It’s been a dozen years or more since I last spoke with her. In fact, the last time I saw her, she didn’t even recognize me. Not because of any debilitating or insidious mental disorder, but because we are virtually strangers and have been for a long, long time.
My brother and I suffered a lot of abuse at the hands of our mother, from as far back as I can remember. She was 21 years old, with two kids and no husband when I was born. She was very young, with no means of support for herself and her two children. It must have been very stressful for her. I’m not making excuses, just observations.
When I was 10 she remarried and things just got worse. Of course, I was getting older and it was in my nature to be defiant. Not disobedient, defiant. I would try to stand still and not cry when she beat me — it infuriated her more and I derived great pleasure from that, even though it meant more abuse for me.
There was the one time that she was screaming at me about something I had done or not done (and for her, it didn’t have to be anything big or important, just something) and, as she pounded on my back with her fists and I refused to cry she screamed “I HATE YOU!” to which I childishly responded “I hate you too!” She beat me more.
I can’t count the number of times I heard her tell me and my brother that we were useless, and would never amount to anything.
Not only did we suffer physical abuse at her hand, we also suffered a lot of neglect psychologically and emotionally. We were socially stunted as well because her favorite punishment when any little thing went wrong was to give us a week in bed. We spent little time outdoors with others our age and, therefore, didn’t get much opportunity to learn socialization skills.
I was immature, socially stunted, withdrawn, and full of suppressed rage when I left home. I was starved for affection by ANYONE.
In the years after I left home and joined the Army, I wrote letters, called home and stayed in contact — all the effort was mine, and with the exception of an occasional letter, she put no effort into it at all. Not once in my adult life has my mother ever called me, or visited my home. Not once. I need the fingers of only one hand to count the number of times my mother acknowledged my kids’ birthdays or Christmas.
The killing blow was the day she turned 60, fourteen years ago today. I knew she was planning to retire and move to Florida, sometime around the time she turned 60. I called her to wish her a happy birthday (as I did EVERY year) and found that she’d already gone. No good-bye, no go to hell, no fuck you, nothing. Just gone. That was the day that the brick wall fell on my head. I raged and cried and pounded the walls in the shower and finally got the last of the poison out. That was the day I emotionally detached myself.
I think it was a year or so later when I stopped by my half-sister’s house during the holidays (because I was in town visiting my daughter) and discovered that my mother was there visiting from Florida. I said hello to her and she stared at me blankly. “Mom, it’s Pat” my sister said. And that’s when my mother said “OH!” The light bulb went on. This reinforced to me that we were strangers. How a mother could look at her daughter that she hasn’t seen in a couple years and not recognize her is a testimony to how estranged we are. That was the last time I saw or talked to her.
Today is her 74th birthday.
I don’t even know if she’s still alive because I am estranged from my siblings as well.
I’ve thought a lot about her in the past three weeks since our victorious ruling. The little girl inside of me wonders “Have I done anything yet to make her feel some sort of maternal pride, or is this yet another reason for her to look at me with disdain?” I always wished that things had been different back in the day, that I could have done something to make her proud of me. But, the roads we travel end up somewhere and they always have an end destination.
Have I made something of my life? Yes, I have. I served my country for 16 years on active duty and 8 years in the reserves. I have a good job, good pay, good benefits, and enjoy a certain amount of success. I own my own home — something she never did (unless you consider the trailer she lived in).
Am I the kind of person that would have made a better parent proud? I’d like to think so. I raised three kids single-handedly. They are all responsible members of society and each has obtained educations to work for others. Social work, teaching, paralegal. I’m proud of them. I’ve worked hard, made my own way without any help, and have helped people as much as possible along the way.
Have I made a difference in the world? I’d have to say yes, based on the people who came up to us on Monday and thanked us for what we did, as far as marriage equality. Some cried. Some hugged us. Some shook our hands. Others just smiled and waved or nodded their heads in acknowledgment.
While I’ve spent the last dozen years insulating myself to never be hurt by her again, it’s times like these that the little girl inside rears her little head and wishes that once, just once, she could hear her mother say “I’m proud of you.”
Absent that, I’ll just acknowledge that it’s her birthday and know that I turned out to be a better person than she ever gave me credit for.