It’s times like this, in the wee hours of the night that I wonder if it’s wrong that I love my mother? And that love is wrapped in tinfoil, placed in Tupperware, and buried deep in the soil of my soul, hidden with all the other loves I’ve had that I will never admit to, even under the threat of death.
The conflict comes from the fact that I shouldn’t love her at all. She tried to kill me three times, which is three times more than anyone on the planet, even my worst enemies. The first time was when she sought a medical option to terminate her pregnancy. For some reason, it hadn’t worked, and she was offered a surgical option but turned it down because she figured I was fighting to live. That’s what she always called me, her little fighter.
The second time was when I was a tween and she caught me stealing money out of her purse because I wanted to buy some stupid Woolworth’s lip gloss kit that all the popular girls were wearing, something I knew my mother would never have wasted money on. When she walked into the room, it took her a moment to process what she was seeing but the moment it clicked, she flew into a rage and lunged at me, catching me by the throat, and forcing me back toward an open window. We were poor, money stretched beyond snapping limit, so poor that we couldn’t even afford a window fan. Wide open windows without safety guards were our air conditioning during the summer months. And here I was, thinking only of myself and trying to appear cool to strangers that couldn’t have cared whether I lived or died. I thought about that as I was desperately clutching the window frame, trying to stop this five-foot, wiry berserker machine from shoving me six storeys down to the pavement below. When the rage eventually subsided and she pulled me into a hug, I realized I had learned a valuable lesson: Never steal from mom.
The third time happened the night before heading off to college. I was dreaming about floating in the vacuum of space without a spacesuit and not being able to breathe and I woke up to my mother straddling me, arms pinned to my sides, with a pillow pressed against my face. I wriggled and bucked frantically and fortunately threw her off before I lost consciousness.
I have never before told this to anyone, but I imagined if I had they would have told me what they would have done if they were in the same situation, but it was all hypothetical, reactionary nonsense, because the truth of the matter is that you never know what you’re going to do when the unexpected happens until you’re in the moment where you have to make a decision.
The truth is we sat there and said nothing to each other. My mother was on the floor crying into the pillow she tried to smother me with, and I sat on the bed trying to piece everything together, trying to find the logic of the situation, trying to rationalize my mother’s actions. Was she jealous because I was going to get out of a world she found herself trapped in? Was she afraid that I would leave and never come back and she couldn’t stand being alone? This is an answer that I will never get because after minutes turned into hours turned into the time to leave to catch my flight, I left. Never saying goodbye, never looking back, never contacting the police, never getting her the mental health she obviously needed, never speaking to her again.
Today I received a telephone call that my mother had passed away in a retirement home. My telephone number had changed several times since I walked out on my mother, always unlisted and I patrolled the internet to keep as much of my personal data personal, so how the home was able to reach me was anyone’s guess, but apparently, I was listed as next of kin.
After years of compartmentalization and tamping down every memory of her, now that she’s no longer alive, I think about her all the time and can’t stand it or the roiling shame spiral for all the birthday and Mother’s Day cards that were never sent and all the holiday home visits never made.
Now, I lay in the dark with a pillow pressed against my face, hot tears soaking the pillowcase, and I act out our final night together only with a different ending. I confess to her that I wish it wasn’t a secret that I love her. I apologize for being such a bad daughter. And I press the pillow hard against my nose and gasping mouth in a vain attempt to finish what she started.