After my parents got divorced, my mother became increasingly mentally unstable.
I don’t remember much about the divorce, or our lives immediately after, and there are several stories to tell about this so I will do my best to stick to just one, but I can clearly recall watching her sort of drift off into a person I longer cared for, or even loved.
My mother initially had custody but my dad contested and won, at which point my sister and I moved in with my dad and my grandmother. This move happened in the winter before I turned six, I think. And I can remember, even from that early age, my mother telling me horrible things.
She would always drag me into whatever extreme emotion she was experiencing, as if my commiseration with her had to be part of her total experience. She would tell me how sad and depressed she was. She would tell me how lonely she was. She would tell me how unfair it was. She would tell me how my father stole things from her, how he lied to her, and hurt her.
And I believed her. I don’t know if she was intentionally manipulating me. For a long time I was certain that she was. But she was certainly molding my mind in powerful ways by imparting on me very adult ideas in a very biased way.
As I got older, pre-teen, and my father remarried she would tell me that my stepmom seduced my dad at work (they worked in the same building) and that my dad cheated on my mom. My mother told me that my dad was not following court orders and that she deserved to see me more often. She would tell me that my dad had stolen money from her and was refusing to do the things financially that he agreed to do when the divorce occurred. I later found out from my father that absolutely none of it was true, of course.
And during this time my mom was hospitalized four times into psych wards. I have one vivid memory of a winter where my dad broke his leg in a car accident and he took us to see her, probably on her normal night of the week to be with her. I remember my dad having a broken leg because he had to climb several stories of stairs on crutches and I thought it was funny. I remember two other things from that night. First, that my mom and I watched Star Trek: The Next Generation together on TV. This was a very normal thing for us to do at her place, we both really enjoyed TNG. The other thing that still occupies a rather inordinate amount of space in my brain is how different my mother looked. In retrospect, she was probably on a lot of medication and sedatives. But to a child, it was horrifying. It was this memory that popped into my head on my way to my first hospitalization; ‘what am I going to look like in a couple days in this place?’ I’ve been told by almost everyone in my family that at certain points over the last few years that I didn’t look right; that I appeared to be over-medicated or something. No one ever mentions this to you when they notice it, they all wait until you look better for some reason. I don’t remember much else from her hospitalizations aside from being really terrified at the thought of her being there and even more so at the thought of me having to visit her there.
On one of those trips she got ECT, just like me. I have no idea if it worked or not though. My mother was a prodigious liar and probably a hypochondriac. I never really saw her improve in anyway. And if you talked to her for longer than a few minutes she would hit you with a list of things currently killing her. One of her most referenced books was her nursing dictionary, which she was constantly reading, alongside her pharmacology book.
Not long after her final hospitalization, my mother convinced herself that she had fibromyalgia (something I discovered much later her sister had, probably picked up the idea there) and that she had to move to Sharon, Pennsylvania, population: 14,038, so she could see the world’s foremost leader in fibromyalgia care. Makes perfect sense. Oh, it also happened to be the city where my dead stepfather’s family and single brother happened to be living. You can guess where she moved in.
She continued to lie to me about my father, even though I was getting old enough to confront her about it. She kept on the same stuff I stated earlier. But now she would include things like my father was lying to me about her so I would stop loving her. Or that my father was the reason I was not calling as often as before. She also regularly claimed that my dad was a millionaire and that he was hiding money from her, my sister, and myself, that we all deserved to have. To this day I still haven’t run into too many millionaires working in public education, maybe I’m looking in the wrong places.
By the time I had my first suicide attempt and subsequent hospitalization, I was not regularly talking to my mom. In fact, I never told her that those things happened; I’m not sure anyone did. I was at a breaking point with my mother by the time I graduated high school. The reason was simple, she accused my grandfather of an extremely heinous act and I couldn’t forgive her for that. I had only spoken to her a handful of times over the past two years and the conversations were generally short and cold. My dad and my stepmom very graciously invited my mother to my graduation party. And to accommodate her even further, they planned my party for the weekend after the commencement ceremony, so she could attend both while only making one trip. She came to commencements, and over to my parent’s house afterwards. I had never seen her in the state she was in. She looked thin and frail. She could not keep up with the conversation. It was terrifying.
