Hey Mom - it's just Jess. In the past you've tried to tell me that I'm not just Jess, but that's how I feel which is why I say it when I call. Today I was driving home, I dropped Jane off at school, but before that I was listening to Master of Puppets. I doubt you've ever heard the song, but it played a role in my life when I was a teenager. I would sit in my room listening to that on repeat because even if I didn't have a drug problem I could relate to what it felt like to have someone else controlling your life. The other day at work a woman I know called me a hard ass. I didn't really like that and tried to deny it because the context felt wrong to me. She was telling me that she and this other woman were soft and I wasn't, her insight wounded me deeply, but of course I couldn't just burst into tears on the spot. I didn't even know I felt this way about it until I had some time to think. The worst part about therapy is when I get asked what and how I'm feeling. It takes me a long time and sometimes I can't come up with an answer. Words are my friends, but when it comes to feelings, they remain elusive.
For a long time I didn't realize I am very angry. That probably sounds stupid or silly, how can you not know how you are feeling? It's easy. Grow up in a household where your feelings are invalidated and eventually you may learn ways to try and escape them. You're an emotional prisoner in a castle of your own making and only you can get yourself free. Dedicated to, how I'm killing you. Obey your master. You were big into obedience, but there were double standards for us. I was the bad kid. The one you had because you really wanted a baby. I'm not sure why, maybe your parents didn't love you enough. What I wish you could have done is gotten some plants. You're a terrific gardener and I've long admired your ability to grow houseplants. I drove here thinking, my mom takes better care of her plants than her daughter. It feels like I would get more nurturing, attention, nutrition, time, and energy if I was a potted plant sitting in dirt on your windowsill. The sun was starting to set when I was driving. I love to drive. Maybe it's because you don't. It might be because I can get away from you faster when I have transportation. Perhaps it's more or less than that.
My memory is good. But let's put that aside for the moment. If you read what I wrote you would know that I have a character who wouldn't attend his mother's funeral. I almost didn't go to my dad's. I'm glad I did. I'm not sure if I would go to yours and I don't want you at mine. I don't want a funeral at all. I want to be cremated and I want everyone to go to a baseball game and donate some money to a charitable organization that promotes the sport. I want this to happen because baseball saved my life. It gave me a reason to keep on going when I felt like I didn't have many others. I'm alive today because baseball fans you've never met and don't know felt like I was worth saving. I was practically a zombie after I was released from the mental hospital. I had left my debit card there so all I had was the cash in my wallet when I went to the store to pick up a few things. I held up the line when I told the cashier I would have to put a few things back because I only had twenty some dollars. Then I remembered I had a check, that just in case I ever need it blank I had tucked away for a situation just like this.
I had money in the bank and no way to access it after my check wouldn't go through. They didn't know why, I was told it didn't have anything to do with my balance, but it was rejected anyways. I knew I'd be okay, I had just spent close to a week in a place where my meals were provided for me at a cost to my insurance company, but at least I had that coverage to use. At the time it felt like money that was well spent. A long time ago I had a friend who told me my writing was closed off. Now I know what he means. Only took me a decade, but today I can say, hey, my relationship with my mom sucks and this is how I feel. This is my story. You can argue with the facts and doubtless you will, you love a good argument, but hopefully you won't continue the very bad no good habit of trying to tell me how I could, should, do, or do not feel. I am a very angry person and writing is a way to turn rage into something that feels slightly less destructive. Better out than in, isn't that what people say? I thought about how I asked you to go to therapy with me, you said you would, and that was a lie. I would have been slapped silly for lying to you. Fortunately for you, nobody is going to leave a burning red mark on the side of your turned cheek.
