It had been a particularly trying year, for many reasons. It had been trying, especially, for my family. It had culminated, I suppose, with me taking my son and his mother(1) to Louisiana after having told my parents that we were just moving across town. After a week or so they stopped by the place we were allegedly moving to and were told by the current occupants that they we sorely misinformed. The Moms(2) was incredibly embarrassed and maybe even appalled that I had the guts to lie to her to such a degree.
Time, as it does, brought out the truth and conversations were started and finished and the process that we call healing spread itself over the next few months so that, in November, when I found myself with the money for a plane ticket, I arranged to go home and spend Christmas with my family.
We sat down in living room on Christmas Eve after returning from Mass, as was our tradition. The standard Christmas record was put on Dad’s stereo and everyone, including my grandparents, godparents and the few aunts and uncles who’d come over, had small plates of the chocolate-laden confections The Moms had spent the last two weeks fabricating on every available horizontal surface in the kitchen, dining room and immediate surrounds.
The Moms handed my sister – the youngest of us – a present that she tore into with a vigor that would evaporate over the next few years as she was driven further into adolescence. Next, my brother – one year my junior – casually opened a gift. According to protocol, the next gift should have gone to me. I felt the usual tingling in my stomach and a smile dawned on my face. The Moms got up and grabbed a package. She walked around the room, bypassing me and giving it to my sister. She didn’t look at me at all as she returned to her seat, but my sister did. I gestured for her to go ahead and open it. She did, and then the next present went again to my brother.
And so it went. I sat in silence, smiling in spite of the cinderblock of anger, embarrassment and shame weighing down every fiber of me. The gifts were passed out and around and everyone in the room got something and even including the dog and everyone smiled big while the music played and they sipped their coffee and munched their munchies and I just pretended that everything was okay and so did The Moms and Dad and everyone else.
Then it was over. And I somehow still didn’t believe it.
I had scrounged up a few hundred dollars and got on a plane – at her urging – just so she could make me sit there and not get anything.
It wasn’t, and it still isn’t, that I didn’t get anything. It’s that she made a spectacle of it. She invited family over. She made sure everyone knew I was being punished for being bad. She took the bit of guilt I’d felt about what I’d done(3) and turned it to shame.
Until about a month ago, I hadn’t talked to my parents in over two years. It wasn’t because of the story I just told you, but because of many, many similar stories and other stories of a more directly violent and intentional nature. I decided a few years ago that I had no healthy stake in that relationship, so there was no reason to continue it.
Then my son ended up in the hospital. And from the moment I entered the emergency room, concerned about him and the horrible coughing sound I was hearing and the alarm noises and the machinery, from the moment I saw The Moms standing there beside his bed, I knew I was going to get the text message I got last night.
My family has invited me to Thanksgiving. And it’s the last thing in the world that I want to do.
I can’t stop thinking that it’ll somehow turn out like the Christmas I Didn’t Get Anything, because I certainly haven’t followed The Moms’s rules over the last two years.(4) I can’t stop thinking that I stopped talking to them for reason, and that reason hasn’t changed. I can’t stop thinking that the adage about time healing all wounds isn’t so much about healing as it is about forgetting.
I can’t stop forgetting to forget.
These things that they did? They made me who I am. Every time I get pissed off because someone tells me what to do(5), it’s because of The Moms’s overbearing and under-informed method of child-rearing. Every time I get suspicious, sometimes rightly, of an authority figure, it’s because of how The Moms answered so frequently with, ‘Because I’m your mother!’(6)
The minute I let these things go, the minute I let myself forget the shitty things they’ve done, is the minute I lose a significant portion of myself.(7)
I just don’t think I’m ready for that yet.
- This was in the mid-90s and the term baby-mommy wasn’t really en vogue yet. In an attempt at verisimilitude, I will refrain from using it in this post.(1)
- Except, obviously, for using it in that footnote.
- I call her The Moms because all through my youth I was never sure which Mom I was going to get at any turn. This hasn’t changed. I’m not saying she has multiple personalities; her mood was almost exclusively dependent upon whether or not I was playing by her rules.(1)
- Wanna know why I don’t play by the rules? You just found out.
- Necessary as it had been to move, and necessary as it had been to do things the way I’d done them, I still felt bad about it.
- And I feel better for it.
- Even in little ways, like gesturing for me to cross the street first. I think, ‘Fuck you! You go asshole!’ It’s a total knee-jerk-reaction-type reaction that I have seemingly no control over.(1)
- I have problems.
- Note: Being a parent does not, by default, give the right to be an asshole. Go ahead and be an asshole parent if you want, but drop that sense of entitlement.
- Some people will argue that it’s healthier to let go the fight; I will argue that that statement depends on which version of ‘healthier’ you mean.