Thursday, August 10, 2006

Conflicted

Clearly, this time in my life isn’t meant to be easy. Hubby’s illness, dog’s death, loss of job, seems like that should be enough. However, just when you think life has shot her last load at you, it appears she has another live round in the chamber. My mother called in the middle of the night, 3 a.m. to be exact. We didn’t answer the phone but she left a message on our answering machine to call her.

For me my mother is highly problematic. Just when I think I’ve mastered myself enough to handle her, she inevitably proves me wrong. I’m an only child of an only child. In fact, she and I are the last of two family trees. Her line ends with me and so does my father’s. Sometimes that makes me very sad.

Mother drinks. I don’t honestly know if, at 81, she is still a falling down, mean drunk. But during my childhood and teenage years the drinking escalated, causing a rift between us that we can no longer mend. She loves me, as best as she can love, but she has no idea how to love really. What she considers love, I see as control.

The bad thing – and the good thing, too – is that she is very wealthy. She inherited an incredible fortune from her family which supports her very nicely now that she is old. She has no one to take care of her other than the hired help, but she can afford to live in an expensive resort community in Colorado with folks coming in daily to see to her needs and chauffeur her around to her various appointments.

Mother has never held a job in her life except for three months right out of high school when she clerked in an upscale store downtown. She was fired because she didn’t show up regularly. At 19 she got pregnant so a month after her 20th birthday she married my dad, a very unworldly 42 year old who still lived with his mother. You can already see this wasn’t a match made in heaven. They remained together in a highly volatile marriage until my dad finally managed to die at age 73 from a disease that shouldn’t have killed him. It was clear to everyone but my mother that he just wanted some peace and this was the only way to get it. Meanwhile, he didn’t die nicely which caused her no ends of trouble. Payback can be a bitch.

When I took up with Hubby (we lived together five years before we married) she was irate. We used to live in the same city but Hubby was such a horror to her that she had to move 600 miles and two states away to escape him. She has never been back to visit me in the 34 years she since she moved. To this day Mother still refers to Hubby as “That Man” – refusing to dignify him by calling him by his name.

Of course, I have been disinherited a number of times. At first, there would be drunken calls asking me if I loved my family and if I did how I could have taken up with “That Man.” The carrot, of course, would be hung in front of my nose: give up “That Man” and you can be back in the will.

The thing Mother never understood was that I didn’t want to be back in the will. All my life I had been told by my mother that my sole purpose in life was to take care of the family. It sounds like one of those gothic novels, but Mother made it plain that I wasn’t pretty enough or smart enough to attract a husband. My career choice was a given. Women couldn’t really enter the workplace in any career other than school teacher, nurse, or secretary. I was to be a school teacher.

It speaks to what a good manipulator my mother was that I never questioned that choice until I was a senior in college and faced with actually having to teach. However, my parents had paid for my education, never asking me to work, so I clearly understood that my duty was to take a teaching job and begin paying my family back for my education. I got the teaching position, lived at home, paid rent, and followed the rules my mother set down. My clothes were monitored. My friends had to be approved before they could enter the house. I didn’t have a private telephone so my mother answered all my calls before I got them.

As Mother drank more and more, I grew restless and less submissive. Mother and Dad had a vacation home where they spent six months of the year and during that time I began to live a life my mother wouldn’t have approved of. When my parents came home it was harder and harder to fit back into the old ways.

Then I met Hubby and I knew I had to leave home. My parents moved to their vacation home and within two months I moved out of their house into my own apartment. Hubby had his own home; I’m not saying he didn’t spend most his time with me (and every night) but officially we did not move in together.

Mother threw a fit. She came back home and tried to have the police arrest me for stealing. Two policemen actually came to the school where I was teaching to question me. I had to hire a lawyer who eventually settled with her attorney that we would not contact each other.

Meanwhile the drunken, abusive midnight phone calls continued. We went on like this more or less for 25 years. When my father got sick, I spent the summer before he died with my parents at his request. Hubby came and spent a week with us. Dad and I were fine; Mother and I barely tolerated each other. Dad liked Hubby and told me, in front of Mother, that if Hubby made me happy, then Hubby was okay. Dad took Hubby to church to show him off; Mother threatened to boycott the church for eternity.

After Dad died, Mother asked me never to visit her again. However, she continued to call on a regular basis, claiming I didn’t love her and didn’t care about my family.

In 1993 I drove by myself to spend a week with her. In my heart I knew this was my last effort to make some kind of peace. She told me my life was a dirty mess. To prove her point she didn’t touch me the whole time I was there; even when I was leaving, she didn’t offer a hug or a kiss. If I reached out to her she would flinch.

So, I isolated myself from her. I really worked to cut off the feelings Mother could generate. The master of manipulation, she could make me absolutely furious within five minutes of talking with her. I needed to figure out how to turn that all off. I succeeded pretty darned well. I would write to her, rather than phone her. That angered her, of course. I was a bad daughter because I didn’t come on her birthday, and I didn’t even call her. If she was drunk I would refuse to talk with her on the phone. When she became abusive during her calls to me, I hung up.

