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December 15, 2010

When my oldest brother was four years old, my mother left him with her godparents and traveled across the country with my father. My mother had my brother when she was sixteen years old. She was pregnant at fifteen years old. When my mother was four years old, during the height of the Great Depression, her father did not come home. She and her then nineteen year old mother (because my grandmother also had my mother when she was 15) borrowed the neighbor’s car to go look for him. Who knows what she had to promise to secure that car. My grandmother knew my grandfather had walked to the bar/into town so he could not be far. After my grandmother checked the local bar and was told that he had left a few hours earlier, they continued to drive the path that he would have taken home. Through the headlights of the car, my grandmother found her husband. He lay dead in the street. Standing up in the front seat of the car and trying to see what was happening and wondering when her daddy was coming home and why her mother was looking for her daddy all over town, my mother saw her father lying dead in the street.

They were all poor. Dirt poor. Their support system was limited. Mostly it was limited to donations from the immediate family accompanied with a healthy dose of “You wouldn’t be in this mess if you had not open your legs so fast, although none of us bothered to talk about any possible sexual feelings you may have and how to act/react to those sexual feelings, and/or I know how you may want to escape this life and think it will be better attached to someone else, the fact is, you suck, we suck, everyone sucks and every chance we get we will remind you that you suck.”

Apparently, all of this was too much for my grandmother to bear because either she was strong-armed by her own mother or because she didn’t feel that she could support a child without a father or whatever, she turned my mother over to her mother, my great grandmother. And my great grandmother never lost an opportunity to remind my grandmother of this. So, the sins of the father (for lack of a better phrase) or the fruit doesn’t fall far from the tree, or something along those lines, struck again. Eleven years later, my mother finds herself pregnant at 15, unhappily forced to marry, and then divorced, and then alone, and after four years of hearing about how she sucks and how sucky her suckiness is, my father entered the picture.

My father being eight years older than my mother and a little experienced (he had went through a divorce, had three kids already and supposedly an ex-in-law family that held/threat all of his illegal activities, mostly spirits distribution, lol, over his head) planned to go out west because supposedly there was work to be had. This is now in the middle of the 1950’s so I don’t know really what social-historical context to apply to that decision. My father told my mother, “I do love you, but I am sorry, I don’t know what to expect out West so I cannot be responsible for a woman and a child.” My mother, dying to leave to go somewhere, anywhere away from where she was at, said, “Fine, the boy will stay with others.” Naturally, my father married my mother because no way they were going to travel across the country together unmarried.

Time went by, my mother and father had children of their own, and my brother was not picked up, yet. As he feels it, he was abandoned. Although somewhere in between all of those years, my father legally adopted my brother, so there must have been several staying with them for a few months and going back to where he was instances. Basically, emotional instability for my brother, a mere child.

Many years later when my brother was working through A&D counseling, he told me about how he had tried to talk to my mother a few times about his feelings of abandonment. True to form, my mother bullied (screamed, cried, accused, etc) her way out of the conversation. Parents can do that with their children. Regardless of how old and/or strong a child can grow up and become, something happens when talking to one’s mother or father, especially when the relationship has not been emotionally healthy. Then one day when he thought he was  generically visiting our mother for a holiday, and was almost at a place mentally to accept that the conversation he wanted/needed was never going to happen, our mother approached him. Of course, true to form, she approached him in a parentally bullying way, as in, “Fine, you want to have that conversation, let’s have that conversation! HERE I AM.” Well, he was caught off guard, unprepared, –impotent, so he made a choice to not have the conversation. With my mother, the exit probably required him to flee.

That’s where I come in, because he told me how he did not appreciate her initiating the conversation because as the injured party the conversation should only take place when he is ready. It is important here to assert that it is not my place to decide who is the injured party. For me to make that judgment is something I don’t want to do or should have to do. But out of human compassion I can try to understand circumstances, extenuating circumstances, facts, and most of all, emotions, and I can only do that fairly if it is not at the expense of each other’s experiences and how they came to the place they were both at. I don’t even know if that makes sense. For me though, it was not about either one of them, but about me.

For me what he said about not being ready for that conversation did me a service. It opened up a whole new world. It made me think about conversations that I had had in the past that I did not want to have, did not need to have, did not initiate and did not care if I ever approached the subject again. It made me think about my social conditioning and how as a female I was conditioned by society to be the arbitrator and the peacekeeper. Nevertheless, what about my mental health? What about the precarious position it puts me in? What about the consequences I suffer from either or both of them thinking I am on one or the other’s side. What about me? Why is it my responsibility to see those two righted? Especially when I believe that the conversation either of them want/need will never happen.

I have emotional baggage with my mother as well. My brother’s is abandonment, mine is that she didn’t want a girl and she fucking shouted it (and still does in ways)  from the rooftop that she didn’t want a girl. My mother is never going to apologize for hurting me. She can’t. Maybe she can’t because of things that happened in her life. I don’t know. I just know that I cannot wait for her to apologize because it is not going to happen. That is not dismissal, it is reality. She cannot apologize. I cannot refuse to move on until she apologizes. My emotional growth cannot afford that demand. However, I can recognize what my mother does do and how she acts now. If she were to make amends, in her own way, say by proxy, out of compassion for both of us and for my future mental state, it will have to be enough. If it is not enough for me (and it hasn’t been) then I have to stay away (and I do). That’s just life.

