My parents were never married and they broke up when I was 7 going on 8 years old. My mother asked me to move out with her and I, a mommy’s girl, saw no other option. The year I lived with her was hard – not enough food to bring to school for lunch, or for whole dinners.
Meanwhile my father was working hard on making his house an appealing place for me. I saw him on the weekends and he brought me to the bookstore, he let me get a guinea pig, I got to have my own bedroom with my older brother and sister (not my father’s children) also living with my mother, and I got to pick the paint colors for the room. He bought me a new daybed and let me pick what he planted in the garden. One night I told my mother, “I want to live with dad,” and she said, “I’m not sure he wants you there.” But when she asked him, he said yes, and she let me go.
After I moved in with him I told him of a night when we had no food for dinner so I requested cream cheese frosting with the few ingredients we had, and to my shock, my mother made me cream cheese frosting for dinner, and I was disappointed. He smugly retold that story for years, asking me to chime in with details, until I felt anger every time I heard the story start and regretted ever sharing it with him.
The next year living with my father was also hard. The bookstore trips stopped, the guinea pig died and he wouldn’t replace it, I wasn’t allowed to touch the garden, and I felt forgotten entirely as he’d already won that battle with her and didn’t need to try anymore. I felt tricked and confused, but my mother lost her apartment and moved in to her sister’s apartment in a worse neighborhood than ours and it was clear to me living with her again was not an option.
I saw my mother every other weekend and I remember the visits being strained and unhappy as my father had convinced me at that point that she didn’t want me. The summer before I turned 10, she and my sister went to California to live forever. I remember the last time I saw my sister as she got in the car on the way to the airport. My mother stayed behind an extra day and I spent the afternoon with her before she left. I didn’t feel angry or unhappy or sad or anything. I felt nothing about her leaving.
One day in after school program the teacher put on The Land Before Time. There’s a scene where the mother dies and afterward, I put my head down on the desk in the dark classroom and cried softly into my arms. At the time I didn’t understand why I felt sad.
When I graduated from the 8th grade, I asked my mother to come out with my sister. My sister stayed behind but my mother came for a few days and that was the last time I saw her. That was 22 years ago. We grew apart and stopped speaking for some time and then I got back in touch with her during college and we wrote long emails to each other. My mother and I are similar people. My sister has not wanted contact with me ever, so I don’t know her anymore, though I still love her. My mother stopped having interest in writing to me at some point, and RSVP’d no to my wedding three years ago. Since then we’ve just been Facebook friends who do not communicate. People are always surprised to find out we are Facebook friends when we no longer talk to each other.
Today, I am not sure if my mother loves me or not. I think that she did love me when I was younger. I have a few memories. I remember her bringing me to Sears for pictures, and she was so excited, and she got me a dress to wear and little socks and I remember her asking me, “Do you like your dress?” And I nodded because that made her happy, even though I sort of didn’t understand what she meant. I was two years old. I still have those pictures. I look so happy. I grinned for the camera, a little ham, something I forget about myself as a child.
I remember her walking with me in the hot sun to a clinic where I got some shots. It felt like we were walking for half a day. I was so exhausted and she kept picking me up and carrying me whenever she could. Isn’t that love?
I remember being 5 years old and wanting a Barbie lunchbox from Bradlees and she didn’t have the money, it was something like 5 dollars, so we went home on the bus without it. She must have called my father, though, who didn’t live with us at the time, because he stopped by after work to surprise me with the lunchbox. Back then I wasn’t entirely sure who he was, as my siblings called him by his first name, and he lived a block away at his own mother’s house. I felt shy and embarrassed that he, instead of my own mother, bought me the lunchbox. But she was happy that he did it, so I was happy.
I believe the next time I see my mother will be at her funeral. I still love her but I am angry with her, or maybe the idea of her. My father resents that I have more anger issues with him than with her, but he doesn’t understand that my feelings around her are a dark, nebulous, tangled web that has gone numb. I don’t even know how to sort through those feelings and thoughts. I will never really understand what happened between me and my mother.
I know that I won’t be like her, as a mother, but that blank slate leaves me huge room for error. My relationship with my father, however, is like an instruction manual for what I don’t want to do. But that’s another story.