I'm weirdly walled off from my feelings about my mother.
My friend recently found out that her mom has cancer. I'm so sorry for them, and when I try to think about how I'd feel getting similar news about my own mother, it's like I am suddenly pressing up against a padded wall. I can almost picture it, but then everything gets swallowed and dispersed and I'm comfortable and blind, pressing in.
Growing up, my dad was mean to everyone. His meanness extended to the world beyond our family. He didn't have a single friend. He hated his job, he hated us, he hated everything. Mostly, he felt sorry for himself because nobody liked him.
He liked to boss us around, especially my mom. He didn't take on any responsibility at home. His four children belonged to her, as did the washing and feeding. She mowed the lawn and took out the garbage. She trimmed the weeds and put oil in the car. She patched up holes in the ceiling as best she could. Mostly she felt sorry for herself because her husband didn't love her.
He didn't love anybody, except his appetites. He had a really big belly. He was a joke to us, but he had to be. If we took him seriously, we had to admit how terribly he hurt us. The fact of him was too much to bear. He crippled us and made us feel like we would never know love or happiness. We laughed at him when his back was turned; sometimes until we cried. Crying is what we really wanted to do.
By the time I was a teenager, I was very angry inside. I still am. I am a pot, ready to boil over. I remember things so that my heart starts to skip: the time a man yelled at me at the gas station for not pulling forward, the time a man yelled at me because he thought Scouty hit the door of his truck with her lunchbox, the time a man yelled at me.
I was so lonely. My family all had God and I was lonely. I used to lock myself in the attic crawl space and smoke cigarettes and pretend I was dead. I was so sad, it obliterated me. I would cry for so long that it hurt to breathe for days afterward. I tried to feel what it would be like to burn up in a fire. I tried to feel what it was like to turn back into everything, to go to a place where there was no God, there was no loneliness. I would turn back into the dirt and the frost and the shoots in the spring. I would be water and my dark eyes would turn blue.
I used to follow my mom around, trying to talk to her. She would be washing dishes and wrestling a toppling black bag out of the garbage can. I would emerge into the light of the kitchen and start talking about everything. I tried to tell her everything. I do the same thing to my husband, now. He'll come upstairs and lie down next to me to sleep, and I can't control myself. I'll start talking about my thoughts on getting older, and pretty soon he's breathing softly while I tell him about the woman behind the counter at the drug store, how she called me baby and I loved her, for a moment. I'll tell him about a song I like, about why I can't stand to watch commercials, how companies don't know how to advertise to us anymore now that we can record live tv, how Scouty wants a toy bunny that hops for Easter, how the brakes were scraping a little bit going downhill, how it's supposed to be 75 degrees on Saturday. Like I've been holding the whole world in the pit of my belly and nobody knows me.
Eventually she would walk away from me. She would say, "Okay, Amanda, I have something to do." It would be like I was possessed. I couldn't stop talking. I would tremble a little bit, over the force of my own longing to communicate. I just needed somebody to hear this last thing. I had everything inside of me and it was tearing me apart. The absurdity of existence and how bright the lights were inside of a gas station at night. The sadness of being young and the emptiness of the passing of time. I had nothing left inside of me, but everything was there, threatening to gut me. I could see it all and I needed someone to know. I wasn't nothing. I wasn't nothing.
Sometimes I would start an argument when she got bored with my talking and I'd yell at her for walking away. I could feel the gorge and bulge of the world against my windpipe. It was going to split and I'd choke to death on my own boiling blood. I screamed at her not to walk away.
Without saying anything, she would disappear into her bedroom and shut the door against me. I imagined that she must have felt very smart and in control removing herself from the situation. I was a situation very often, something to be navigated. Why couldn't I just behave?
See, he almost tricked me. I almost winked out in the night. I almost gave up; a small girl from a small place who didn't know anything worthwhile. My dad needed me to feel stupid, to feel small and simple and scared. He tricked me. I almost believed him and curled up against myself, nibbling away at a box of snack cakes and bemoaning my mousey hair, my plainness. I exploded, as a teenager and I haven't yet managed to put myself back together, I don't think.
I was so mad and so lonely. Everybody in my family was unhappy. My youngest brother stayed small. He hugged my mom until he was grown and cried when things were sad. My brother disappeared. He was so mild that he tried to hang himself. The world was too mean and our dad hated us. My sister spent her youth on her knees, believing because not believing would destroy her. My sister took pills. They gave her charcoal at the hospital. I watched as the nurse changed her out of a gown with vomit on the collar, her naked body embarrassed me under the fluorescent lights.
These things aren't even my secrets.
My mom just wanted somebody to love her. She was miserable, too. I shouldn't blame her for that.
Now that I'm grown and have babies, she's Grammy. She stops by our house after work and brings cookies. She loves my girls, especially Scouty. Scouty sleeps over at her apartment and they play board games and watch VCR tapes of old Disney movies on her tiny television and they sleep in the same bed. She spends Christmas morning with us. She stays with the girls while Kurt and I go out for dinner. My girls love her, and she's never done anything to me that we weren't all doing to each other.
I can't hug my sister, either.
Leaving the house at 5am for my second c-section, my mom was sitting on our couch, bleary eyed and worried. My girl was sleeping upstairs. I would be coming home with her sister.
"Okay," I said. "I guess we're going."
"I love you," my mom said.
I nodded. "Okay, bye," I said.
I can remember exactly how it felt when a guy ran a stop sign one time and blamed our near-accident on me. I'll keep it inside of me forever so that my hands shake thinking about it. I don't smile at people at the supermarket. I think a lot about how everybody is mean to everybody else and I'm lonely.