These are a mother’s words:
“Of all the daughters I could have had, why did God give me an ungrateful one like you? Everything I endured for you! How dare you! How dare you abandon me like this…”
Then she tried guilt.
“I’ll die if you go…”
These timely words, from the novel I am reading, A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini, mix into the rip tide of similar discourse that is swirling on the surface of my current mind. Lately, in my life, as in Hosseini’s novel, I am dealing with the heroic and not-so-heroic ways in which characters are struggling to survive. And experiencing how one can be consumed by anger and maliciousness, grief and yearning. As I am steeped in the wretchedness of this relationship that I have (or don’t have) with my mother. Still, the pecking at my heart, the subtle carping… Why do I go on waving my arms and screaming in a frenzy at her verbal smacking? When I need to be still.
Right after my son’s funeral (in 2007), she picked apart what people had been wearing. The style, the wrong colors. “Did you see her? She wasn’t even wearing black.”
What difference does it make? My son is dead. No. Wait…yes…I had seen her. And thought, Thank you for not wearing black. Why…why are you saying this? Go away. Stay away from me!
That morning, I had struggled with what to wear to my child’s funeral. My child’s funeral! Black? Why? Because it is appropriate? Conventional? But he was colorful—full of color. Black is colorless, a sky without a moon. This child’s favorite colors were red like fire engines and Valentine’s Day cards. Green and blue like the earth and the sea. Orange like the sun and sticky-sweet oranges. Black was never, never on his list.
I didn’t want to wear black to my son’s funeral, though I did. Would anyone have criticized me if I hadn’t? Besides her? My child was dead. Who should care then about the color of anyone’s clothing?
But this raven kept croaking in my ear about the wardrobe choices of others! And cremation!
How pitch-black is that?
“Why did you choose to cremate him?” she tortured me.
Nothing is darker than this. To be very clear here, I wanted him, not ashes, not gravestones. Him. Alive. Instead I had to make heinous decisions with reasons only I could reason. Leave him in a cemetery all alone? In the dark? Or burn his precious and perfect body to bits and ashes? The choosing and deciding permanently injured my mind. Because I couldn’t keep him, hold him, his body, tuck it into bed, and kiss it every night! Go away. Stay away from me!
And this is just a sampling of the huge damming force that is my mother.
Almost seven years have passed since Sam’s funeral, and I am tired. So tired. Drained by this emotional vampire. This one ruinous woman who, I can only guess, was fated to be my mother. But, I am wiser now, and less tolerant. Of inexcusable behavior. Of wicked words.
Raven: “And what kind of a daughter are you? What have you ever done for me?”
Daughter: “I’ve gotten you to a hospital to get you the help you need.”
Raven: “Yeah? And I’m worse now than I was eight days ago. You’ve done nothing for me the past six years!”
Daughter: “I’m sorry for you. You’re right. I’ve done nothing for the past six years…”
My child has died. And I will not let the incessant flapping of the raven’s wings continue to black out my world. I’m exhausted, hoping for change, wishing things were different. There’s no peace in the wishing. Don’t you see? Wishing only drops you down the well; it drowns you.
It’s what she does. She lives in the wishing: I wish you were a better daughter…I wish you weren’t like your father…I wish you weren’t so unladylike…I wish you were sweeter, like other daughters I’ve known…I wish you’d wear a nicer shade of lipstick…
And how would someone so colorless know what a nicer shade is? You never even knew his favorite colors.
The mock question I always ask—though I always know the answer—is, “Could I have been adopted?” Because then, I would not be biological connected to her. But I was not adopted. Though I feel, and deeply hope, that I am not of this woman.
“Remember. Children do not belong to you. They only come through you.” This is what a family friend once told me as she cooed over the face of my newborn son—as if she were foretelling our future. No. No, he is mine, I thought.
But he wasn’t mine to keep, was he? Through me…to death. My worst fear…to smoke, ashes and dust.
Today, when I think of these words, “Remember. Children do not belong to you. They only come through you,” they give me hope. Clearly, if my son did not belong to me, and only came through me; then I do not belong to her, and have only come through her. A crumb of comfort.
Okay. Enough. I am tired. Dizzy tired. I have worked on these words and whittled my rage into this sharp piece. To arm myself for the coming days. Yes, yes, one day at a time. So I’ve written the following reminders to counterbalance the raving thoughts swirling on the surface of my mind:
Be everything that is not the raven. Be the opposite of judgmental, of contentious, of selfish, of virulent, of empty… Be better. Learn from her, who not to be. Love, and like, unconditionally. Without motive. Remember her, and be the opposite.
I need to be still now.
NOTE: This post is a spilling of anger and grief onto the page. These are my feelings, my memories, my words (accurate or not), and my side of the story. Edited, perfected conversation, and counsel, with the only one who can pull me back…and save me.