On the day we argued she must have been in great physical pain because she yelled at me for unknown reasons. I had just finished running errands before work when she called. My mother rarely calls and vice versa. So when she does it feels like an emergency, I always brace myself before answering. Did someone die? Did I do something wrong? Is she upset? I never feel relaxed or excited to see her incoming name on my phone. It’s not because I don’t love her, it’s because I expect her well-intentioned criticism and the burden of her worries. My mother was never a carefree person, she always carried the weight of the entire world.
I don’t remember what she called me about, it was probably about a birthday gift for my son, did I receive it? Every year she’d buy him a new jacket and warm sweatpants, toys and socks, a grandmother’s care package. She’d send me a jacket too, I never needed to buy jackets ever because she’d send them every year around our birthdays.
“Did you get the delivery?”
“Yes, thank you, Mom. We love our new jackets.”
“Good. Did you find the doughn? In the card?”
“Yes, I found your check. Thank you, Mom. We don’t need the money, but thank you.”
“Yes you need it. Why don’t you work full-time? People have to work full-time, especially where you live.”
“Full-time jobs are hard to get at the library, I’ve been trying for years. There’s not enough jobs. It’s not just me, mom, I think 75% are part time.”
“You have to pray about it and go to church. That’s why they won’t give the job to you.”
“Mom, most full-time people there don’t go to church. Many librarians are gay. It’s a very liberal place. They have pink and purple hair. It’s not like in Maryland.”
“God helps people that go to church. God makes them rich and happy. You’re unhappy and don’t have money because you don’t go to church.”
“Not everyone that goes to church is a good person. Some go to socialize. They’ve hypocritical.”
“You have to go the church!”
“I don’t need to go to church to believe in god, or be a good person.”
“No, church is the only way!”
“I wrote a story, it’s published in a book.”
“Go to church!”
“Did you hear me? I said I wrote a story about our family!”
“It’s not important! The past isn’t important!”
“All I ever wanted was to make you proud of me! But that’s impossible! You’ll never be proud of who I am! All I ever wanted was your approval! But I can never receive it! I’m such a fool.”
“What?!! A book doesn’t matter!”….
I had recently published a memoir story in an anthology, I felt proud of that minor accomplishment and wanted to share that experience with her, but when she started yelling at me, saying it wasn’t important, and that the past wasn’t important; it broke an old dream that I’d wanted since childhood, to be a published writer. So I instantly yelled back at her, saying how pointless it was to try to receive her approval. I shouted that that’s what I’ve wanted from her for all of my life and I hung up on her while she continued shouting.
I felt sick with anger, but I had to go to work. I tried to calm down and pretend that all was well. That’s what we all did during my childhood, we pretended that everything was ok. At school I worried that my mom would be accidentally killed by my father. No one knew how miserable our lives really were. We lived in a fairytale ranch house lit by starlight, no one knew it was our death camp. That’s what it felt like for me. When my father raged nothing could stop him. He broke doors open, broke apart the kitchen table, broke my siblings bones with broomstick and rake handles. When the wood broke he grabbed another. He was merciless. He went to church with us every Sunday and was a deacon. What good was church for us all of those years?
When I arrived at work, one of my coworker/supervisors told me that she was leaving our workplace for another job. She was a sometimes warm, sometimes distant person, very unpredictable but had a maternal presence. I started crying. I couldn’t hold back the tears. I kept wiping them away in shame but they kept falling. “She must think I’m crazy,” I thought to myself. She probably did. I didn’t explain why I was crying. I just said, “I’ll miss you.” It’s hard to explain bonding and trauma to strangers, hard to reveal how vulnerable I am to Goodbyes.
People will surprise you. People are a mystery even to themselves.