Tuesday was a rough day. My manager told me she was going to try and get in touch with the mother who abandoned her when she was a child. I can't really explain my reaction, I was at work and I didn't want to hurt her feelings. After our conversation I walked away from our department in sort of a daze. I might have gone over to one of the cashiers on purpose, I don't remember anymore. Out of the blue she asked what size shoe I wore. Immediately I was on guard. This woman is sweet and beautiful, but I felt threatened. I told her what size I typically wore not knowing what I was getting myself into, but I trusted her. She showed me a pair of shoes someone else had given her. I tried one on knowing that they weren't my size, but I also knew that the brand ran small. They were cute. Thick black laces criss crossed into the pattern shoe store employees spend a lot of time doing and undoing. I took my new shoes upstairs feeling very uncertain, I told myself that it was a very nice gesture and my feelings of distrust were unfounded. The day went on and one thing after another seemed to drag me down further.
By the time I was done for the day I couldn't process anything. My friend asked me what was wrong and I sat there staring into space until I told her I had to get going. Back at my locker I saw the shoes, they caught me totally off guard and for about three seconds I was in this whirling vortex of agonizing nothingness. The shoes had to go and I had to get my water bottle. I had been thirsty that entire day. I didn't want food, I had offered to pick up a drink for a woman who does demo work for us, I had to walk past a guy I've had trouble with, my job requires me to go through the cafe many times a day, I swear that day I couldn't avoid it no matter how hard I tried. My friend said she wanted green tea and I mistakenly thought she wanted a cold beverage instead of a warm one. I ran into a regular customer who stared at me like he had no idea who I was. Later on he told me he didn't recognize me without my baseball hat. I still remember you telling me that I didn't look as good in hats as I thought that I did, you claim to have no recollection of this conversation and I believe you. Talking to me seems to be a forgettable event.
Once I was downstairs I had to face my friend. Normally her face is pale, that day it seemed ghostly and for a moment I wondered if I had somehow crossed over to the other side knowing that I really hadn't, wishing that I somehow could. I asked her what was wrong and she said you, but I didn't know what she meant because I hadn't told her about the shoes yet. I held them up and told her I was giving them back. I saw a succession of emotions run through her and then I felt worse than ever. But I got rid of the shoes and that was the important thing. She asked if I was okay and I said no, leaving it at that. She told me to text her and I waved at her without turning around. Had my ankle been up to it I would have run for hours that day. But it's still jacked up so I had to walk to my car with measured slowness. I was going to go home and figure out a game plan, but I turned around in the middle of Highway C and turned around to go to the library. Music can do that to me. I sat down at the computer and started getting my thoughts down, she had given me the courage to start facing what I was feeling.
A Twitter friend of mine was super nice to me when I told him how I had acted at work. I sent an apology text and tried to explain things, it's hard to explain what you don't understand. I stayed at the library until closing time. I hadn't eaten, I was still super thirsty, and my blood sugar was probably low because I felt light headed when I stood up and drove home. When I worked at the shoe store there was a manager who threatened to slap me when we were in the back room together. She was larger than I was and we were alone. Nobody would have heard me scream in those stacks of shoes. She told me I was insolent and insubordinate, she said a bunch of other things too, but after she raised her hand I quit listening. Not long after that a friend of mine who went to the art museum with me let me spend the night at his place. We had gone to a shoe store together and he told me I had all the subtlety of a sledge hammer. He told me that I made the employees who were working there look and feel incompetent. They were, but that wasn't his point. Seeing those shoes brought a flood of memories back. I hate triggering events and objects, but there doesn't seem to be a reliably good way to avoid them.
My dad taught me that sports are about how you conduct yourself on and off the field. Win or lose, you can hold your head high as long as you gave what you could. Sporting events are frequently called games, competition makes sense there. I didn't understand why the things I was good at failed to draw approval from you while the areas where you excelled were a higher priority. Like when I told you that I wanted to be a history major and you told me that history was boring and didn't make sense to you. Your idea was for me to go into business and take some accounting classes. I did well, I usually do, but it wasn't my passion, it was yours. My home life was so chaotic I'm still not sure how I managed to show up to class on time and wearing clean clothes, I guess I just did it. But it took a toll on my health. I lost weight, I developed a head to toe rash, nobody knew what was wrong with me. From November to February I was pumped full of more and stronger antibiotics and steroids, nothing was effective. I had to withdraw from a class and almost received an F in it because of a paperwork mishap.
