So, I’ve been submitting 5,000 words of my memoir to Sonya’s writers group each week. Their feedback has been incredibly helpful. Oddly enough, I’ve turned it into a drinking game. Every time someone comments, Your mother did WHAT?! I drink some tequila.
It’s almost comical. I’ve heard of people with overbearing mothers who grew up okay because the mom was a good mom who projected her overbearing nature onto the other adults in her life; and now that the kids are adults, they’re suffering from their mother’s drama.
That wasn’t my experience.
My mother… oh my gosh. Looking back by writing and editing this memoir, she did a lot wrong aside from the obvious physical abuse. It’s just been one incident after another of emotional abuse, manipulation, scheming, extreme stress and negativity, and that sort of thing. My mom was proactive in creating problems for us. My brother and I never went looking for trouble. She was always available to be critical, negative, manipulative… well, I’m repeating myself.
The sad thing is that I grew up subtly protecting my brother, two years younger, and he was this close to entering adolescence as a happy boy. I myself never stood a chance. I was messed up for life by that point, but he almost made it. Then our mother swooped in for the kill and did something to him that was pretty damned heinous. I wish I could say what, but I’m not sure he’d want me to talk about it.
He then became a juvenile delinquent–well, almost. He pulled the school’s fire alarm twice, got threatened with felonies, and was thrown in jail as well as mental hospitals. I too was always being hospitalized and arrested. See, cops show up at a scene where the parents called, and the cops assume the sullen teenager needs to be taught a lesson, so…
Our dad was always bailing us out of lockup. My brother and I were both pacifists who never put up any physical resistance, but we’ve been handcuffed and arrested more times than I remember.
See, I only remember being arrested once, but my dad swears he bailed me out at least once. And the only time I recall, my mom came and got me, not my dad, and I’d been stuck the joint overnight by that point. (That was a fun drive home.) You have to wonder what’s hiding in my memory.
It was always hard. My mom deliberately presented herself as the world’s most perfect mother: caring, nurturing, concerned, loving, supportive, doting. And so we never had the chance to be taken seriously by other adults when we complained. It was always, “Oh, your mother loves you so much! I’m sure you can work through whatever it is.”
My mother was indeed very loving. But her manipulative side was hidden from view. She could talk a huge talk about how she only wanted what was best for her children while simultaneously doing things that destroyed us.
One of my favorite memories remains the time I was in the mental hospital as a teen. I had overdosed, mostly because I was overwhelmed and had no recourse and didn’t know whom to turn to. So anyway, the nurse said, “Hey, your mom called. Want to talk to her?”
And I was like, “Oh, great, sure, I’d love to talk to her.”
So the nurse stretched the landline out into the common area and handed me the receiver. “Hello?”
My mom started screaming at me about how I was destroying the family, how our lives would all be ruined, and how I was a rotten teenager with a bad attitude. The nurse stopped in her tracks, turned, and stared at me with her jaw dropped.
Now, I suspect my mom was in good cheer while speaking to the nurse just moments before, because:
- That’s what my mom did around others! She faked it! And,
- If my mom had actually been mean to the nurse (which never would’ve happened), the nurse wouldn’t have allowed me to speak with her for my own protection.
I just listened to my mom’s screams, nonplussed. “Uh huh,” I murmured. “Uh huh. Okay, thanks. Sure. Bye.”
I handed the receiver back to the nurse, who seemed shell-shocked. Later, she pulled me aside and said, “We were going to send you home tomorrow because you’ve worked so hard and made so much progress, but we discussed it, and if you want to stay an extra week, it can be arranged.” Wink, wink.
I took her up on it. That place was posh! To this day, I don’t think my mom has a clue that her own abusive actions jacked up her medical bills. (We had medical insurance, but still.)
It can be easy–really easy–to just assume that an angry teenager is being rebellious and has a bad attitude. But some parents are great actresses. My mother was a professional victim who victimized my brother and me while acting forever wounded and heartbroken over our inevitable behavior problems. She had this amazing ability to take normal growing-up experiences and make them traumatic. It was her specialty.
Oddly, she’s super-excited to read the memoir. I have no idea how to account for that. And you might say, “She’s a schemer. She’s acting excited to read it in hopes that you’ll portray her in a good light,” but then you’d also have to take into account the fact that she bought me $1,800 hearing aids recently and a $17,000 car. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Obviously, as a parent (when we were younger), she was stressed. But she was also diabolical and horrible. Whatever the change in her is, I have no idea how to make sense of it. I mean, she was really bad. But now she’s really good. There just aren’t answers.