I used to write about the men that bruised my heart. How silly of me to think that they were the worst it could get. That they, fragile and egotistical, were the ones to empty me. It was you all along.
This is the story I never wanted to write.
This is the story I never thought I could write.
This is the story it hurt too much to write.
This is you and me, mom.
I don’t know how it started. I don’t know if just one day, at 38, you decided that a baby would fix all your problems. I don’t even know what your problems were. I know that your love was whole, all consuming, everything at once.
I know that I was specially designed. A photo from a glossy magazine of a man you had never met became the biological DNA of the child you would hold in your belly for 9 months.
I know that I never asked you about this because I could tell it wasn’t something you wanted to talk about. I’ve always been intuitive and you were my first study. You, kind and selfish. You, fiercely protective of everything about me. But you, sad and empty. You, nothing without me. I knew it would hurt you to ask so I didn’t, because hurting you was what I always feared.
I grew older and learned about the way the world worked. About how everyone was going to ask about my father and look at me with awe and pity when I gave the answer “I don’t know, I’ve never asked.” I grew used to the response and starting adding “I’ve never cared to know, I have everything I need.”
I started to see the cracks as they became blinding, the way they let the light in. I started to repeat the mantra you seethed into my bones: “You are so selfish, you don’t care about anyone but yourself.” I started to writhe in pain every time I knew you were about to spew those words at me. Every time I wanted to see my friends more than I wanted to stay in with you. Every time I asked to go out two nights in a row. Every time, you cried and threw it in my face. That you didn’t have friends, that I was everything.
But mom, I never asked to be your everything. I wanted to be a big, huge chunk. The biggest, even. But never everything. I wanted you to see me when you looked at me, instead of just a reflection of yourself. A tangible representation of what you created. A living, breathing, flawed human woman. But I’ve never seen you look at me that way – I’ve never felt your gaze upon me and knew I was actually being seen.
I wish you could see me, mom. I wish you could see the way I wrap my husband up in all of my love, the way I keep him safe and warm. The way I listen to him and see him as he is, not how I want him to be. I wish you could see the way I lie awake at night and worry about being a mother, because I know how too much love can be a bad thing. I wish you could see me and know me. Just one fact about me. Maybe my favorite color or how I take my coffee. Maybe what I do for work or all the places I’ve traveled. Maybe how my friends call me at 2 a.m. because they know I will always, always pick up. Maybe how no one has ever felt judged by me, but they always feel heard and seen. Maybe about how I, like you, lack any sort of hand eye coordination and don’t know how I got a license. But mostly I wish you could just see me – I wish you could see the goodness I try to put out into the world daily. I wish you could see how hard I work to never be called selfish.
I wish you could hear me reminisce about you as you are no longer here, because in a way, you’re not. Don’t worry, it’s not all bad. I remember the good in spades. I remember endless love and laughter and a bond so beautiful. I remember you baking a cake with me at midnight and how at 19, it was the only place in the world I wanted to be – our living room, watching Lifetime movies and stuffing our faces with cake on a Friday night. I remember how you always made sure I had more than I needed because you thought I deserved everything. I remember calling you with tears in my eyes saying “I need you, please come” and you came. Of course you came. You sat next to me on my couch for two weeks as I put myself back together after a boy tried to break me. You watched mindless TV with me and kept yourself busy when I was at work. You were there when I slowly started to feel like myself again. You were there, no judgement. I like to think I learned that from you – how to be there, how to hold space for people with no judgement. I remember those two weeks so vividly. I talk about them often. I didn’t know it at the time, but they were the last good, pure memories I have with you.
When I met my husband, I tried to let him in slowly. I tried to give him pieces of me for fear that he would not be able to handle the whole thing. But one day I just broke it all down for him because I was tired of trying to be digestible. He stayed. He did not flinch. Ever since then he has been carrying some of your weight right alongside me. He is there when a phone call with you goes south and I am rendered immobile, unable to find joy for days. He is there when a call goes well and my exhale is audible, my relief palpable.
He is there through it all. I once thought you would be the one to be there through it all. I never thought you’d allow enough space for anyone to love me but you. I never thought you’d let go. I wanted you to loosen the reigns, but instead you took a pair of scissors and cut right through. You walked away and left me with a tether to you but no warmth at the end of it. Do you know how often I lay awake at night and crave your love? Crave your approval, your comfort.
The last time I saw you, my husband and I were trying to joke with you about how I was a perfectionist and I asked you if you thought I was one and you said, with no lilt in your voice, in the most even tone: “I wouldn’t know. I don’t know.” And then it hit me that you don’t know. You don’t know that I’m way too hard on myself and way too soft on everyone else. You don’t know that people show up at my door with their hearts oozing, pleading for me to put them back together, and I always always do. You don’t know that an island off the coast of Scotland that smells like sea and whiskey is the most beautiful place I’ve ever been to. You don’t know that I grieve daily for your father, for your sister, for your brother. You don’t know what all that loss did to me. How it broke me and splintered me and how I live in fear that I am forgetting them. You don’t know. You’ll never know.
And I want to tell you but you’re fading fast. I want to tell you even though I don’t think you’ll hear me. Can you hear me, mom? Can you hold on a bit longer? I’m coming home, I promise.