I’m not especially good at planning for holiday micro-vacations. It shouldn’t be too hard to remember all the things I might need over the course of an entire three days, but somehow, every time I visit my parents’ house, I wind up realizing I’m short a hair brush and a pair of underwear or something.
This Thanksgiving, my fiancé and I took a trip back home to do suburban family things and attend my fifth-year high school reunion. (Which, if you’re curious, cost 60 bucks for the two of us and was super lame -- surprise!) On the afternoon of the reunion, it dawned on me that I couldn’t see a bunch of people I’m indifferent to with raggedy fingernails. I didn’t bring nail-clippers with me. Of course.
This realization set into motion an emotional downward spiral that I never could have anticipated, and it’s kind of partially a little bit all my fault.
“Check my nightstand,” my mother called from the next room.
I didn’t ask to find her diary in there. I didn’t ask it to be open, begging to be sneakily perused. Who tells someone to go into a drawer where they keep their diary without making sure said diary is secured?
I know, I know, I'm the worst kind of person. I remember how violated I felt as a teenager when I found out that my mother read my diary. There are some things that should be sacred, that are better off left alone.
Did any of you read the Narnia books? Because I did, and I will always remember the part in "Voyage of the Dawn Treader" where Lucy discovers a way to see what her schoolmates are saying about her behind her back, and she immediately regrets it because, spoiler alert, they sometimes say mean things. I mean, we all talk shit, right? But somehow, for a grown woman that has way too encyclopedic a knowledge of the Narnia series and has lived in the real word for almost a quarter of a decade, I manage to screw stuff up anyway.
So, yeah, let’s just say I read my mom’s diary. She was busy watching some mid-afternoon-on-basic-cable kind of show in the other room, which would give me all the time I needed for a quick skim. What could go wrong? Really, guys, what’s the worst that could happen?
Apparently, you could find out that you are among your mom’s regrets in life. Fun!
My mom has always maintained that I am the only thing in her life that she wouldn’t change. Our relationship has been mostly fucked-up for more than 10 years now, but she has always reassured me that raising a child has been her best decision.
“I’m ashamed to say I would do everything over,” she wrote. Her cursive is gorgeous. “No one loves me, least of all my own daughter. Thank God for my mother. She’s the only person in this world that loves me.”
You can spend a whole life putting up walls, but even then there’s some pain that you can’t keep out.
This isn’t a revelation for me. I’ve known for a long time, no matter what my mom says, that she can’t be happy with the card she was dealt and that, given the chance, she’d take an easier kid in a heartbeat.
I’m angry, mostly, and not because my mother might regret having a kid. I understand that. Other than my academic success, I was difficult. I was a liar and a loner and a contrarian. For as long as I can remember, she’s been battling anxiety and depression. It couldn’t have been easy for her to cope with me and mental illness all at once. She must have realized hundreds of times over that motherhood wasn’t what she expected it to be. That’s OK.
I’m angry because it’s finally set in what it means for me when my mom tells me that she hoped a daughter would be the answer to all of her problems. I’ve heard it so many times before, that she wished for a daughter who would be her best friend, who would give in abundance the love she’d been lacking. I’ve been told a thousand times that I’m not that daughter, and I finally realize, faced with how unloved my mom still feels, that I was never given the tools to be that girl.
When I was at my most lost, my mother couldn’t be my lighthouse. I needed a love and patience she wasn’t able to offer me. I tried so hard to earn these things until it became abundantly clear that I just couldn’t. So, instead, when I started having body issues and she shamed me, I hid food. When I started longing for a relationship and she called me a whore, I let boyfriends use me. When I begged her to stop screaming and she threatened to kill us both, I pleaded for it.
“Do you want me to crash this car?!” she’d shriek. Sometimes I did.
When I showed vulnerability, it was exploited against me, so I took care of that, too. To my mother, I am an unfeeling pragmatist. In her presence, I’m careful to roll my eyes at pain and deadpan at joy. I do my best to be the daughter she thinks I am. I’m not the daughter she wanted, but at least I never disappoint. I always give her something to shake her head at. I always make her friends’ daughters look good.
I may not have been taught how to love, but I was taught how to be ready. All of her stuffed-down regret, her unpreparedness, has fed the unsavory, unlovable parts of me. I have a talent for anticipating criticism and meeting it with the most cruelty I can muster. I survived my teen years by cultivating a false sense of superiority and tending the flames of an ugly, unnecessary rage. Being angry saves you from feeling the real emotions you’ve pushed aside. Anger overrides sadness every time.
For a long time, I thought that maybe the way to fix it all would be to have a child of my own. I could have a daughter and teach her all the things my mother never taught me. I could be the mother that I wanted to have. I could be patient and gentle and understanding. I could do this one thing right.
Or maybe all of that sounds a bit too familiar.
All I know is that I want to stop feeling angry. I want to unclench my teeth and just be sad. I want to stop caring what she thinks of me, but it’s easier said than done. I wasn’t taught any of this, but I’m a grownup now. I’ll have to learn.
“Thank God for my mother. She’s the only person in this world that loves me,” she wrote. That’s what mothers do. So where does that leave me?