My mother loves daffodils and lilacs, aquamarines, and silver bracelets that jingle when she moves. She reads Aristotelian philosophy and takes her coffee black, and she told me she loved me the last time I talked to her on the telephone.
It's been nearly four years since I heard the sound of my mother's voice. I sometimes wish she was dead so her abandonment would be readily and easily explainable. But my mother isn't dead; she just doesn't want me.
I have children of my own now, and I am grateful for them. On Mother's Day, they shower me with trinkets and handmade cards, and I smile and hold them close, but underneath my smile I am desperate for the day to end. There is no amount of love from my children that can fill the hole that's always in my chest, gaping and deep, waiting for my mother to fill it.
My mother was always there when I was a child, ever present, and she told me she loved me every day. She didn't beat me into submission or burn my skin with her cigarette butts. She made sure I was fed and clothed, and she took me to dance classes and recitals. On the surface, my mother did everything right, but on the inside her love felt elusive and confusing.
My desperation for my mother's love was gross and unlovable, but for many years it guided every decision I made. I grew up believing that love had to be earned and was always conditional.
My mother's love ebbed and flowed, as unpredictable as her moods. When I was a very little girl, my grandparents stayed with us for a long weekend. I had gotten in trouble before their visit, but as soon as my grandparents arrived my mother held me close, wrapping me in her lilac embrace. By the time my grandparents were ready to leave, I had long since forgotten my misdeeds. But as they drove away, and my mother and I stood on the curb, smiling and waving, she turned to me. The corners of her lips twisted into a familiar smirk, and she looked at me with her eyes narrowed in a sharp glare. "You're still in trouble," she said, and as she walked away, I wished I was in that car driving far, far away from her.
I never could get away from my mother. When I went to dance class, she went to dance class. When I took voice lessons, she took voice lessons. Even when it was time for me to go to college, my mother enrolled at the same school. In public, my mother showered me with affection but our home life was barren and quiet. I did my best to please her, but her standards were high, and I always fell short. My best was never good enough; I was never good enough.
My desperation for my mother's love was gross and unlovable, but for many years it guided every decision I made. I grew up believing that love had to be earned and was always conditional, and I looked for men whose love felt hers. Those men were a lot like my mother.
I never imagined being a mother myself. I played house when I was small, but I was always more interested in marrying off my Barbies than caring for my baby dolls. I became a mother alone in the bathroom at 18, when I peed on a stick and it turned instantly, shockingly positive. I had no idea how to mother, but I knew with an icy certainty that I didn't want to be like her.
Even after 18 years of parenting, I am still haunted by the fear of becoming her. I wake up in a cold sweat alone in my bed at night, re-living conversations with my teenagers, wondering whether I told them too much about myself and my feelings. I examine and re-examine every detail of my interactions with my children, and I push myself to hug my little ones even when touch makes me panic — when every nerve is screaming at me to get away — because I refuse to do to them what was done to me. I am broken and damaged, but I tremble at the prospect of being broken and damaged like her.
I cut off ties with my mother a few times before I finally walked away for good. Each time, she coolly and dispassionately explained how the situation was my fault and told me I was causing her pain. Everything has always been my fault — even when she didn't attend my wedding, even when she befriended men who abused me and my children rather than standing up for us. I can't remember a time when she told me she was wrong or said she was sorry.
My mother didn't try to change my mind when I broke off contact for good. I was sincere when I said it, but I don't know whether I would've had the strength to never speak to her again if she had tried. I hear of her, every once in awhile, and it's usually accompanied by venom against me. I tell myself it shouldn't matter, but it does.
Mother's Day celebrates the type of mother I've never had. It reminds me that even my own mother doesn't love me, and that despite five years of therapy, I may never be free of that pain. My therapist says I can form secure attachments now and rewire my brain, but there's a six-year-old girl with pigtails inside me screaming at my mother to love me and I don't know how to nurture her when the 37-year-old version of me can't conceive of a mother walking away from her child.
My mother always told me not to let the bastards win. She believes that denying pain is courageous and strong, but I know how that story ends. It is fueled by booze and pills, men who wreck and destroy, and sex that feels like someone else's masturbation. I admit my pain and even my own brokenness because you can't fix a hemorrhage with a band-aid. The only way to fill that deep, gaping hole inside my chest is by learning to love and nurture myself, and I'm tired of waiting for someone else to fill me up.
I know that my damage is not my mother's damage — I am not her. I am imperfect and flawed, with more questions than answers, but when I am wrong, I look my children in the eye and I tell them I am sorry. I am sorry I am not a better mother, but at least I am not my mother.