After I got a job in finance I thought things would be different. I was going to be rich. I contributed so much to my retirement plan that I didn't have enough to live on, I got married. The day before my wedding you came over and told me that you had a terrible dream and didn't want me to marry him. I also received a letter from my grandmother on the other side who wrote about you and my dad. You raged at me when you found out I was sexually active. I didn't even want to do it, I was angry at you for assuming it had happened when I did it and I thought to myself, fuck this shit, if she's not going to believe me, I'll get rid of my virginity. I knew I wasn't in love, but I wanted to be loved so I went through with it. For more than twenty years I slept with someone who hated me because I went ahead and married him despite my mother's warnings. That's on me of course, I'm not blaming you, I'm just telling you the motivation behind my actions. Eventually I thought that having children would save my marriage. We got into a fight after you slapped my daughter's hand and I told you that if you ever did that again you would never see her and I was not kidding about that either. You apologized, I hope you really were sorry, but I'm dubious.
I've had my share of difficulties with men, but you were the person who taught me that women were inconsistent, unstable, moody, unreliable, and would put up with me if I was doing something for them like attending a baby or bridal shower, helping them clean and organize something, making a meal, or doing anything other than just being me. I ran myself into the ground when I was first married because my mother had taught me it didn't matter how many hours you put in at work, it was still the woman's job to put food on the table, do the laundry, housework, and write out the checks to pay the bills. I would come home from work, lay on my bed, stare at the ceiling and pray for death. We had money for his hobbies and the food he liked, we could afford to take his shirts into the dry cleaners, but I had to iron my own. Thankfully I'm meticulous and precise. I had a rainbow of shirts when I worked for the rentral car company. I walked into the store, found one that fit and bought it in every color they had. I'm efficient like that thanks to my mom.
Today I thought I could go back to the bridge that I used to drive by when I worked in Mequon. I would wake up at four in the morning, get my food ready, walk, clean, do laundry, get things ready for the girls, drive in to work and be sobbing by the time the bridge came into view. Every day I told myself that I could drive into it tomorrow and reminded myself that most women fail their suicide attempts. It was dark in the east and I needed the sun. I could have turned around and found another bridge. I could have found a bridge and driven into it, but the sky was pretty and I was crying so hard it was difficult to stay on the road. I remembered you asking what I wanted for Christmas and me telling you money. It's cool, crisp, and impersonal. That's what I like about it. I used to feel guilty about accepting anything from you, sometimes I still do. It feels like blood money. Last Christmas you told me you forgot to put money for me in an envelope. I got cash instead of a check. I guess Christmas and my birthday snuck up on you last year. It happens. I've done the same thing to my children. The horrible part I didn't know about parenting is one day your eyes open and you realize you became the parent you swore you never would as a child.
I feel a lot calmer than I did. I would like to tell you not to worry, but since you're never going to read this it would be a waste of breath. Here's what I want: I want sincere apologies. I want you to go through a list of offenses and tell me that you are genuinely sorry for your part in whatever happened. You've told me you don't regret what you've done and you would do it again if the same situation presented itself so I'm not very confident that this will happen, but it's what I want. I want some money. No amount can ever right past wrongs, but I feel owed for my pain and suffering. You and dad took money I earned and stole it from me after you lied and said you were going to deposit it in the bank for me. I went to the bank every single day when I delivered papers there, it was completely illogical to hand my money over to my parents, but I was forced to and that was one time when you and my dad were a solid united front. My money was going to you and that's the last I ever saw of it. It's not the dollar amount. It's the principle, my parents taught me a lot about principles. They applied when they wanted them to and not when they didn't.
