This is the final installment of my Summer of Hell series. Thanks to everyone for reading, your support has meant my world to me these past few months.
Not sure why but this one is the hardest. There’s no heroics or heartwarming lessons. Just some cathartic shit I need to get off my chest. Read on, if you dare.
If life were a movie, this trip would have been one of those reunions where people get together under less-than-ideal circumstances but pull it together in the end. It’s a difficult experience but it bonds them in their shared adversity.
This wasn’t any movie plot.
I showed up ready to take on some hard work. I left feeling defeated and angry.
Mom was attacked by a dog back in May. She’s had cardiomyopathy for ages and this stress was the last straw. She went into full-blown heart failure, her medicine wasn’t working and she was in ICU for several weeks. She’s been put on the transplant list and given an electric pump to keep her alive till then.
I texted and called regularly during her three months in the hospital. I talked to her surgeon on the phone. I was fully prepared to take the trip to help when she got home.
Or so I thought.
The first part of this post is excerpts from some text messages I sent to a friend during the visit. Not brilliant writing, perhaps, but it’s too raw to weave into a narrative just yet.
I’ve been trying to clean and organize and watch Oliver and deal with my mother, basically by myself, for a week. I’d like a baby break. That’s not gonna happen so I’m taking a break from everything else.
Last night around 3am Oliver woke me up yelling. He had thrown up all over himself! He seems to feel better today but still wouldn’t eat much this morning.
My mom asked when she got up, “the baby’s sick?”
“Oh, fabulous.” And walked the fuck away.
After I run to the store here in a minute I think I’m going to be drinking the rest of the day.
Lemme try to explain things simply:
The living room has a bunch of shit in it that belongs upstairs in the crafts room.
The crafts room looks like this:
And that’s after I have been working on it.
I can only work when Oliver is sleeping, because he gets into everything and no one here can watch him for any length of time. My mom and stepdad are both too infirm to keep up and my sister just won’t because she has so much sewing to do.
Which, okay, I get that you have deadlines. That you make your living doing this but, you came up here. Why don’t you have time to help me?
To be fair, I didn’t anticipate the house being completely unsafe for the baby to move around in.
So it’s taken me 3 days to get done what I have, and I haven’t even moved anything upstairs yet. I’m going to be here forever!
But the things geeks have laying around! I found a random brain! Lol
So the fun continues. Last night Mom ordered pizza and didn’t get me any. I’m pretty sure it was because I snapped at her earlier in the day. I didn’t even know pizza was coming and had already made Oliver and me something.
Quinn is off visiting friends today. Hubby’s sister is supposed to come by but I haven’t heard from her. Mom is so fucking ungrateful and self-absorbed I just wanna punch her. I’m still the only one actually working on anything around the house.
She mostly acts like having us around is a pain in the ass. And I’m having to accept the fact that she really does care more for her precious stuff than people.
I have found shopping lists from 30+ years ago. Random crap like Refrigerator magnets I remember from when I was a kid and three separate stashes of paper clips. More empty notebooks than I have ever seen outside of a store, just randomly thrown in with other stuff.
Giant piles of empty boxes. Those are all over the house.
But it’s really about the living room.
So she has 2 loveseats in the living room. They had been set catty-corner from the wall with boxes stacked behind one and a table with a printer and stuff behind the other. It’s always driven me crazy, it’s a big room but what a waste of space!
But if she gets a new heart, she’ll be on immunosuppressants for the rest of her life. Having big areas like that no one can reach to clean is a bad idea. So I moved them against the fucking wall. Wasn’t easy, either.
The space behind them was a gruesome scene of dust and hair and cat leavings. Which I also cleaned up.
And she will probably be angry with me about it till the day she dies. She didn’t speak to me for 2 days.
I couldn’t live here. I didn’t even realize how stressful and emotionally draining it is being here. My stepdad is pretty detached from the whole thing. He’s also the only one who expresses any interest in the baby.
I’ve lost almost ten pounds since I’ve been here. Five pounds a week is too fast. I can’t eat much when I’m stressed. It may look glamorous but you feel like shit fast eating one small meal a day.
