I’ve written in the past about having a ‘complicated family’. However, upon reflection I’m thinking I may have made an incredible understatement. It’s the only conclusion that makes sense after speaking to my sister for the first time in five years last week; then late last night receiving a 19-word text message from my mother after hearing nothing from her for four months. For four months, it was complete radio silence. She did not answer the calls I placed to her cell phone or landline. She did not respond to my voicemail or text messages.
Because of her silence, I spent the past four months performing mental gymnastics trying to figure out what I may have said or done to offend her this time. I say ‘this time’ because our rocky mother-daughter relationship is peppered with endless examples of me conceding to her allegations: I was disrespectful to her, I was responsible for starting an argument, I chose my father instead of her when I was 12, or I somehow wrongly accused her of being a bad parent when I was a child. It felt and I had hoped – after a long absence from each other’s lives – that this time it would be different.
I have lost sleep wondering why at this time in my life when I need all the support I can get; my mother is incapable of offering me even the smallest comfort of being a voice on the other end of the phone. But I am wrong to have this or any other expectation of her. After all, we’ve never been close. In the strictest of terms, we never bonded. In fact, I once calculated how many years of my life I lived under the same roof with my mother. The number is somewhere in the range of seven years. I’m well into mid-life now so that’s a rather small amount of time for me to have spent sharing day-to-day life with my mother. Nonetheless, her silence caused many childhood insecurities and memories of experiences lived during that time to surface.
I was not a child that she wanted and she once told me so, but showed me that without words endless times. The seven years that I spent with her were full of abuse (physical and emotional) and neglect. She was quick to raise her hand or any object within reach to mete out what she felt was necessary discipline. Today when I look at my body, I can still see reminders of her discipline in the scars created by some of those objects. She rarely said anything to me that wasn’t angry or laden with words that pierced the flesh my small frame and clung to me like the smell of days-old mackerel on a fishmonger – I can still feel their impact. And she withheld affection and kindness as if she knew that those things, coming from her, would have made me too strong and confident for her withering glances and cutting tongue to dismantle me in an instant. Even today, I desperately long for her to stroke my face although I have no memory of such a thing ever occurring before, and I don’t know if she is capable of such an outward display of feeling toward me.
I say all this because for four months I have lost sleep and tortured my mind asking what, why or how I did whatever I did this time to deserve being shut out. In between the self-interrogations, I resolved not to care about the reason, knowing deep down that I do. She is after all my mother. More relevantly, she still holds the power to wound me. She’s skilled at creating illusions of closeness by briefly pulling me into her life then cutting me loose to fall apart. Now, when I have almost rebuilt myself and reclaimed the reality of what we are not to each other, with as little as 19 words sent to me by text message she makes me feel like a powerless child again.
Suzanne Vega – Luka