I want peace and I want freedom. I want you to get some fucking help for your issues. I want you to quit smoking and I want you to redo your will so we get the money and he gets the house instead of the other way around. My dad used to complain that you were irrational and this is one of those times when I can't help but agree. There's one of him and five of us. It's very easy to divide money five ways and not fun to deal with putting a house on the market and then splitting whatever we'd get from the sale among us kids, but that's your great plan. You lied about your will to me, but I forgive you. I don't want any of your personal possessions after you die. You've tried offering me things and then ignored me when I said I would be interested in a thing or two. Why ask if you're going to put stipulations on things after I've made a request. You sold the one thing I thought would be cool to have. Somehow I'm not really surprised. My character doesn't want to attend his mother's funeral because for once she can't tell him what to do. I know how he feels. He's suffered enough. He's done his time, paid his dues, grown, and thrived despite his upbringing. I know how that feels too.
I'm trying to break free of the patterns from the past. Today my daughter was in a mood and wouldn't talk to me about it. I don't know how to reach her and I finally told her that I'm not a mind reader and if something is bothering her she's going to have to tell me herself. I said that and then I went on with my life instead of telling her that she was a terrible person who reminded me of all the worst things about her father. I had a mother who did that as if I had some choice of fathers to pick from before I was born. My dad is dead and a part of me wonders if an inner part of him died when he was married to you. Maybe you feel like I hate you, sometimes I think that, at the moment I feel very indifferent and disconnected. I'm not perfect, but your parents are the people you should be able to count on for unconditional love. I'm a wreck, but I'm not trying to hide that from anyone. It feels less fucked up that way which is cold comfort, but I'll take it. I feel sorry for you. My dad died penniless and alone. You have money, but you've convinced yourself you can afford to alienate your oldest daughter. You have your side, I have mine. I wish we could start walking, compromise, negotiate, and communicate, but that hasn't worked in the past. Despite that, I'm optimistic. Until people are dead, it's never too late.
So long mom, this almost didn't get written, but I chose words over blood, hope over despair, and healing over never breathing again. You gave me life, but I gave myself reasons to live. Compared to many my life has been filled with an abundance of riches. Even if I didn't have a thing, it doesn't cost anything to love and be loved in return. There are people who love me at this very minute no matter how disturbed and bankrupt of humanity I feel. Happiness is an inside job and today that means writing this instead of cleaning my bathroom, doing my dishes, picking up in the living room, organizing my bag for tomorrow, or doing anything else that might be labeled productive. I forgive you. I love you. I don't want to feel like this, I'm glad I wrote it out because it gave me some pain relief, but if I had it on paper I would tear it up and toss it in the trash without another thought. I've learned that I want healthy relationships in my life and thanks to my beliefs and investments in myself, I have many of them. Hopefully you too can join that exclusive club, all you have to do is ask.
P.S. Sometimes I wonder if the reason I never do anything with any of the books I've written is because I'm afraid I'll feel like giving my mom a copy and have to deal with her never reading it. Isn't that silly?
P.P.S. This didn't turn out quite the way I had planned. I'm trying to imagine receiving something like this from one of my daughters and thinking, I have a lot of work to do because they deserve more of a parent than I have been. Forgiving yourself is hard, but I can do hard things.
I see now that I got off track and rather than go back to read something ugly I'll end on a positive note. When I was at the grocery store a woman behind me in line paid for the rest of the groceries I had intended to buy. She told the cashier while I was standing there in stunned silence trying to figure out what would be the best items to keep if I could only get a few things. I started crying, and by the time I left she and the cashier were also in tears. She wouldn't tell me her name of let me try and pay her back. It was an early Christmas present according to her and it came at such a badly needed time it should be a story of its own. I drove to the bank, pulled out some cash, stopped to buy gas, and told the guy behind me that whatever he was buying was on me. He had some snacks and at first he refused even though he had less than five dollars worth of items in his hands. I told him about the women, I asked him to pay it forward, and from the smile on his handsome black face I know that he did. Five dollars can immediately and dramatically brighten someone's day if you know how to spend it. Try it if you don't believe me.