I’m writing this to document what happened, before she rewrites it any more in my head. And also to ask for help that I’m soon going to need—really, really need. I’m writing this when I should be sleeping. Because I cannot sleep.
It’s gonna be a long post. I apologize.
I’ve posted on here before about my mum. That was when I was still at college, and we were separated by many, many miles, and all the shit was going down through poem-based emails and phone calls where she would yell a lot. But finals came to an end at the top of May, and I went home, and things got worse.
Much, much worse.
Mom and I had three fights in a row, starting on Mother’s Day and then in the nights following. One per night. Before the first fight, there was no mention of any of the things that had happened before—when I told her of things she does that are harmful, and her terrible response, and so on—and I decided to just let it rest until she brought it up.
She brought it up.
It’s honestly hard for me to remember what happened after as a continuous incident, especially as she rewrote what happened in her own words as it was going on and afterward, but it was terrible. It’s hard for me to tell where my perspective is flawed and what was true. But this is how I remember it: me, remembering.
We had been watching Doctor Who together, and it was nice, if weird because I always feel a little on-eggshells around my mom, but then SOMETHING happened. I don’t remember what. And all the incidents are out of order, but somehow:
- she was mad at me for watching another episode of Doctor Who by myself the day before, without her (i was feeling overwhelmed by unpacking, and I thought I’d be in trouble if I was caught doing anything besides unpacking, so I watched it by myself in secret to procrastinate/calm myself down from a depression cycle. I only let it slip by accident. Shitty behavior? Probably, yes. I meant no harm to her.)
- she was extremely upset about something that had happened earlier that day—after a long walk with the whole family, where I walked ahead with my brother while mom and dad walked behind (my mom specifically asked me to spend time with my brother, so that’s why I was ahead with him), I went and sat on the porch with him for a bit. My mom came out and sat too, but on the other end. A few minutes later I got up and left because I was too hot; I spent the rest of the day in the library, figuring that if she wanted me she would come find me. (she checked in on me once, asked what I was up to, then left as I reached out to her.) For me that was the whole thing, but to HER it read as me 1) not walking with her, 2) getting up and leaving because she came onto the porch, and then 3) choosing to stay away from her the rest of the day. I do genuinely bad for not making an effort to spend time with her Mother’s Day, but I genuinely thought she didn’t want me around. I saw no indication that she wanted to spend time with me. She didn’t tell me she wanted me around. She didn’t consider there could be any other reason for me leaving the porch.
- she asked me to talk about the previous things, the bad things in our relationship that I feel that she did. I tried to—because she asked, and dammit, I will only ever ask about something if I can take it—but she immediately started yelling, interrupting me, arguing with my honest-to-god experiences. I yelled back, then. Because I was trying to speak. About things that she asked about. That I wouldn’t have brought up if she hadn’t asked.
- She then hit me, on the arm. I was so shocked that I just kept saying “you hit me,” in a normal-volume voice, over and over, and she responded by yelling “it was a shove! it was a shove!” She would not accept what she just did. She immediately tried to rewrite it.
- She never apologized for it, whatever it was.
- She slams off to the kitchen, saying that she’s not my mother anymore. That she gives up on me. That I remember extremely, extremely clearly. My mother giving up her role.
After that, she stormed up to her room. She always does this, in arguments: fly up to her room, and slam the door, and stay there and wait until the other person comes to apologize to her. Every. Damn. Time. She knows everyone in the family hates it when she does this, she knows we all think it would be better if she could STAY there and talk about it, and she should know most of all—and if she doesn’t, she hasn’t been listening—that I hate few things more than being abandoned when the going gets rough.
I get myself together, downstairs in the dark. I hold the dog, who is scared out of her mind. I do not yell ever again. I try to pray, to figure out the best way to handle this. The most compassionate thing I can think of to do is go to her, even though she ran away, and try to talk this out like reasonable, measured adults. All I want—all I really want from this whole saga, from the confession to the email to the hit to the yelling—is a sense that she genuinely, deeply recognizes what hurt she caused, and faces the fact that she did it, with no extra bullshit or excuses. A sense that she is sorry, sorry for my sake, not sorry because this hurts her. A sign—ANY sign—that she cares enough to change.
So I go to her. She has gone into her walk-in closet and shut the door, with her back leaning against it so I can’t get in. I hear her crying. I ask if she’s ok— “no”—I ask if I can come in— “no.” I ask her if she’s doing anything to physically harm herself—no answer. I ask again.
“Mom, if you don’t tell me that you are not hurting yourself, I’m going to open this door.”
