Love and Survival
Is it possible that I felt love as a child at the same time I was trying to survive? How can that be? What I can tell you is that I felt what I thought was love for my mother. I can tell you that I wanted her attention and I wanted her to smile at me with love in her eyes and hug me. I think I loved her. If wanting to hold someone’s hand and be near them is love, then I did love her. My childhood was filled with conflicting messages. For example when I was about 6 years old, my mom used to take me to the beach and give me her full attention, which was special given she had 5 other children. She would always bring saltine crackers in her purse and hand them to me with a generous smile. She knew I loved saltine crackers. I would devour them and I remember being happy. She didn’t even care if the saltine crumbs got on my shirt. She seemed to get pleasure from my happiness. But, later that same day I would be disciplined harshly for not ‘behaving’ at the dinner table. It was confusing for me. It was a weird mix of emotions to feel contentment and happiness with someone and then only a few hours later to be scared of this same person. It seemed to me that my actions and behaviors caused her to be angry sometimes, so I tried to behave in certain ways and take certain actions that I thought would gain her approval and make her happy and calm. And one of those ways was cooking desserts for her. She loved sweet breads, like banana bread, lemon bread and pound cakes. So, I made these for her. She liked them, and praised me for being a good baker. But soon it became something I ‘had’ to do. She decided she should always have a bread in a tin above the fridge to eat when she wanted. So, it became my job to make sure she had her bread. And I did just that for a long time. Except for one time when I was making a pound cake but I put a whole cup of salt in it rather than sugar. My mom was furious with me, and said that I did it on purpose. But the truth is, I didn’t. I don’t even remember cooking. I was on auto pilot just getting through the chore and trying to keep the peace. My thinking brain was no where in sight as I tried to please my mother and stop any further discipline. So much of my childhood I don’t remember. A part of me shut down, but there was still a part of me taking it all in. And everything I took in, stayed in, to be processed or worked through later. It was easy from the outside to see that my mom was a narcissist that abused me, and logically I knew that. But she was also the same person that cried tears of pride when I got accepted to college, that drove me to ballet lessons and sat and watched me, that hugged me and comforted me through my first break up. She was both of those people, and I now carry both of these experiences with me. She was a strong woman, and I admired her strength and determination to have the courage to bring 6 lives into this world. She took care of us. She cooked dinner every single night, she did our laundry, she cleaned the house, she wanted to talk to us and listen to our stories, she introduced me to poetry. But she was also the same person that would slap me when she would picked me up from school for no reason, and say “that is for anything bad you did today!’. How could I reconcile this? It got worse when I started standing up for myself and questioning her abusive actions. She turned my whole family against me and said that I was crazy and isolated me. It was hard. The fact that I had to carry her burden used to make me so angry. It wasn’t fair! I always felt conflicted and prayed for my brain to stop thinking toxic thoughts, and stop being twisted by the mixture of love and fear I felt every day. I wanted to be numb and sometimes my anger would numb me. Later in life, anger took the form of short lived dysfunctional relationships, drinking to excess and self hatred and sabotage. But my anger also took the form of ambition to make money so I could support myself and get away, it took the form of trying to look my best so I could show my mother that I didn’t need her, it took the form of raising my daughter exactly opposite of how I was raised. Just like the duality of my mom’s personality, there was a duality in me. I was a self-sabotaging, promiscuous, angry person who was very responsible, self-sufficient, ambitious, resourceful and was looking for connection, understanding and love. I survived the confusion, the unnecessary abuse, and the isolation of my childhood. It is a time in history that is now over, and exists only in my mind. I managed to get away and start a life of my own and I didn’t talk to my mother for years. But after my dad passed away I tried to have a sort of superficial relationship with her. She would come to my house for Thanksgivings and for 3 days and I would play along and not talk too deeply about the past. I would cook for her and listen to her, and it worked for a few years. But then she called me one day and accused me of tearing up old family photographs she had given to me, and other things that weren’t true. I felt my mind fog over in confusion as I had no idea what she was talking about. I felt like a kid again, only I wasn’t anymore and I could defend myself. So, I made the decision to end the thread of a relationship I had with her. I called her and I told her that I could no longer talk to her, and I just wanted her to hear it from me. I told her how she mistreated me and my sisters, and I asked her to be kinder. I told her that she had never been that nice to me, and she didn’t disagree. I told her that she would most likely be happier not talking to me, as I would continue to always challenge her. I told her that the reason for my call was that I was calling to tell her goodbye. She may have had control over my childhood, but I was taking control of my life now, and I knew she couldn’t be a part of it anymore. I said everything I wanted to say to her in that conversation. I will never know if she felt remorse, or sadness, or even if she missed me after we stop communication. She died the same as she lived, leaving me wondering if what I felt for her is what love is supposed to feel like.