was no going back.
He became a self-proclaimed failed Scientologist, since keeping in contact with an SP or Suppressive Person (i.e., anyone who doesn’t agree with the Scientology doctrine) is verboten.
But he kept in touch with me anyway, and so, having no other choice, I called him.
The call lasted two minutes.
Minute 1: me asking if I could live with him.
Minute 2: him saying no. Followed by 59 seconds of silence.
Whatever fraction of me that had hoped to know what a father is died right then. So the next day I called various friends of my parents to see whether one of them would take me in. I got lucky and found one who would.
But why had my mother been so freaked out by menstrual cycles? I don’t think she was freaked out by them in particular. I think it was more her having to focus on anything I needed. Maybe it was simply being needed at all. I mean, she was a cat person.
When she wasn’t working short stints for the Berkeley and Oakland school districts, or doing some typing job, or gardening, she was on welfare. Strangely enough, in spite of having a nursing degree, she never worked as a nurse.
She was the loneliest person I have ever known.
My mother died young, at 57. Cancer had ravaged her body. We reconciled in the 11th hour.
Once she was dying, we both knew we had to work on clearing the air. It was a bare-bones reconciliation. It would have taken us a lot more time to really make things good since our reconciliation took place before I had had any therapy. I was 27.
After 10 years in therapy I can honestly say I forgive her.
More than that, I love her.
I no longer take what happened personally. She was the loneliest person I have ever known.
I have accepted my father as “predictably enigmatic,” so there’s at least one thing I can always count on from him. We have reached a truce regarding Scientology. He admitted that there was a possibility he had been brainwashed (although he doesn’t think he was). He has promised not to attend classes or give them any more money. I have promised not to bash the “church.”
Today, at the age my mom was when she died, I am reading all the diaries, letters and newspaper clippings she saved, embracing her now more than I could when she was alive and kept me at a distance.
Some parts of her diary are harder to read than others, like the entry in which she writes about her regret sending me away. “She was the most important thing in the world to me,” the entry reads in part.
I have no children, on purpose. By the time I landed in my very happy, healthy relationship, that ship had sailed. So, family isn’t everything to me.