Mothers and Honesty
I had to google my mom’s obit to see what year she died. 2011. I was fine until I wrote those sentences and now here I am at Peet’s crying. Shoot. That was a surprise.
I wanted to say that I am done grieving, but I guess I’m not, or maybe that will be a forever sadness: my mom died without me ever really knowing her, without me ever making her happy enough to stay alive.
I moved from California back to Boston a month ago after having left thirty-five years ago and have been euphoric ever since. Stunned. I got to go home. The new experience is that I get to be there without bearing the burden of being the daughter to a mother.
A strange side effect of writing about how being relinquished and adopted affected my brain is that I am newly empowered in seemingly small but, to me, amazing ways. If I am walking and my shoe is uncomfortable, I stop and fix it. If I go into a store and have someone show me a new phone or try to sell me something, I don’t feel I have to buy anything. I can walk out empty- handed. I can be a disappointment to a person and yet still feel strong because I listened to my own needs and desires more than feeling I needed to make a salesperson happy.
I let myself be the person other people react to instead of always trying to proactively figuring out what everyone else needs from me so I am clean, problem-free. (See! I’m safe to have around! I don’t need anything! I can take care of myself! Will you keep me forever? Welcome to the brain of a person who translated early mother-loss as a lifetime of you better be good to keep that from happening again.)
Combine this new ability to walk around the world with needs hanging out like a happy dog’s tongue mixed with no mother there to please or displease and you have a recipe for wild joy. Who KNOWS what I am capable of if I’m not trying to manage the world so it will keep me.
I loved my mom. I used to fantasize she would leave my dad and brothers and take me to live in some quiet beautiful house where we could finally be ourselves. Where we could finally relax. Where there would be enough time for me to really see her, and where she could really finally see me.
Loving my mom was like loving a trigger point. Press too hard and it’s going to hurt: the pain is going to radiate out to all sorts of unexpected places.
I look for trigger points when I do massage. Often the only way I know I’m on one is because my client grimaces, but you can feel those often miniscule areas of muscular tension. You just have to pay attention. One way I trained to search for trigger points was to palpate the skin of an unpeeled orange. I learned to feel for changes in texture, for fingertip spots that might be softer than the rest of the skin, areas that might indicate the flesh inside might also be softer, over-ripe, rotten.
I wish my mother had been honest with me. After my mom died, her friend sent me her journals, and I saw the double life she’d been living when I was a teenager. I was enraged. I’d known something was going on, and yet any time I had questioned her at the time, she’d denied it. I grew to mistrust my sense of the world and the value of myself as a person. In my mind, honesty equaled love and safey. If she’d been honest with me, things would have had to change. It’s harder to tell your daughter you want your life to be radically different and then not step up and make some changes. My mom kept her deepest needs private like a wound in her heart, and it made her less loving, less real.
My mom is the reason I teach Write or Die. Living with her has trained me to spot the wounds people carry, the secrets that keep them from joy, and I am relentless in getting people to live their truth, their joy.
She had to die and for eight years I had to mourn the fact that I couldn’t make her happy and that she couldn’t make me happy until I could, finally, break free from all of that and feel deeply, sustainably—oh, how the simple things become so complex when not faced straight on—happy.
And then I got to go home and start all over again.
Happy graduation, Keats. I love you so much. There have been times when I have not been honest with you because I was trying to be a good mom or because I took the easy way out. I am done with all of that.
May you live a life of great joy while your mother is still alive.
Go apeshit on this life just because you can.