Added to say, perhaps it may not need to be said, but I will say it anything. Our early experiences with people, as in families, often serve as a blueprint, or maybe if not that strong, an imprint for how we deal with social relationships. Not claiming it is the guiding force, but undeniably, our first experiences in the world and with the world hold strong influences for the rest of our life, especially if we do not actively attempt to deprogram or redraw the initial prints. That goes for everyone, so, to hell with any accusations of infantilization-speech.

  1. December 15, 2010 8:31 pm

    Thanks for writing this, Kitty. There really is so much here to respond to.

    It made me think about conversations that I had had in the past that I did not want to have, did not need to have, did not initiate and did not care if I ever approached the subject again.

    God, yes. It also makes me think of times when I have tried to force conversations that others did not want or intend to have, when I could have just accepted that they weren’t going to have those conversations with me and moved the hell on with my life without them. I have wasted a lot of time placing ultimatums and demanding retribution from women who, frankly, couldn’t give a damn about me and my priorities and were living their lives however they wanted to while I was moping around pining for closure and apologies, admissions of wrong-doing, concession to my oh-so-logical points. I still waste a lot of time with that. I’m a little better at recognizing now that it is a waste of time, even though I’m not really any better now at pulling myself out of the time-suck.

    Ironically, the times when things have worked themselves out have been the few times I’ve been at ease enough with myself that I didn’t feel a need or desire to force things. For example, I told one woman that her boyfriend was an asshole and that I didn’t want to hear about him ever again, that if she couldn’t refrain from mentioning him that she should just not talk to me at all, that she would one day see that I was always right, and that I would exact the apologies I was due, on and on. We didn’t speak for years. And by the time she did finally get back in touch with me, we both said “I love you,” and that was that. I didn’t need to hear her apologize; I didn’t feel a need to talk anymore about what had caused the rift between us. And, of course, it wasn’t just about what I needed. She also felt no compulsion or obligation to give me the apologies I’d always told her would be a requirement for reconciliation either. We both recognized the growth in each other and in ourselves, and that was enough.

    It actually saddens me that those kinds of reunions have been so rare in my life, especially whatever part of the rarity is due to my own stubbornness. I mean, I can’t really help those instances when women just didn’t want reconciliation, for whatever reason, and I can’t really fault those women either. I feel acutely where I’ve screwed things up through my own unwillingness to recognize or acknowledge growth in myself or in others – because I definitely see that it’s just as problematic not to be able to say “I have changed” as it is not to be able to say “I can see that you’ve changed.”

    But I think facing that I have screwed things up with lots of women really makes me appreciate friendships like the one I have with you, Kitty, in which we are constantly having mini-reunions like the one I had with my other friend after years of separation. You and I have made a habit of recognizing the small steps and huge leaps in each other’s growth over the years, and I can’t tell you how much I appreciate that you’ve never held any of my missteps over me, that we’ve been able to grow as female human beings and that we’ve adapted our definitions of forgiveness and resolution to suit who we are *now*, at any given moment, the way liquid conforms to its vessel, rather than forcing even a day-old assessment on the women we’ve morphed into today. That means so much to me, Kitty.

    I just wanted to say that. I’ll respond to more in a bit.

  2. Mary Sunshine permalink
    December 15, 2010 8:39 pm

    I just know that I cannot wait for her to apologize because it is not going to happen.

    I went through this with my mother. She insisted on denying the reality of my father’s sexually abusing me all through my childhood. I cut off all contact with her when I was 42. Ten years later, when she was 80, she wrote me a letter of apology, and hoped that I would contact her. I did not. (Think Charlie Brown, Lucy, football.) She died three years later.

    Kitty, *thank you* for giving us this story. I love the multi-generational stories of women’s lives. There is so much to be learned there, revelations.

  3. joankelly6000 permalink
    December 16, 2010 5:46 am

    This post really touched me. So did your comment, Margie.

    I know it’s not just about mothers either. But there is something about – I feel like I just know so many women who are so lovable, who if I had ever been a person who wanted to have a daughter (as in, a child at all), I would have felt like I hit the jackpot to have any of them/you as my daughter, and so many have just had mothers who didn’t know they hit the jackpot, or were incapable for all kinds of reasons of showing it. I feel like I know so many women who deserved tenderness (and obviously still do), and how profoundly tragic mother-daughter stuff is sometimes, even if it’s not wholly tragic or doesn’t stay tragic forever.

    Was actually talking about this kind of thing (and actually other recent events at AROOO, in case any of your ears were burning!) last night with my best friend at dinner. Losses, things that are un-recoverable, in connection with one’s own mother, but also as Margie brings up, the power in the ability to reconcile, or all kinds of reasons and in all kinds of times and manners.

    I just need to blurt out that I love you all, for among other things, being women who have these experiences and openness to exploring and discussing them.

  4. joankelly6000 permalink
    December 16, 2010 5:48 am

    (also, Margie I didn’t meant to imply you were talking about mother stuff, you were clear, and I appreciated what you actually were saying, and also Mary I loved your comment too.)

  5. December 17, 2010 10:00 am

    Wow, Kitty, this post is really moving. I can relate to it a lot, especially what you said your mother being unable to apologise or acknowledge hurt caused. I don’t think I will go into my whole story now… Just wanted to say this post really struck home for me. As did Margie’s comment.

  6. December 18, 2010 4:51 am

    This post was *really* moving Kitty, I don’t really know what to say to this right now, but wow. Thank you for sharing it.

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