She finally manages to tell me that she is not hurting herself. (fabulous. i was afraid for her.) She still doesn’t want to let me in or talk, so I tell her I will sit outside the door to make sure she’s ok. Because, fuck, if I feel like shit, I want someone to stand by me no matter what.
I listen to her cry for a long, long time. I don’t know how long we sat there, on different sides of the door. She cried and cried. And I just felt.....really, really calm. I had felt calm as soon as I came up the stairs. Like I had gotten bigger, somehow, fuller.
I sat there and thought about all the things in my life that matter to me, that I genuinely love. Lately, I have felt like it’s become harder and harder to love new things—that I only love the things I’ve always loved. And I was scared by it, because loving things is the only way I know to happiness.
I named off the things in my head, like a mantra, just sitting there and loving them. My dog, who died this spring. My best friend, who saved my life in high school by being something good for me (and he still has no idea). My old stuffed animal. The person my mom used to be. Love, and love, and love.
My mom let the door crack open enough so I could slide in kleenex and our dog to her. (I figured the dog would comfort her; she loves that dog). Eventually, she cracks open the door enough for me to get in. I don’t know if she wants me there—I still don’t know if this was the right thing—but dammit, when things get bad I want people to show they will stand by me.
So I get myself into the closet and sit beside her, so she knows I’m there. That I won’t run away.
“What do you want.”
I tell her (again—for probably the tenth time since this argument began)—that I am really, really sorry about ruining mother’s day. She won’t stop talking about it. (particularly in passive aggressive terms— ‘it’s just the one day a year people show they care, it’s just a stupid holiday’). And then—I can’t remember again.
I get her out onto the bed, I remember that much. And it seems, again, like she wants to talk about this, that she can talk about this like a grown-up. And I stay calm. I try to work it out, without giving up my hurt. She wants me to forgive her—and I tell her I don’t know how. I do not know how. She cannot stand it—she yells, and gets angry, and runs again. I know she said things that cut at what I love—my hometown, my request for a swingset—but I don’t remember those clearly enough to recount. I always forget the details of things like that as soon as they happen, which never works out because if I tell her later about the broad strokes of the incident—i.e., that she said something hurtful—she won’t believe me unless I can recount exactly what she did. But I can’t, because I let go of it before it hurt too much.
Anyway. This is a word vomit, isn’t it?
When I go to find her, I have to look all over the house—three stories. Finally, I find her in the basement. Sitting on a couch in the dark.
She’s crying, again. And I try, I try so damn hard, to find any sense that she wants to salvage this. Because our relationship is in ruins, at this point. She’s said too many hurtful things. She refuses to take any real blame for what she did—there is ALWAYS a ‘my mother never did nice things for me, like take me out to coffee!’, always a claim that because she sends me cookies and makes me cards, that’s enough to make up for ten years of emotional pain, always a refusal to apologize again because ‘sorry is such a cheap word.’ I have told her so many times that it isn’t.
Because she apologized for it, she expects me to forgive her. “It’s not a magic feeling!” she keeps saying. She craves me to forgive her, to say the words. And I tell her I cannot—I honestly, honestly do not know how to. I want to, but I cannot. And she is furious.
I tell her, as we sit on that couch, that I think we need to go to therapy, or counseling, together, because this relationship is unsalvageable at this point and clearly we cannot work it out just between the two of us. While she entirely agrees that the relationship is in shreds, she refuses to do therapy. “Why won’t you go to therapy for your depression, but you will for us??”
She has never used my depression as a weak spot before. She also has never asked me to go to therapy for my depression at all—in fact has never, ever suggested it as a good idea, since our family has history with shitty therapists—so it’s a weird shot.
I tell her this is more important to me. Which is true: I would bear my depression forever, alone, if I could have my mom back. I want a mother so badly. I want my mom.
She absolutely, uncategorically refuses. “So what are we gonna do instead?”
“I don’t know.”
She sits there sniveling, and I have no idea what to do. I have tried to talk this out like an adult. I’ve let all the meanness slide, after that hit (shove). I haven’t yelled; I’ve been calm; I have tried to be as kind as I know how, not leaving her alone, making sure she isn’t hurting herself, sending in the dog and trying to talk.
But all she wants, I think, is for me to let her off the hook. And be Happy Daughter again, the one who Doesn’t Express Her Depression and Thinks Her Mom Is Swell In All Absolute Ways.
And then, in the midst of this utter shitshow, where she has from beginning to end shown no wisdom, no compassion, nothing besides a pitying cry for herself, she says this, through her tears.
It’s the saddest thing in the world. You went off by yourself because you wanted someone to come for you. And we all left you alone because we thought that’s what you wanted.
