Monday, September 04, 2006


It keeps running through my head, over and over again. “How can you do this to me?” My mother’s piercing, angry, question. How could I do this to her? And you know, for years and years, I wondered. I considered the question. How could I? How could I be so selfish? How could I continue, “time and time again,” to quote her, to disappoint my mother? How could I be so self centered to not think about how my actions effected her? How could I continue to do the same things, never learning, never understanding, and never improving?

I call and hear her voice, weak, or strong, either way, full of liquor and the nasty confidence it brings. She’ll ask the same question. How can I do this to her? Why do I continue to do this to her? Why? The she realized, in her self-deluded alcoholic reasoning, “You couldn’t possibly know what you do.” I don’t, Mom. I have no idea how living my life could be such a painful statement to you every minute of every day. I have no idea. My children are a joy to me. I delight in their very existence. I do not understand how horrible I am to have as a daughter. I cannot imagine any of my children being a miserable weight to carry.

I’m sixteen years old, sitting at the dinner table. My mother has made stuffed green peppers. I hate stuffed green peppers. I’m not allowed to say anything but “Mmm, this is delicious. Thanks so much for cooking!” I’m sixteen years old. I’d rather eat pizza; I’d rather eat cereal, anything but this disgusting, gelatinous goo stuffed into a wilted, sour shell. But I don’t. I graciously accept what is in front of me. I say thank you. I sit on the edge of my chair, watching every line in her face to see if I have accomplished the goal of making her happy. I can’t wait to get out of the house, so I can breathe again. She leaves the table unimpressed, but not angry. I have learned some new tools. I am learning how to keep my mother happy. It is essential.

But I’m not sixteen years old. I don’t care if my mother is happy anymore. No, I’m not going to ask what I can do to make it better. I’m not going to share with you pieces of who I am. It’s for me. Somehow, you will twist it to be about you. I am not playing the game anymore. Stop sending your sweet friends to cajole me into being a good daughter. I’m not. I’m not a good daughter. I am a miserable failure at making you happy.

I wish I could go back in time, sit at that table and tell her how horrible it is to be there. How it’s her job to take care of me, not mine to take care of her. That’s how parenting works. I watched in friend’s homes, where parents drank coffee with dinner. I listened in disbelief. No bourbon. No big deal to be a self-absorbed teenager. It’s normal.


I need to keep reminding myself that I’m done. I’m done being dutiful. It gnaws at me, not just old tapes in my head, but a presence with teeth. It is a powerful relationship, between mother and daughter that allows such pain, such abuse, and such cruelty. And still, somewhere inside, there is love. Even a dog learns to hate the master that kicks it. Not me. I keep going back for more.


I am blown away by her demand for it. My need for it. After all these years, I still seem to need it so desperately. And when all is forgiven, I’ve gone through the nasty spew of her anger and she’s fine, everything is fine, I’m left with this under current of anger, hate, and fury. How dare she do this to me. How have I let myself get sucked up into her game again?

Never has she been cruel or cutting or humiliating to any of us in front of anyone else. Only once, when I came out as a lesbian, did she blow it. She and her friend Mary Ellen were visiting me at college over the summer break at my rented house just off campus. Mary Ellen was a favorite drinking buddy of my mother, as she could hold her liquor, and never questioned how much was being consumed. That awful night, my mother asked if I was a lesbian, point blank. I said yes, unprepared. My mother turned wicked, and being so drunk, she began calling me things I had never imagined coming out of her mouth, ever. She was so horrible, and so drunk, I ran up the stairs and locked myself into my bedroom. She banged furiously on my door, demanding I come out and listen to her. I put some headphones on and closed my eyes. Mary Ellen had to drag her out of the house. She kept telling my mother to stop, to stop saying such things, and my mother cursed her, too. Within hours of reaching home, Mary Ellen was no longer a friend of my mother’s. Mary Ellen had refused to agree, and my mother couldn’t stand having a witness.

I feel cheated. I wanted to hate her. I wanted to be mad. For a long time. I wanted to be cruel. And I couldn’t. On some level, she still creates a world, and I still have to decipher what is true, what is crazy. Am I a bad daughter? Do I care? How do I get these teeth out of me?

And yet I still hold her secrets. To tell would be blasphemy.


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