Oliver has been urpy since we got here and this morning he threw up again and had diarrhea that was very watery. But yesterday he was chowing down on peanut butter cups so I am really confused.
What kind of stomach bug makes you vomit once a week and lets you eat chocolate?
Then Mom and Quinn were telling me that whenever they travel the local water makes them nauseous. I was thinking he was just nervous and homesick but the diarrhea really scared me because it’s easy for little ones to get dehydrated.
I gave him some bottled water and he has been acting like he feels much better. He even ate more than a couple bites of breakfast.
Omg she’s such a miserable old bitch and after we leave she’ll be alone here with her husband who she doesn’t like and she won’t have me to complain to because I have had enough of her shit for a while.
My sister left yesterday. I knew being here without her was going to be interesting.
So I’m making a PB&J, she’s puttering around in the DR and mutters something about she can’t get something off her cookbooks
“Do you need help with something?”
“No,” muttering, “I’ve had enough of that, thank you.”
Like, she’s seriously 12.
So I go in to finish in the LR and make it actually usable as a room. She comes in all wide-eyed and tells me the only thing she wants me to do is put her guest room back together.
Because I moved a bunch of stuff – including the bed – to babyproof the room because Oliver is very curious and I needed at least one room where I didn’t have to chase after him constantly.
She sarcastically thanks me for mixing her stuff all up and making a project for her.
This room was a fucking disaster area before I started. Craft supplies and papers everywhere, dust and hair and cat vomit and just awful.
So, ya know, it was a project anyway.
One that I would have finished by now except for the total unhelpfulness of various individuals and a serious drain on my motivation in the form of her spending at least 75% of her time bitching about petty shit.
YOU ALMOST FUCKING DIED. Like, for real. Getting stuck in traffic would have been the end.
YOUR ADULT CHILDREN TOOK 2 WEEKS OUT OF THEIR LIVES to come here and help you.
I had the gall to actually take charge of the situation and do what I thought was necessary without getting approval from someone who was struggling just to climb stairs and make it to the bathroom on time.
And for my trouble, I’m getting treated like I burnt the fucking house down.
This is the same woman who left me alone for 2 weeks during Summer School to go to a party in California. Long story short I got a big cut on my wrist and the school called in Child Services.
My mother never asked me about why or how I got a big cut on my wrist. All she said to me was how pissed she was that I had gotten “those people” breathing down her neck.
But ya know, that was almost 20 years ago. I guess I wanted to believe she’s mellowed with age but, if anything, she’s adding to the pile. She’s also a borderline hoarder and a germophobe now. Extra fun!
Back home at last after a grueling drive with a tiny boy who didn’t understand any of it and seemed on the verge of despair when we finally pulled into the driveway 11 hours later.
I texted Quinn to double-check some thoughts that had bubbled up during the ride.
“So Dad used to do this thing where he would spout flowery language about how smart and beautiful we were, how we could do anything and he’d always be there to support us, all kinds of stuff that, in retrospect, was clearly love bombing but I don’t remember Mom even doing anything like that.
“I’m trying but I can’t even think of an example of her being complimentary to me like that. No, wait, I thought of one. It was pretty good, too. But it was like 6 years ago and I was shocked.
“When is she either not rambling about whatever is on her mind or complaining about something? And what’s on her mind never seems to be trying to really understand anyone.”
Yeah, I don’t remember her doing anything like that. It was more:
Me: <waits until a commercial break so I don’t get yelled at, finally gets her attention to show her something I made>
Her: <looks away from her book she’s reading with the TV on that I still had to wait for a commercial break on so I didn’t get yelled at> “Oh, that’s nice.” <goes back to reading with no further discussion>
Me: <never shows her anything I’ve done ever again because why bother?>
“Basically all the time. In order to get her attention for any length of time, it had to be made about her somehow.”
“Okay just checking. That it was consistent and not me cherry-picking. That explains a lot.”
Nope, not you cherry-picking and not her playing favorites. Did she ever make that call to DCS? [regarding a story about our Dad’s shockingly flagrant porn use. Because no, that storyline hasn’t resolved either.]
