It’s been eight days since my mom’s verbal attack, and I haven’t heard from her since. (That is until today but I deleted her without listening.) I’ve been thinking about the number eight since it struck me as significant. (Behind the eight-ball etc.) I like symbolism, it adds depth to the seemingly ordinary, lends more consideration. I do all kinds of things to entertain myself, but usually I have a purpose. I’m one of those people who think everything and every person in my life is connected. Even the staunchest atheist can’t deny that we aren’t completely separate, if only on a scientific level.
And of course religious folks believe in superstition, rebirth, and symbolism. I’ve found a comfortable spot for myself somewhere in the middle, and I’m trying real hard to find a place for my mom there too, but it’s slimy and capable of movement and attracting pieces of waste. I’m not too sure this is the right choice for me anymore. The number eight tilted on its side is the symbol for infinity. Like infinity, my relationship with my mother is an unknown and it’s never ending. Whatever decision I make regarding her is only a move towards or away from our mother and child place. It can’t be undone, taken back or changed. No matter how much I resist, I came into this world as a part of her. I can however lessen the pull by putting distance between us for a greater force, my children.
In Judaism the number eight is important because it represents new beginnings. The same could be said about Christianity and the resurrection of the Christ. The Egyptians considered the number eight balanced and the symbol for cosmic order; and Buddhism refers to the eight paths leading to nirvana. I’ve spent the past eight days considering my options and I’m leaning towards to the Judaic/Christian version of rebirth.
I’ve always tried to remain somewhat neutral with her, knowing I can’t change her behaviors but also giving the benefit of the doubt. “Mom, I will not entertain any sort of relationship with you while you’re using.” She’d sober up for a while and convince me that she was on the right track so I’d give in although never fully trusting her. Perhaps the distrust on my part is what keeps us both circling around each other. I’ve never been able to go against the current and fly the other direction.
Each time she’d proclaim, “I’ve been clean and I’m seeing a new doctor who prescribed a different script. I’m doing better Shannon, I’m really trying.” I’d hesitate, but still try my best to encourage her. The insane tragedy prevents me from actually giving her what my heart has to offer. I’m not a failure, I’m a survivor and it pains me knowing that I must live without her, (not really her, but the mother I’ve always wanted.)
I know my central position isn’t beneficial to anyone. I’m certainly not helping myself in the ways I intended. I’ve always thought it best to maintain some contact with her believing it was my karmic duty as her daughter. My Maw-Maw used to say, “You don’t owe her anything Shannon. She never cared about what was right for you. You need to live your life and take care of your children. She doesn’t deserve you.” I could never let go of my guilt enough to absorb her words.
It is a difficult to let go of the person whose womb you traveled, but that exit doesn’t mandate anything for the delivered other than a waxy substance to scrub away. I didn’t force myself on her, she made me and now I have choices. I will never be able to renounce her as my birth/blood mother; on a cellular level she will always hold that title. And there is something very primitive about perception in relation to my mother. In my purely physical, basic structural make-up I am still linked to her cord. My tiny baby pinky still clasps around it digging my nail as it peels away from the skin. That grip is extremely difficult to intellectualize a letting go of because it was once my only source of life.
Twenty-one months ago I had this same type of experience with my mother. It ended with nasty messages and her wishing she’d aborted me. That time it sent me to places that don’t belong to me anymore. I ended up parked behind the Midtown Promenade with a three pack of chocolate cupcakes, and a Jeff Buckley CD. I sat silently watching the pack of feral cats making their way in and out of bush dens. “It’s never over, she’s a tear that hangs inside my soul forever.” I mourned the mother I never had, crying hard while choking on the crumbs. My face was burnt with anger and I swore I’d never let her talk to me that way again, but I wasn’t fully ready to rescue myself.
This most recent occurrence still made me crave a warm chocolate hug but I also reached out for help a lot faster. The first thing I did was to tell Susan, instead of isolating myself. Then I decided to treat myself well by frequenting my favorite spots. I loaded up on cupcakes at the Atlanta Cupcake Factory, and then headed to Cacao for three bags of earthy dark chocolate. I knew I was pathetic when I caught myself searching aimless alleys for other new confections. I was driving around in a sugar-focused trance unable to make any decisions. I was like an addict looking for my dope dealer. I got a grip and went home. I was alone. I settled down at the counter with an antique plate that was Maw-Maw’s, and properly situated the cupcake. I delicately unfolded the paper and began dipping my knife into the frosting licking it off bit by bit. Once the frosting vanished, I neatly sliced the little cake into quarters, piercing each one taking little bites. I sat silently listening to the robins. I swallowed my milk, leaving the ice to melt. I didn’t go back for more, instead, I put my drugs away in the hiding spot and decided to start writing. I was comforted just knowing they were there.
The last time this happened with my mom, my good friend Chris, told me something that never left me, “You don’t owe her anything just because she’s your mother. I’m sure you wouldn’t allow anyone else in your life to treat you that way. You know you can walk.” I understood what she meant but I couldn’t accept that sun setting, it felt too cold. Instead I drove home to the family I created, completely aware that I was changing.
