Thorny Knits

I've got a husband, twin toddlers, a cat who I probably forgot to feed this morning, and never, ever enough time to knit.


The difference between present and past tense

I was catching up on some blog reading this morning, and happened to read Juno's recent post about finding out a friend she had lost contact with had died recently. I read the comments, and began to post a comment of my own.

When I went to begin the third paragraph, I realized maybe I ought to just post to my OWN blog, if I've got this much to say on the subject.

Dealing with my mom's death has been difficult, of course. I can't imagine the death of a parent is ever easy, no matter how difficult the relationship may have been.

A friend of mine, who I'm not as close to as I once was, lost her father a few years ago. At the time, the only emotion I could imagine her feeling was relief, because her father was... well, he was at best a very crazy man, and at worst a very evil man. Either way, any time she had to engage with him at all, she wound up hurt by it.

I look back now, at how I behaved after her father died, and I pretty much feel like an asshole.

I mean, I wasn't cheering and doing endzone dances or anything, don't get me wrong. But I had a really hard time keeping my own relief - that this person who never did anything but hurt my dear friend was gone - under wraps. And I also tended to assume that she saw him the same way I saw him, forgetting that even a broken clock shows the correct time twice a day. And in an entire childhood, almost two decades of sharing a roof and a dinner table and a life, there had to be some good times, even amongst the very very bad times.

A little over a week after my mom died, I posted to my LiveJournal, talking about how I'd been in the car with Caz and the kids and a song had come on the radio that had just... it had completely smacked me with this memory I hadn't even realized I had, of driving around in our old Chevy Nova on a hot summer's day, me and my mom singing along with John Denver.

It would be so easy, so simple and cut-and-dried and comforting, in the way that the pretty lies always are, to decide that happy memory captured the essence of my mom. That all of the problems between us were my fault, my doing, and my mom was pure of heart and intention all the time, and all the slights and slings and arrows were figments of my juvenile emo imagination.

God, that would be nice. Simple. So easy to just say, "See, the problem, Thorny, was you were just bad. And if you had been less bad, maybe you would have seen how woooooonderful your mom was, and so you only have yourself to blame that you two weren't closer. That, in fact, when she died you two were technically not speaking to each other."

If one were to point out that it's kinda effed up that self-hatred seems like an easier route than wrestling with the big complicated truth, I wouldn't disagree, though I would point out that when self-hatred was a part of one's life for a very, very, very long time, it's relatively easy to go back to. Kind of like how getting dropped in some byzantine foreign country would be terribly frightening for most, but if you grew up there and already knew the language and the customs, well then it's not so bad, even though you're still talking about pre-Glasnost Russia or whatever.

But regardless. I got out of the self-hatred game and learned a lot and spent a lot of time on therapists' couches to learn how to wrestle the big complicated truth, so I guess that's what I'll have to do.

It's not easy to face. It's harder, in fact, to face it now than I think it ever was. Because at least before, when I sat on some therapist's couch talking about how my mom hurt me in this way or that way, I still could cling to this John Hughes-ish fantasy that maybe someday, in some '80s-soundtracked future, my mom and I could sit across from each other and talk, and I could say, "You know, that really hurt me and I was pretty effed up for a long time because of that," and she would say, "I'm so sorry. I never meant to hurt you. I've always just loved you so much." and I would reply, "I know. And it's okay. I know you were doing the best you could. I know things weren't easy for you back then either." And she would give the brave half-smile of the walking wounded, and she would say, "No, things weren't easy for me back then. But I still wish I'd known then what I know now, so I could have just done things better from the start." And I would say, "It's okay. At least we have now." And then we would hug or clink glasses or continue walking down the beach or bake some more cookies, whichever advertising-inspired soft-focus backdrop I'd assembled for my fantasy that time.

And so now, what hurts is not just the loss of my mom, but the loss of that chance. The knowledge that there will be no weepy reconciliation to soaring violins and plinky piano.

There's this whole body of literature out there about star-crossed lovers. What about star-crossed mothers and daughters? There doesn't seem to be a lot of literature about that. No guidebooks on how I'm supposed to deal with all this.

It would be so easy to pretend that it was all my fault. That if I'd only been more forgiving, less proud, blah blah blah, then everything would have been fine.

Except the whole thing about that being a lie gets in the way.

The things I had trouble forgiving really were bad. Were things anyone would have trouble forgiving. It wasn't that I was too proud. It was that after being hurt so many times, I had to put up barriers to protect myself and my family. I didn't make those decisions lightly, either. I agonized over them, and reversed myself many times. Really, for good or ill, I did the best I could.

But it still sucks. It sucks that that was the reality of the situation. And it sucks that she's gone. It sucks that the situation can have no other reality.

I'm finding, thus far, that life after Mom's death is in one way very similar to life when Mom was alive. Some days I think of her fondly and can only remember the good times, and I find myself thinking, "What the hell was wrong with you, that you couldn't make things work?" And other days I remember the bad times, I look at myself and see the scars I've carried for so long, and I think, "Why did it have to be that way? Why couldn't it have been different? What was going on for her, that she felt she had no other choice but to treat me the way she did?"

On the surface, it seems like the big difference is a matter of verb tense. And it is. But there's a reason Mrs. Griffith made such a huge deal about verb tenses and grammar in eighth grade. Because they aren't just words. It's the difference between present and past. The difference between something which is currently true, but may change at any moment, and something which is over and done, and can never be changed.

It used to be that what we had was simply what we had right then, which was transitory. With some work and the right set of circumstances, it could all change.

Now though, what we had is all we had. There will never be anything more, nothing new or different. The ledger on our relationship is closed.

My sister made the comment, in the days after my mom's death, when we were talking about it a lot while planning the funeral and making the arrangements, that while she feels bad that like me, she was "on the outs" with Mom when she died, at least they weren't fighting. Her last interaction with Mom was terse, but at least it was civil, just like mine was.

In a relationship defined by shouting and door-slamming and arm-waving, I suppose it's a blessing that my last words to Mom were, "Hope you have a happy birthday," and her last words to me were, "Thank you."

It isn't much. But considering the ways so many of our conversations ended, it's not bad.


  • At Wed Jun 27, 10:23:00 AM CDT, Blogger Lanea said…

    Parents' memories sure are heavy things to carry, aren't they? I don't have any answers. And I dread my father's death, because I have given up hope that he will ever try to do right by us. Anyway, as Utah Phillips says, "the past didn't go anywhere." We're subject to what happened 20 years ago, just as we're subject to what happens today. It all needs processing.

  • At Tue Jul 03, 01:18:00 PM CDT, Blogger Michelle said…

    Love ya, hon. *hug*

  • At Sat Jul 28, 09:38:00 PM CDT, Blogger graymama said…

    Blogger just fucking deleted my comment!!! ARGH!!!

    Okay, I will take a breath and start again...

    Bloglines updated your feed with old posts like this one. I found myself rereading a bunch. I think this one shows that it might be time for you to read the book I left on your kitchen shelf. "My Mother/Myself: The Daughter's Search for Identity" written by Nancy Friday



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