I found myself trying to explain my mother to a new friend today.
My mother was toxic. To so many of us. But how to capture that in words.
I remember a few (two?) nights when the whole family was up into the wee hours with threats with a knife and arguments and upset. I remember the last night I spent at home, when she was crying in the bathroom and my Dad told me she threatened him with a gun. I remember Dad coming to visit me at college with bruises that she gave him.
I remember wanting to kill myself when I was a young teen. Thinking I was crazy because things happened in my family that apparently only I saw or thought was wrong. I remember her being angry when I asked for a bra, because some other girls teased me and told me I needed one. I remember I don’t think I ever had one that fit.
So many other things, I shouldn’t start with this. I shouldn’t try to catalog them all, like a litany of complaints. Or should I try to write it down, so that I have a coherent picture for myself of what it was, both good and bad?
On the good side, I remember that she’d take us to all sorts of different parks in the area; they had names, usually with an animal. The Lion Park, the Turtle Park. I remember her taking us swimming every day in the summer, often meeting my cousins.
I spent years wanting to save my mother. When she died, I spent months grieving that I never would. I’ve spent many more years trying to understand where she was coming from, and trying to be a better person than she was. Trying to see the good things. Trying to make peace with the rest.
I am left with more questions than answers. Including about myself. I am 45 now, and I will never have children. So I don’t know whether I would have been a good mother, or whether all the negative things I saw modeled would come out of me under stress. I’ve seen them come out, sometimes; I’ve felt them want to come out in others. Moments of stopping myself and realizing that thought is a completely wrong thing to think and a worse thing to do.
Does everyone feel like this about their childhood, or is this a legacy for those of us who grew up in permanent insecurity? It makes you who you are, either by default, or by explicit choice to do something different. When you can see and understand what was happening. Because you don’t always see or understand; it sometimes takes years of mistakes before you get it.
That little niggling fear, toward the back of my brain. Am I really better? Really healthier? Really more wholesome for the other people in my life? I think so; I hope so. Or have I just been lucky to avoid the stresses that she succumbed to?
And this, Mom, is your legacy. I don’t think this is what you would have chosen, had you realized you had a choice. I hope it is not. For your sake. For mine.