At the time I was still married to Jack, but I wasn’t emotionally there. He was kind, and generous with me. He wanted me to feel safe with him, and I did, but not in my secret places. He wanted me to be vulnerable with him but I wasn’t capable. I wasn’t giving of myself in the spiritual realm. I was distant and cruel.
I was quiet, emotionless and expressionless when I entered the house. Jack had already given the kid’s their prayers and hugs to sleep. He poked at my cupcake meltdown, knowing I’d hit up my baked-goods dealer. “You’re crazy and obsessed with those cupcakes. Did you bring me one?” No, I ate them all. I sat in my car and stuffed them down like a recovering eating disorder on the loose.
We sat numb in front of the television ignoring the cracks in our wall of communication. I crossed my legs until they fell asleep. He looked over, “Do you want to talk about your mom?” No. OK. The channel changed, nonsense. He stared ahead. I was restless, “I’m going to bed.” I unfolded myself feeling the tingle as my feet dropped to the floor. He stirred. “Goodnight.”
I headed upstairs for my usual routine, turning once to see the back of him in his chair. A wave of guilt and sadness blew by like the passing of a person. I stood in front of the mirror moving soap with fingertips around my face. The sound of the water was audible but it was secondary to the thoughts in my head. I closed my eyes as the water hit. I turned on the toothbrush standing lifeless as it roamed the surface of my teeth. My eyes were sleepy with shrinking pupils. “Now what? Call Susan.”
I needed to talk, and she was the only person who could hear me. Our friendship had deepened from previous talks; I knew she could peel away my surface exposing the softness underneath. I curled under the down and fluffed my pillow as I pressed my ear to the phone. “Hi, is this a good time?” Hi, yes. Are you OK? “No, I just went parking and downed three cupcakes.” Hmm, oh no, what happened? “I talked to my mom again.” You have to put her somewhere she doesn’t hurt you. “I know, but I don’t know how.” You will when you’re ready. I wanted to reach through the phone and touch her face. I was startled, my left eyebrow lifted. “I like talking to you, I’m glad we are friends.” Yes, me too. I know mom stuff is difficult. “Thanks. I hope you sleep well.” And I hope you sleep well. Silence. Darkness. I dreamed about her that night.
The next morning I collapsed to the floor, bundled in the corner of the shower and sobbing because I knew eventually I’d have to leave my marriage. It was an image from the movies, but it felt right and I went with it. I knew I was being dramatic but I was hanging on to so much. In my veins I knew I wouldn’t be able to grieve my childhood and the loss of my mother without uprooting myself and giving up my false sense of security. Fear struck me like a conductor but my body ached to release her. I stood up and turned off the hot and let the cold sober me up. I nuzzled my robe and floated to the bedroom. My mind screamed NO out loud but my soul gently said yes. “How can I do this? What about my kids? Oh God, my kids, my kids, NO! I can’t do this to them.” I flung open the shutters lowering my forehead to the glass. “I don’t have a choice. If I don’t, I’ll hurt them even more. I can’t, but I have to.
My life was laced tight with a corset of control and I knew that eventually I’d perpetuate the enabler/addict behavior with my children if I didn’t air my lungs. I knew I had to be in a relationship with a woman to allow myself to be that exposed little girl. I needed to feel skinned and fleshy without the fear of losing my identity. I had to love and be loved by a woman intimately before I was able to set myself free.
I think I’m there; I’m ready to be reborn. The following days after she called I was clammy towards my children. Even though I didn’t actually interact with my mother, hearing her messages poisoned me enough to make me sick. I was impatient to the point of psycho two days after her call. I saw my mother’s rage in me as I screamed and yanked at my kids, “PAY ATTENTION! Stop moving around and do your work NOW!” Instantly I saw myself and felt disgusted. I was harboring all her negativity and let it go on the people I love most. “I’ve got to find a way to end this madness, but how?”
The next day it came to me as it had before but this time it was packaged differently. It was essentially everything that Susan and Chris said to me two years ago. I received an email from a friend who has similar problems with her mom. She told me something a wise person told her. “ Your mother is toxic, by having a relationship with her you bring that toxicity into to your life which then bleeds over into your children’s lives. It is your job to protect them over and above anything else. You can still honor your mother by simply acknowledging her as your mother, but nothing more is required of you. You now have your own family to protect and that takes precedence over anything or anyone else.”
Those words stuck to my ribs like mashed potatoes. Finally, I heard something I could live by. I found a loophole for my guilt to escape. I broke it down to a very simple concept in order to get there. I thought, “If faced with the choice of having to kill either my mother or my children, I would without a doubt kill her first.” I know it sounds crude and barbaric but I had to go there to find my way out. The love I have for my children exceeds the love I have for my mother and the desire I have to be mothered. I must nurture and love myself in all the ways I wanted from her. I have a choice, and I chose my children.