I came to celebrate my mother’s 75th Birthday. I was committed to not making it worse. I was just aiming for 5% better. The thing about letting go of the past is that you have to be willing to experience the emotions to release them. Anything else is a lie, a cover-up, a turning away. I came to let go of the past and be with my mother as she is. I wanted also to apologize for the disrespect and disregard I have held her in my own defensive postures. I wanted to say I was sorry that I couldn’t value what it took for her to do what she did in her life.
It was all going along safely, me in my own hotel room, meeting her with my own car for dinner and a movie. Today was the big outing to The Kennedy Center’s 11,000th performance of Shear Insanity. I should have guessed by the title- maybe not a good idea. The crack in my veneer started when she was showing me the improvements in her home and there was not a single photo of me at any time in my whole life, not childhood, not me with my own children, not a single photo of her with me. There were only pictures of her and her dead black boyfriend that she’d been having an affair with during 20 years of his marriage. She had a picture of her mother in an old black and white photo- her mother who was unspeakably cruel to her. Here in her home I was completely invisible… save for the Christmas card I just sent on her refrigerator.
I started to chant to myself, Om Namah Shivaya. The pain between us, in her and in me, felt so bloated I could hardly hold it in. It barely could remain beneath the surface. Like a scab that keeps coming off before it is healed, I sense the old rejection and abandonment pushing its way out of me. I needed to express this and tell myself over and over, “Don’t make it worse.” I change the subject and I tell her about the positivity work, about my new radio show that I love, about what I believe about how you think transforms your life. Cautiously I am myself. We see a movie called the Silver Lining’s Playbook, which was her choice and a tender, painful story of a family’s collective insanity, of how each person provokes the others without trying. It is an endearing story because you witness redemption, reprieve from insanity when you are loved, when you can receive love.
I can’t remember the trigger of when the whole evening; the entire relationship completely unravels again. A small comment, something nicked the surface tension. Maybe it was just that she was in the passenger seat in a car with me driving. Somehow her stress level escalates in a car with me, so much so that I cannot remember a single car ride with her that didn’t end in disaster. She can’t stand the closeness. It was always stupid. Little things would set her off, and she would blame me about something stupid like an ashtray that wouldn’t close. I had forgotten until tonight how quickly she gets vicious when she is threatened. Fear ignites like a forest fire and engulfs everyone in sight. She takes everything I had told her and turns it against me. She says so many mean things and screams her usual threats about how she will never see me again.
I remember how terrified I was when I was a teenager and she would say that she was never going to see me again. She blamed me for the pain that lived in her. She was sure that it was all me that provoked in her unhappiness. She accused me of setting her up, that I wanted this response from her, that her insanity was what I was trying for. I remember the panic, the begging apologies.
I was sorry again tonight, but not desperate. I asked her to forgive, to receive the love I was trying to offer, to hear what I was saying. She could only respond with cruelty. She said, “Have a good life” when she got out of the car. I tried not to make it worse but somehow walked away again, epic fail. Not making it worse, a heap of ashes.