It has been a month since my mother visited with my son. Her self-imposed exile continues for reasons she won’t share with me, and I doubt I’d understand them if she did.
My girlfriend and I have made it very clear my mother is welcome to visit with her grandson anytime she wanted. The only contact I’ve had with her over the past two weeks has been two or three very diplomatic emails. After one of them I sent a reply asking when her “self-imposed exile from my son was going to end”, she sent back an email suggesting I make sure to visit with my step-sister while she was in town.
Most recently we received an invitation to a Sunday brunch. My mother’s birthday is this weekend, as well as may parent’s anniversary.
It makes no sense. The last time we spoke face-to-face was an hour long shouting match, almost three weeks ago. I refuse to allow my grandmother, who has abused my family for decades, near my son. My mother and my step-father tried to convince me otherwise. They couldn’t, and they won’t.
Their argument was, and I assume still is, that family has to “get along to go along”, they want me to either forgive or forget my grandmother’s transgressions, and be willing to live without holding her accountable for her actions — as everyone else has for the past 61-years.
I have to be willing, according to my grandfather, to accept her abuse again and again… because “it’s her nature”.
My grandfather actually told me the abuse she has handed out since she entered our family was justified, because her father abused her and then pretty much abandoned her while she was still a teen.
I was stunned. I stayed quiet, but I wanted to ask what the abuse from my father meant I could get away with.
Since I broke off relations with my grandmother it has turned into a very strange year.
I believe my family expected me to cave after my grandmother verbally attacked me back in February (“I know you’re just waiting for your grandfather’s inheritance”) — during the thirty minute session she also attacked my girlfriend (“you have to get a paternity test”), as well as my three-month old son (“you should have had an abortion”), and more.
I believe they assumed by now we’d all be having Sunday dinners together, and I’d have no outward difficulty in seeing my grandmother holding my son.
If so, they were wrong. My ability to eat the shit handed to me by that old, evil, manipulative bitch ended when she looked at me and said “I want you to contact the hospitals, and find out how much all those nurses and tests cost. I want you to find out how much it cost to have that child rather than have an abortion”.
How, the fuck, could I possibly sit in the same room with that woman, and watch as my parents asked if she’d like some more tea? How, the fuck, could I possibly sit in the same room and watch as she tickled my son’s chin?
And yet, my parents and my grandfather, and probably a lot of other family members, have decided it’s better to avoid my little family, while still serving my grandmother tea and biscuits.
My mother has decided to avoid the things she yelled at me during our meeting to discuss her mother. I’ve made it clear my mother is welcome to visit with her grandson at any time. She has refused.
During our meeting my mother told me she had “concerns about [my child’s] safety while he was in your apartment”, but now she’s inviting us all over for a pancake brunch.
My step-father told me there were people in our family who didn’t want to be around me, who wouldn’t come to dinner if I were there, as if I had abused them like my grandmother had abused me.
But now he wants to serve me fizzy orange juice in a fancy glass.
Ignore the controversy, ignore the yelling, ignore the obscene things we say, and just push on with being a family.
Which, I think, was their plan. I think they believe I’m acting irrationally, and out of anger, and this all has been a way to calm me down. Isolate me until I calm down and then invite me back into the family.
The problem with that plan, if it is her plan, is I’ve been isolated from my family almost my entire life. So, the longer this goes on the more it feels normal. Seriously.
I’ll admit, at first I was nervous and my stomach hurt at the thought of running into my step-father or my mother. I had a constant pain in my chest for almost ten days because I wasn’t entirely sure I was doing the right thing, that I might be hurting people I care about.
But the longer I go without having them around, the more it feels like a weight is being lifted off my chest… a weight that’s been on me far longer than this current situation.
Here’s the metaphor… someone presents you with an awful, huge painting. Because of its history, and your history with the person, you feel obligated to put in on your wall. It takes up most of that wall and you hate looking at it. A year later someone you despise gets drunk at a party and pisses on your rug. Now, every time you stare at the rug you think “that fuck pissed right there.” So you have the rug taken out and burned. And that’s when you notice the painting. You forgot it was there, because you stopped looking at that wall a year ago.
So… if my grandmother is the one who ruined my rug, then the painting must be…
The relationship between me and my mother is difficult to explain.
For the first three to four years of my life she was sick, bouncing between bed rest and hospital time. The cult I was raised in had a rule based on Maoist teaching… children are raised by the collective, and the collective does not recognize the positions of “father” or “mother”.
So for the last four years of our time in the cult, my mother was not my mother. She was just one of eight to ten adults.
For the first few years away from the cult, my mother worked long hours, sometimes in factories that meant night shifts.
For most of high school our relationship was extremely combative. She would threaten me with foster care, I would threaten to punch her. Again, she was mostly absent from our lives because of work.
But at the same time every thing I did was either to gain her approval — which was rarely, if ever, given — or to piss her off. To simply get a reaction. Once I found out she had credit at a convenience store, so I started signing for junk food and porn. Which guaranteed a confrontation at the end of the month.
I started writing poetry, which she would never read. I would watch the same news programs she did, so we could talk about stuff, but my opinions didn’t interest her — to be fair, they probably wouldn’t interest the adult me either.
During my 20’s, when I was completely untreated and mostly homeless, she treated the manic depression as though I were either looking for attention, or looking for an excuse for not waking up on time. I’d call home begging for $20, and she’d tell me I was making her broke.
Instead of being the healthy influence I needed at the time, she was someone who increased the stress in my life. She became the breaking point. I’d tell her I was broke, she’d tell me it was because I didn’t have a job.
I’d try to explain the influence the bipolar stuff had on my life as best I could, and she’d tell me to find a psychiatrist. Like a job and a healthy future through psychiatry hadn’t occurred to me already.
So our connection over the decades has been tenuous.
Yet, somehow I still expect something more from her than what she’s given already… or, at least, something different.
I moved back here five or six years ago to start my recovery from fourteen-years of untreated manic depression. We’ve spent more time together over this period than we have over the past fifteen years.
And the more I’ve progressed in my recovery, the more she has treated me as though I’m regressing… or just standing still. And she’s here to pull me forward.
Like the longer I’ve stayed here, and the further along my recovery moved, the more she’s been able to take credit for the successes, while absolving herself of any guilt from the pre-recovery failures.
…maybe I’m wrong. Maybe this is about me, and how the connections I have to the world can be tenuous at best, and if I don’t see someone for a few weeks the feelings I have for them dissipate. Maybe growing up in a cult that allowed no familial connections, and then living alone for so long, means I’m unable to understand the means and methods of substantially connecting to other people.
Or maybe it’s both… maybe my mother was unable to connect to me, and I was unable to connect to her, and now we’re just acting out roles because neither of us really knows what we’re doing.
The last time I saw her was the afternoon we all yelled at each other. As I was walking out the door she stood up, she had been crying, and she walked over and hugged me, and she said “Gabriel, you’re still my son”.
And all I could think of, and it had nothing to do with what we had been yelling about, was “okay… where were you when I was sick?”.
Two-thirds of my family abandoned me when I was eight-years old. When we escaped from my father, we left behind my three uncles, even more aunts, two grandparents and about ten cousins. I didn’t even remember they existed for another six years.
The family I was left with consisted of a psychotic grandmother, an absentee grandfather, an uncle I saw maybe once a year, a younger brother and a mother I referred to by her first name.
…I don’t hate, or even dislike my mother. She’s accomplished some amazing things by any standard. But, and I’m sure she can say the same about me, our relationship has been an incredible stress on my life.