In June, I’ll be attending the Santa Barbara Writers Conference, and they’re having a pre-conference contest for Mothers’ Day. In 500 words, or less, write a story titled Things My Mother Taught Me. I wish I could have written a happy, flowery, my-mother-was-the-greatest story, but I couldn’t.
My mother taught me a lot of things. I still have phobias from some of them. But she also forced me to be self reliant. I know I can survive. Year ago, before she died, I forgave my mother because I know she didn’t mean to be the way she was, but that doesn’t change history. And it didn’t change her. Only me.
The following is my contest entry. I doubt I’ll win because most people buy into the fallacy that all mothers are good people.
~ o ~
I tell people that I was born 35-years old, that I have been an adult for as long as I can remember, but that’s not true. I was young once.
Maybe it was childish immaturity, or maybe I never put it all together until that day when I was eleven. My mother had just pulled a batch of biscuits from the oven, and just as if it were something she said every day, just so matter-of-factly, she said the words. I have to love your brother more because your father loves you more. She said I was her second choice of her two children.
It didn’t really matter why. I stopped hearing long before the because. I stood paralyzed, not realizing tears were running down my face until I felt them seep between my lips, until I tasted that saline flavored shame. Sometimes, even now, I tear up when I smell biscuits baking.
For the next three decades, I tried to earn my mother’s love, but none of my efforts were good enough. If you get all “A”s … If you work your way through college … If you get an important job… If you pay my rent every month… If, if, if. If I was just good enough. I was so desperate for her love that I would do anything for her, give anything to her. I would have let her take my last breath.
“I need $3000 to have my teeth fixed,” she said one night, her voice shrill over the phone lines between Atlanta and Seattle. Like we had a bad connection.
I had just moved to Seattle, and what with moving expenses, higher rent, and a car payment for the first time in ten years, groceries were sometimes optional. Besides her teeth weren’t the issue. She wanted money, and I was her personal ATM. Not handing it over made me a disappointment, a terrible daughter. At her knee I had learned the weight of that disappointment, had been indoctrinated into the cult of the narcissistic parent. Had been programmed until the synapses in my brain automatically translated her need into love.
I need translated into I care about you.
I want became look how much I love you.
I don’t want to be a burden meant you’re being a problem.
None of it was true, but I chose to believe it, at least then.
“I don’t have it,” I said.
A hurtful silence came from the other end of the line, making me wait so my heart could voice a thousand self-incriminations. I knew that if I were a good daughter, I’d have $3000 just waiting for her to need it.
“I always knew you were worthless,” she said, slamming her phone down.
She had said it so many times before, too many to count, but for some reason, that day as the severed connection whined in my ears, I realized I wasn’t worthless. I am not worthless.
I am good enough. Good enough. For me.