Blog Post 12
Where Was my Mother?
If you look at pictures of my mother holding me when I was a baby, she looks stiff and awkward, as if I’m some kind of dangerous animal that she was being forced to pose with. I suppose, to some extent, that may be true. She was trying to fulfill my father’s vision of what his family should look like.
I’d once made an offhand comment to a psychologist that my parents were unable to have children because they never had sex. He asked me to elaborate. I explained that I’d never seen my parents exhibit affection for each other. My father had said things to my mother, or grabbed her, but she always rebuffed him. She was very clear that she wanted him to leave her alone. They slept in separate bedrooms for as long as I can remember.
The psychologist pointed out to me that I was likely right, that my mother had seen what kind of a man my father was and she knew that he would be a terrible parent, and that he should not be allowed to reproduce. She worked within the framework that she had to make sure that he didn’t have any offspring, and it worked.
Adoption, on the other hand, was a different kind of machine, one that he could operate and bully her into participating in. She could underhandedly fail to reproduce, but she couldn’t overtly prevent the adoption.
I’m certain that my father deliberately chose my mother. He wanted someone who he could push around and wouldn’t stand up to him. My mother had been divorced, so in the midcentury, she was already damaged goods, so to speak. She had been married to a practicing alcoholic and divorced him after only a few years of marriage and, I assume, moved back in with her parents. When my father married her, he counted on her being unable or unwilling to get a second divorce.
My mother waited on my father hand and foot. If they were both sitting in the family room watching TV, and my father wanted a cup of coffee, my mother would get up and get it for him. She was more like his servant than his wife. As such, I didn’t have any respect for her, for never standing up for herself, for never having an opinion as to what mattered to her, and for letting him treat her like that. I actually felt sorry for her.
My mother grew up as an only child. Her older sister had died of pneumonia as a toddler before my mother was born. As far as I know, her parents loved her and doted on her. Unfortunately, they may have spoiled her to the point that she never learned to take care of herself. My mother did not even know how to balance a checkbook or pay bills.
I remember that she seemed angry much of the time, slamming the cupboard doors in the kitchen yet never telling anyone why. I asked her more than once if she was angry, or what she was angry about, and she always replied that she wasn’t angry. But it was apparent from the look on her face and her behavior that she was. I can only imagine how frustrated she was with her life.
My mother was wound like a tight spring. If I spilled my glass of milk at the table, which children do, she’d jump up to catch it and in doing so, spill everything else on the table. If I talked back to her she’d haul off and slap my face.
One time my brother and I were playing hide and seek outdoors after dark with some of our friends. In my attempt to get away from my brother, I turned around and accidentally ran right into him. My mouth connected with his head and my tooth fell out into the dirt in our front yard.
I had just seen a movie in school about how a dentist could replace a lost tooth, and if this happens, you should retrieve the tooth and go to the dentist as soon as possible. I ran screaming into the house, blood running down my face, in a panic. I needed someone to help me find my tooth in the dirt in the dark. I wanted it put back in my mouth.
My mother’s reaction? To my horror, she screamed at me. She screamed that they weren’t going to look for my tooth and that I was going to have to get a “flipper” with a tooth on it. I remember sitting on the couch with my grandfather, my mother’s father. He hugged me and tried to comfort me and we went outside to find my tooth, which we did. I went to the dentist that night and he put my tooth in. It stayed there for twelve years, which is much longer than usual.
I don’t remember my mother ever hugging me, being affectionate. She didn’t seem to enjoy me at all. She was always, just, distant.
Her notes in my baby book remark that I cried all the time, that I wouldn’t eat, that when I did eat, I would vomit. I could not be comforted. I’m not surprised as I had been taken away from my biological mother, then three weeks later taken away from my foster mother, and I was then given to this pair of strangers who would be my adoptive parents.
I used to tell my mother, right to her face, that I wasn’t going to grow up to be like her. That I’d have a job. That I’d be able to take care of myself. I was told that I had a horrible mouth, and I’d never amount to anything. I was told that I should go to college to find a husband to take care of me because I was unable to take care of myself. I was told that nobody would love me because I was too mouthy. I was constantly told I would fail. When I said I wanted to run a company, I was laughed at. I internalized these messages. That spirited child turned into someone who felt unable to accomplish certain things, and so, for years, I didn’t even try.
When my mother came down with Alzheimer’s disease, my father would badger her to remember who he was. His incessant questioning was cruel. That poor woman didn’t even remember where the kitchen was, and yet he’d send her there to fetch him ice cream. When she was done with the ice cream, she might put it away in the freezer, but more likely the refrigerator, or the cupboard, or not at all. Then my father would lecture her on where it was supposed to go.
One time I was at my parents’ house cleaning and making them food. My father asked my mother of me, “Do you know who this is?” She replied, “I don’t remember her name but that’s the nice lady who cleans and makes food.” I smiled at her and told her, “That’s right.” My father had wanted to cajole her into remembering me, or make her feel bad about not remembering me, but I knew she couldn’t help it.
One of the reasons that I believe that she had a happy childhood was that she went back to it in her Alzheimer’s disease and she was actually happy there. She was also so passive that she was fairly easy to take care of. I could tell her, “It’s time for your shower,” and she’d cooperate even though she didn’t like it. She would go to bed or get dressed or go to the car or whatever was asked of her. Her compliant, dependent personality became exaggerated in her disease.
Inevitably, one day I got a call from my father that my mother had fallen and broken her hip. She would be having surgery to repair it that morning. I went to the hospital to wait with my father while my mother had her hip repaired.
As we waited, my father told me the story of what happened. The night before, my mother had fallen in the kitchen. He had tried to help her up, even bringing a chair next to her to try to get up into. When she was unable to get up, he put a blanket over her and left her there until morning. He doesn’t get up until late, so she was probably there until afternoon. I don’t know exactly how long she was there, but he admitted that she was there all night while he went to bed. He called the ambulance the next day. He saw nothing wrong with this.
I was shocked and horrified at the level of cruelty it would take to leave her like that all night on the hard kitchen floor. All because calling the ambulance at night would be inconvenient to his TV watching or sleeping. A broken hip is excruciating and sleeping on the hard kitchen floor would be awful for my mother without a broken hip. I hate to think of how she suffered there. And yet, my father thought nothing of it.
All the years of her waiting on him and this is how he treats her. I was so stunned at his casual cruelty that I didn’t even know what to say. In a way, I wasn’t surprised. My father treats women horribly as if they aren’t human. I already knew that, but this was next level.
My mother never walked again. She lived another two years in a fairly nice nursing home that specialized in memory care. My father visited her there three to five times a week and was his usual asshole self. It made it difficult for me to visit her because he was so horrible to be around. The staff was kind and accommodating and my father took advantage of that. I have to admit, though, that my mother probably got better treatment at the nursing home because my father was such a consistent visitor.
My mother died on Christmas morning, 2014.
Since her death, I found I had less and less reason to spend any time with my father. The way that he’d treated me, the way that he’d treated my mother . . . I couldn’t stand to be around him.
I finally cut off contact just before Christmas of 2018.
In spite of the fact that my parents own burial plots, my mother’s ashes still sit on a table in the living room at my father’s house and I can’t visit her.
He controls her even in death.