Which really summarizes everything, ever. When I was eleven I went through a huge needy phase, where I craved physical attention and comfort—and at first I expressed it by being super clingy, asking for hugs a lot. But after enough times being pushed away because she was super busy, or whatever (there was definitely a time when I asked to hold her hand, and she said she couldn’t because she was driving down a leisurely street in our hometown. but she had definitely held my hand, and has held my hand since, when driving down packed highways and in situations just like that. so that time she just didn’t want to touch me??? i don’t know. i’ve gotten sidetracked. that very weird moment stuck), I drew the fuck away.
At the time, I didn’t reason it through the way Mary Ainsworth did: that when a child’s needs aren’t met consistently, the child will act inconsolable, passive, hostile, or uncaring in order to rouse the mother into action. But I did, absolutely, do this, both intentionally and accidentally. I did hope that going off into my room would spur my family to come to me. I did hope that acting weird, and miserable, in ways I never was before, would make my family realize I was in a bad place. Trying to tell my mom upfront about the harmful things she was doing only led to arguments and fights; trying to reach out for comfort only got me pushed away. For years, and years, I wanted my family to notice that something was wrong, with me and with us. But they wouldn’t take it if I told them. And no hint of mine I did sunk in.
I remember wishing I could fall into delirium, like they do in Victorian books, and proclaim in a waking coma all my sorrow, so my mom would (as they do in Victorian books) be overwhelmed with remorse and rethink her bitter ways. I remember faking that I was having good dreams, so my mom might see how I was instantly saddened when I woke up to reality. Were these ideas insane? YES. Yes, absolutely, looking back on them now, it’s obvious how unclear they were as signals of distress. But I didn’t know how else to make her see I wanted comfort. I didn’t know what I was doing. I was eleven, overwhelmed by the opening stages of depression, and I felt consistently abandoned and uncared for.
It’s the saddest thing in the world. You went off by yourself because you wanted someone to come for you. And we all left you alone because we thought that’s what you wanted.
When my mom was young, when she went off to her room and slammed the door, it was because she wanted to be alone. And that’s what she believed for me. For ten years. I don’t believe—I just don’t fully believe—that if she had been paying attention, there would not have been some sign indicating I wasn’t okay. I tried to tell her things were bad, worse than hormones (she always told me it was just hormones). I tried to tell her I thought I might have depression. She herself told me that when I turned eleven, it seemed like their Smiley, Happy Little Girl went dark.
No one came to fetch me out of darkness, though. Even though they noticed I was there.
You can put yourself on either side of this debate. I can see things their way, a little, though I don’t know if I will ever FULLY believe you could be that unaware of how much pain and sorrow your kid lived every day. I’m pretty sure I cried in my room every single day for a while there. I don’t believe they never heard it; I don’t believe there was never a time when they heard me crying and chose not to come. There were too many years of pain for them to never have thought of changing their approach, of realizing “...hm. It’s been many years of this. I wonder if we should actively not leave lumiere’s wig alone.”
Until my mom said that in the dark, I’d never thought she had seen things my way. Clearly, she had. And yet—
She refuses to go to therapy with me, to talk this out in front of a professional who can call both of us out on bullshit and think up new ways for us to work. In that fight, and in every fight following, she had the chance to make forgiving her possible. In all three of those fights, she stormed up to her room to cry. In every one, I stayed calm, I didn’t get derailed by petty jabs, I made every possible effort to build a fucking bridge.
She didn’t. She never did. She said that thing—and then everything else, around it, was anger and ego and her own baggage and no expression, ever, that she felt empathy for my pain.
On the third night, I told her I forgave her for the ten years. And in that moment, I did. Because she was pathetic.
And then, only then, did she try to build a bridge. But it was a terrible bridge.
“You do? You really do?”
“You told me it wasn’t a magic feeling.”
“No, it’s going to take time, it might be hard at first—”
And then: more excuses. How her mother treated her. How we both handled this badly (EXCUSE ME????? WHO FUCKING—WHO CAME, WHO STAYED, WHO STAYED REASO—WHO—??!—!!!).
But still. Not what I need. Not what I need. Show me you can change. Show me YOU can be the adult—the one who is wise enough and big enough to stand still and stay there when the going gets rough. Show me that you care enough to stay by me.
I never get what I need. She gets what she needs—the words that she is forgiven. The implication, I suppose, that she is off the hook. That she never has to face the blame herself, to really accept that what she did was bullshit. She doesn’t have to look her darkness in the face.
I go into the dark.