But, I was happy to have her there. I hadn’t seen her in a couple years.
She stayed all week and I thought everything was going well. I was at home the day before my party when she pulled into the driveway. I knew what was happening. My sister was home as well and she came outside to talk to my mom as I walked into the house to avoid hearing my mom say the words I was dreading to hear. I saw my mom pull away and my sister came in and told my parents that my mom was heading back to Pennsylvania, the day before my party, after being in Michigan for a week.
She called me later that night and I was naturally furious. She told me that she couldn’t afford the motel she was staying in for another night. She told me that my dad should’ve given her money so that she could stay. She told me that she shouldn’t have even come because it cost her money she didn’t have and that wasn’t fair to her.
This was all typical stuff. I told her to ‘shut your fucking face’. She stopped and took notice. I then went on a several minute long rant railing her for all she had put me and my sister through. How she had lied so often and so effortlessly. How she had consistently put her own needs above those of her children. How she was a terrible mother trying to draw attention away from one of the very few important days in her child’s life. And I told her that I was no longer speaking to her.
She would still call and ask to talk to me. She usually called my sister and talked to her first and she would always ask me if I wanted to say anything to my mother. I invariably told her no. Eventually she stopped asking.
About a year later, my mom called and asked for me and I agreed to talk to her. I’m not sure why. We talked about college. We talked about my girlfriend that I had been seeing for several years at that point. We talked about her health. It was strange because, like at my graduation, she wasn’t much with it. I had to remind her of all of those things. I had to remind her I graduated high school. She was so sad and sort of pathetically helpless that I felt guilt for holding onto so much hatred towards her. I felt a lot of my anger fade away during that conversation. So much so that by the end of it I told her that I forgave her for the things she did to me. I told her that I thought she did the best she could and that life had been difficult and unfair towards her. I had tried this in the past. When I was still in high school my therapist recommended I try this, even if I didn’t feel it entirely, to see how I felt about it later. The other times I said these things to my mom, she got angry and refused to acknowledge how I felt. This time she didn’t say a word, but I could hear her crying.
When I finished my piece she simply said ‘thank you, I love you’. I told her that I loved her as well and we hung up the phone. She died just a couple weeks later. That was our last conversation, and that was the last thing I ever said to my mom.
When I have told that story to people, I often get a response like ‘she needed to hear you say that, so she could go peacefully’. I have no idea how true that is, I don’t think it really matters. I am just happy, selfishly, that I got that off my chest and ended peacefully.
Anyone who knew my mom and me together knew that she loved me like crazy. I think that a lot of the nastiness she put me through was because she was losing me and didn’t know what to do to get me back.
Nothing scares me more than turning into my mother. She did a good job of teaching me how to accomplish a lot of nasty tasks. I hope that in my most vulnerable hours I don’t turn to manipulation, abandonment, and self-centeredness as a desperate ploy. I don’t want to put my children through that, and I don’t want them to hate me and not talk to me. And I’m so worried because I am so much like her in so many ways.
I have spent the majority of the past decade plus trying to move forward from the legacy she left me with. I feel a heavy weight from the things she did to me, the things she forced me to see, the things she made me believe. But I feel even more upset by the fact that I never really knew her. Since she died, everyone that had known her in practically any capacity has made a point to talk to me about her. Invariably they mention what a wonderful person she was, how charismatic, compassionate, and loving. They tell me how she was always a joy to be around, and lit up the room. She had a lot of friends, that is one thing I do remember of her. But practically all of that stuff was gone by the time my memory of her came online. Certainly there were times and even years where she was mostly healthy and fun to be around. But even then, the divorce leveled her in a lot of ways. I am angry that I never really knew my mom. I never got to know the person she could be. Because I am sure that if I had, I wouldn’t harbor so much hatred for her in my heart.
You can choose your friends but not your parents. That is too bad, considering how much more influence have on your life. My situation could’ve been a million times worse. I could’ve not had the father I had. I could’ve not had the stepmother I had. I could’ve not had the sister I had. I could’ve not had the grandparents and extended family that all contributed so much to my life.
I could’ve just had my mom.