“I don’t know and I really don’t want to talk to her right now. Based on her not even wanting to hug me goodbye, I suspect the feeling is mutual.”
Omfg that woman. I don’t blame you not wanting to talk to her.
Yeah so that last morning, she was down in the kitchen by 9:30. After waiting a few minutes I said, “How are you today?”
To which she said rather dramatically, “Who? Me? Oh, I’m fine.”
It was just her and me and the baby. Yeah, obviously you.
I’m not sure what she was in a snit about. The night before while I was packing, she was up and down a few times before finally settling in around 2. Somewhere around the Ohio River Valley it occurred to me maybe she was waiting for me to come say goodnight.
But she could have easily come to me. I had a room to pack and rearrange and a very unhappy little boy to care for. I didn’t have energy or patience for her games.
My mother discouraged independent thought while simultaneously telling us it was important to understand things and be Independent Women. Have your own job. Fix your own car. But don’t stir the mashed potatoes that way, that’s wrong. And don’t follow my instructions without detailed directions because logic is relative, despite its reputation.
So, understand the situation but don’t use that understanding to enact a strategy because I will criticize it for not being exactly like mine.
Eventually after years of trying to find a way around this or come to some kind of understanding, I started just shutting down. I can’t stop thinking any more than I can stop breathing and by the time I was 20 the feeling of everything I did being wrong had me trapped in my apartment.
I put a lot of work over the last decade into building a functional relationship with my mother. In the past few years as things on the other side of my family unraveled that became that much more important. I wanted at least one parent I could talk to.
None of the heartfelt conversations or nights by the bonfire mattered after I moved her sofas.
It occurred to me that I’m almost 35 and I do just fine without living in fear of her negativity. And maybe I don’t need that in my life. She cut off her own mother and I have always hated that as a solution. It’s a melodramatic pain in the ass.
But maybe not working so hard at it would be a good thing.
I’m only just starting to absorb the level of dysfunction starkly exposed by the contrast with what I have become accustomed to. These people aren’t perfect but they don’t keep score. Loyalty isn’t constantly reevaluated. I have started to find the traces of my own vision, started to find my voice.
But after two weeks I was a shellshocked specter of myself.
I think the familiarity of it all bothers me the most. As much as I hate to admit it, this is the person I grew up with. There is literally no explanation that will get any traction.
For most of my life I have struggled with the feeling that nothing was good enough. I found myself justifying things endlessly to myself, even when no one challenged me or was even involved.
She’s been better for a long time, at least to me, so my all-consuming insecurity was left as something of a mystery. I think I’ve solved it.
But what do I do now? I can’t wrap my head around her attitude. The last couple days were untempered passive-aggressive rejection. It’s embarrassing how much it hurt.
But I’m not a kid anymore. I can clearly see just how petty it is. And I can honestly say I don’t need her approval. I have my own life and I like it pretty well. I am tired of her holding her affection hostage to keep me in line. A line only she can see.
I’ve had to learn to trust myself sometimes out of necessity. It has a revolutionary thrill to it. She is bitter and lonely and maybe I’d do better with less of that influence.
It’s difficult to explain just how much she has hurt me with her crap during this visit. I could probably go on forever, there are so many anecdotes that suddenly snap into a clear pattern of criticism and neglect. It’s heartbreaking and imposing. Relationships are very important to me in my life and I often miss the feeling of having any with the people who brought me into this world.
But I will have more to give those who appreciate it if I stop beating my head against that wall. At this point it’s a natural progression, it will be pretty easy to keep them at a metaphorical distance with hundreds of literal miles between us. And I’m certainly busy enough.
Knowing me, I doubt it’s permanent but I need some space to absorb all this. I don’t understand why they don’t love me and a little part of me is just weeping deep down in there.
I hadn’t thought about it for years, but my fondest wish since I was about 10 was to get away from her. There’s actually a lot about my life these days that would make kid me very happy looking forward to.
So, I guess I was wrong. The heroic bit is me walking away as the building explodes behind me and not flinching.