I am many miles away from her, again. I had a short-term job lined up 7 states away; I left the day after forgiving her, at 3 in the morning, and she said goodbye at the airport and hugged me and kissed me. I have been at this job for a month, and I love it; the sun, the big southern sky, the kind people around me, the freedom of going where I like and doing what I need.
And yet...on the 17th, I go back to her. And I will be with her, and my dad (who is great!), and my brother (who is, if this word is allowed here, a cunt. he asked me to tell him what was wrong, and I confided in him, and he told me I was “selfish” for holding 11 year old me to different standards than my 50 year old mom. also that he hoped i would see the error of my ways. thanks for the victim blaming, never going to talk to you about anything beyond the weather ever, ever again). I will be with them—in the house with them, or on vacation with them—until mid August, when I go back for my last semester of college.
I will be with my mom—who I consider, at best, extremely emotionally manipulative, and at reality a (possibly narcissistic) emotional abuser—from mid-June to mid-August. And I don’t now how to bear it. I don’t know how.
Because I forgave her for those ten years. Fine. I yielded up all my pain and all my hurt and let her go free with it. But I cannot, I will not, forgive her those three days. She had three chances to prove to me she cares. She wasted every single one. She preferred to storm off to her room than face me like a woman and accept what she did. She was endlessly flawed. She had three chances—three final chances—to make right ten years of damage, show me that she understood and would do something about it. And she decided keeping herself in the same light as always was more important than saving me.
So at night I curl up in my room and I cannot sleep. The 17th is drawing closer. I will be alone, at our home in a town where I know no one. Our neighborhood is locked in the mountains; you can’t get anywhere on foot or bike. I will not be able to go anywhere beyond the park unaided by my parents. And I will be with my mom, who I have tried everything with. Honesty, and maturity, and teenage anger, and yelling, and crying, and confession, and kindness. The only thing I have not done is cut her off.
I do not know what to do for those two months. How do I live with her? I have already determined she gets no more of my emotions: she cannot take my depression, and she does not deserve my happiness. The advice left by most of you from the last time I wrote about her—though, lord, that was not to this extent—was to try to drift away from her. And I have done that, fairly successfully, here, where I do not have to see her or respond to her texts. But how, when I have to live with her?? I cannot drift away from the person who wakes me up in the morning, wants to act like everything is fine, forever.
Compassion, still? Compassion that yields nothing but exhaustion?
Play-act that everything is fine? Fake my way through those two months, and then head straight to therapy? (I have determined to go to therapy as soon as I get back to school. My university provides it, thankfully, and my mom will not need to know, and maybe then I can work on my own healing. Because at this point, me healing matters more than her fixing.)
Complete neutrality? That she will notice and demand an accounting for? What will I do if she brings up the pain again? Fighting isn’t worth it, anymore. It never brings change. I want to not care. I am starting to not care.
Genial, blase politeness? And then act out all my emotions online and in my art, and keep everything as cool as a stranger with her? Give her up, the way she gave me up, and lose sight of any hope that she can change?
I want to believe anyone could do better: be wiser, be kinder, if just given enough love and enough chances. But I gave my mom ten years: my childood, my teenage years, most of college. I gave her, that night when she sat behind her door and I reeled off everything I loved, every bit of mercy and justice and care I could. I have told her my honesty whenever I could. She had my love.
And she chooses—because at this point, it is a choice—not to be different. I have no doubt that the next time depression sits on my chest and makes me tired, she will get angry and leave me alone. I have no doubt that I will never be able to get her to confront a flaw. I have no doubt that if I let myself be the same as always in that house, I will cry myself to sleep at night, and hallucinate, as I have before, that my god has come to tuck me in because my mother will not come.
She said it was all on me to make the change, when she wanted me to forgive her. Like me forgiving her would help me. But it has always been me: always me picking myself up after I am hurt, always me fighting her alone, always me curled up in bed, pretending myself into the role of both mother and daughter because the real one will not stay.
It is me still. I will have depression, when I go home, and I will fight it alone. And I will be by my mother—who told me she was not my mother anymore, that she gave up on me. My mother who will not, for reasons of her own, ever go with me when the going gets rough. The one who seems to understand, sometimes—you wanted someone to come for you—and then does nothing.
I don’t know what I am to do. I do not know how I am to act at home, when everything has failed. I do not know how to feel toward my mother.
And still I cannot sleep.
EDIT: thanks everyone for the comments! I want to add that yes,
I am going to go to therapy in August, as soon I’m back at school. It’s the thing I’m counting on, at this point. But there is no way for me to get it before then. It is obvious I need it now, but I cannot do it before then. So while I appreciate the support in seeking it...advice for ways I can control the damage until I can is really appreciated.