Two of her friends on her 75th birthday gave her a trip to see me. They made reservations at the Ritz Carlton, bought her first class plane tickets, and arranged limo service for a weekend. She wouldn’t come. They called me and begged me to come see her. I told them without Hubby I wasn’t coming. Hubby, of course, was not invited. I promised them, though, that on Mother’s 80th birthday I would come celebrate.

For her 80th birthday, I arranged to throw Mother a party. I put together a memory book, rented a car so Hubby, dogs and I could drive to her home, took time off from work, and sent invitations. Mother went hysterical. First she had her friends call to tell me not to come. Finally she had the lawyer call and say she wouldn’t see me. At that point, I caved. This was costing a fortune and if no one, especially Mother, was going to enjoy it, so what the heck was I doing?

I now send flowers for birthday and special occasions. I have cakes delivered to her door. I send weather reports and church bulletins as letters. I do not share any portion of my actual life with her.

We understand that she is failing fairly rapidly. Fifty years of alcohol abuse and sixty years of cigarettes are bound to eventually take their toll. She is still in her home but has attendants with her during the day. She has written in brief notes tucked into the odd card here and there that she is happy but her memory is slipping. My birthday card this year came three weeks late; either because she planned it that way or she actually forgot (I still don’t trust that she isn’t manipulating me in some way).

After she called us at 3 a.m. last week, Hubby kindly suggested I return her call. My response wasn’t sympathetic: if you want to find out why she called, call her yourself. So he did. They had a pleasant chat. Seems she told him she was having a change of heart about our relationship. Gee, after 33 years, you think? She actually called him by his name, instead of “That Man.” She thought she might like to see us both before she died. She wondered, since she was going to have to give up her home and move into assisted living, if we would like anything out of her home.

Damn. My life feels complicated enough without my mother entering the picture. I honestly don’t want to deal with her. I know that she’s my mother, and I am supposed to love her no matter what. I just don’t like her all that much. I’m barely keeping it all together without this added burden. I don’t want to be the bigger, better person right now and offer her a loving hand. I want to just walk away and act like she never called . . . or never existed.

3 comments:

M said...

Wow.
I can sooooo relate! After all of these years of rejection and manipulation, it is hard to trust her again. Plus, even if she has had a change of heart, "too little, too late!"

However, you are in charge of this relationship. You really are. Her days are numbered. She is going to meet her maker, sooner or later, and you, presumably, have some years left to live.

What do you need to do for *your peace of mind?*

Bev Sykes said...

What a story. I can relate somewhat, but not nearly to this extent. My father died alone, having pushed everyone away. I tried most of my life to make friends with him, and the only time he knew I existed were when I had something terrible to tell me about myself.

My sister became the golden child only because she died. Until her death, they fought constantly and the last time he saw her it was with angry words. After her death he sat me down and played a record called "Daddy's little girl" for me while he cried about what a wonderful daughter she had been. I wanted to shout "What am I? Chopped liver?"

When he was hospitalized for an alcohol-related illness, he told me not to come and see him and then cried to his neighbors that he only wanted me but that I refused to come. They didn't speak to me, the terrible daughter, at his funeral (which was sparsely attended...mostly people who came for my mother--they were long divorced by then, but remained cordial, not to honor my father).

He left a small bank account, which I wanted no part of, but there were no other relatives. I took the money, gave half to the kids and used the other half to take all seven of us on a wonderful vacation to England and Ireland for 3 weeks. It is the only thing about my father that I remember with any happiness.

I agree with "M." You need to do whatever it is that will give you peace of mind after her death. Whether that is to go to her or to stay away from her is your decision and yours alone, and whatever you choose, nobody can fault you for it. You have done more than most would have under impossible conditions.

Hugs.

Margie Blystone said...

Dear Milly,

I've read your post and the others comments and frankly I just shake my head and wonder to myself... How many of us are out there? How many of us have had our hearts ripped out of our chests by our parents?... The people who are supposed to love and protect us above everyone else? It breaks my heart that there are so many damaged and broken souls out there... Is that why we blog? Because we're looking for a kind soul out there who will pick up one of the broken pieces and see the value in it? That they'll hand the piece back to us and tell us how really beautiful it is?

I too come from a very destructive upbringing... My mothers disease is 'Paranoid Pschyzophrenia'... The horrors I've faced throughout my life with her are too numerous to mention... And it wasn't until I had children of my own did I realize just how awful she and my childhood were... I'm determined to break the cycle of destructive parenting.

I went for 10 yrs. without speaking to my mother after she made a grave mistake in trying to manipulate a situation with my son... She may have damaged me but I'd be damned if I'd let her harm my children... Now that my son is 16 and my daughter 13 I figured they could handle her and I thought I had slain all the ghosts from my past and let her back into my life last October... She visited for 4 days... 4 of the longest days of my family's entire life. My daughter said, "I don't like the way she talks to you Mom."... My best friend said, "Promise me that you will never allow that woman to step foot in your life again!" That was after she told her that she'd wished I'd never been born.

The guilt is awful... Because she's mentally disabled after all... But I just can't put my life and the lives of my family through that kind of turmoil ever again.