Growing up in my parents’ house was often like growing up just to the left of center in a hurricane. The violence, the unpredictability of the currents and where they would land you at any given point, the knowledge that you might be set down in your neighbors bed or broken into a thousand little pieces at any given moment without warning. All of it in constant, alarming, unpredictable, violent flux.
To say that my mother was manipulative and controlling is to say that the ocean is damp. She could not stand to know that any decision was outside of her ability to cajole, manipulate, threaten, wheedle, bribe, injure or thwart it at her whim. She systematically removed or destroyed anything in her life that did not let her be queen and supreme high ruler.
She has no life-long friends. I cannot name one person who she has never been paranoid, vindictive, small minded, cruel, and ruthless about or toward at some point in the past.
Oh, she puts on the public face. She knows on some level that she is completely insane, and that other people will not readily accept this in her, so she hides. She hides behind justifications, elaborate retellings reproduced by telephone hundreds of times until she finally believes the story she has concocted or finds someone who thinks she is justified or completely reasonable in whatever half cocked, hair brained, hillbilly way of handling things she comes up with. She hides behind a plastic happy face and then undermines and complains the instant the public in question is no longer the audience.
Of course, to say that these things are mere hiding is too simplistic. They were also an elaborately devised method for never actually having to make a real significant decision in her life. She decided things posthumously. In any given moment, she simply reacted. Once the moment was dead and gone, she would reach some decision about that thing, and then cling to that false reality of what really happened or what something really meant as a security blanket that hid her from herself and her fears. But never, never did she make a real forward looking decision about her life, by herself, in all the years I have known her. She has wheedled information out of whatever audience was at hand, proposed things to see if they would be ratified by the public at large (despite the fact that when ratified the ratification was based on false concoction in the first place, so it was at best a hollow victory or acknowledgement), and she has even gone so far as to pick fights in order to force someone to care about an issue enough that she could shore up her ability to believe the opposite.
She has spent all of the years I have known her afraid of some imagined reprisal or responsibility, failing utterly to see the real responsibilities at hand. I believe that she is still running from her parents. Her mother was the sort of woman who thought tying the child to the tree was a good way to keep them out of harms way for several hours while she focused else-wise. Her father was the sort of man who commanded every room he was in. He was the life of every party, the center of everyone's attention. There was not a subject he hadn't studied at some point and no topic he couldn't out-argue someone about. If such things existed, I never saw them. They lived thousands of miles from me growing up, so I was only occasionally around them. And I had something of a fawning, little girl's crush on my grandfather, the light of every room he was in. But I know that there was a darker side. I know that he was hard to be close to. I know that everyone in his life lived in the darkness of his shadow. I know that my mother and her father were both too stubborn with each other for too many years to ever have a close relationship. I know that in many ways my mother's reaction to him is my grandmother's reaction to him. My grandparents fought stubbornly for years, but she relied on him to form her beliefs and to take care of her and protect her. When he died, she could not balance a checkbook or decide how to spend the social security by herself for all that she seemed a fiercely independent woman who had demanded a separate and competent identity in many areas of her life. In many ways my mother walks the same path in an even more broken way. She needs something to fight with in order to believe at all in herself. Only then is the moral muddiness clarified and her confidence returned.
Something in their neglect and methods taught this woman to fight vindictively, endlessly, pointlessly and without any self-reflection at the same time that it taught her never to decide anything of importance or make any decision without external approval. It's an interesting counter balance. To fight with a woman who will not, and in fact, I believe, cannot tell you what her position actually is or why it actually makes sense to her. A woman who will never back down in a fight no matter how mean she must get and how far from the original reality she must stray, but who also cannot actually decide anything without needing that stamped okay by some external force. The nature of this pattern meant that she often sought approval after the fact, and edited what happened until she found someone who would approve when one was otherwise not immediately forthcoming.
If you were smaller than she was or in some way more physically helpless, she was not above physical violence. Everything to her was a war. I cannot ever recall my parents saying to each other that they loved each other. I cannot remember much of anything beyond the imagined round bell as someone re-entered the ring with her. If you were larger that she was or no longer possible to physically intimidate, she would just up the ante on the emotional accusations, paranoia, and abuse, rather than simply balancing the whole repertoire to get her way.
I used to find it infuriating that by the end of the fight, she couldn't even tell you what started it because the editing was so rapid and effective. I remember that there was one theme that I found the most baffling of all. She would endlessly lash out to or about people not respecting her. I think in the end the answer was that she didn't respect herself. She is correct that I didn't respect her. I believe that my sisters and my father didn't really, either. But I don't think that was the real issue. I think the real issue was that she was not a person who could ever earn anyone's respect including her own, and she knew it on some fundamental Freudian level.
This same woman who lorded over me, removed every friend from my life as direct competition to her control, fought with me to convince herself she was right, ripped out my hair, broke blood vessels in her hands beating me, told me constantly how worthless, shiftless, mean, irresponsible, unreliable, stupid, controlling, lazy, etc, I was, is the same woman who cannot finish a sentence without losing her train of thought today. She is mostly an affable, directionless fool of an old woman, who people laugh at constantly because she is the sort of person whose clothes are always on inside out, or whose shoes don't match, or whose hair isn't brushed or who can't find her keys/wallet/purse/brain.
We were an accessory to an imaginary life that she didn't get and couldn't live without. We were a reflection of what she was not, and she could not stand that fact. We were something she was supposed to do, supposed to want. We were a reminder of who she wasn't, because she made us who we were. We were a reminder that people were laughing at her all along, because she never taught us the social grace to be as polite as public people are about thinking she's a mess of a human being, so we all told as we began to break free of her, in the most cruel, vindictive ways that she'd taught us to. We were her ghost of Christmas future, but she was never wise enough to change.
And this woman now, this many years later, whom I once hated with all my being, and who I now mostly pity, wants to be my friend. She wants to believe that we didn't fight for years. She wants to believe that we didn't hate each other. She wants to believe that, like any normal daughter, I will want to be bosom buddies one day. She wants to forget that she slept for most of my childhood and left me to be a parent to my siblings. She wants me to forget the stinging skin, the screaming tears, the suicidal bouts of wanting nothing more than to escape her grasp and thereby punish her for the pain she caused. She wants me to forget all the names she called me and the hatred I saw in and will always associate with her face. She wants me to be one of the voices on the other end of her phone that will give her vindication if the story is good enough. She wants me to want her in my life. She wants me to believe she is the woman she cannot be. She wants to be a grandmother to my children, and a confidant. Perhaps that normalcy is really what she's wanted and failed utterly to comprehend all along. Whatever the case, her ability to believe it is possible will always confound me. Her ability to believe I would ever leave open to her that which she has only ever acknowledge through attempts to destroy it, befoul it, terrorize it and cow it, will never make any sense to me. The fact that she knows so little of herself and thereby knows so little that is real about those around her that she imagines I could somehow forget, blows me away.
I can forgive, but I will not forget. I will never forget. In a million years there is no way this body could forget, even if it chose to. It is like a tattoo that will haunt you all of your life. It stretches, changes, moves and eventually sags. You can attempt to burn it off or cut it out, but in the end the image is burned into a part of you that will never be free of it's scar. The stain of it will be with you for all of your days, and the only real choice is how to accept it and move forward and never allow it again, or how to cover it up and hide it. I continue to choose to try to accept that which will never be acceptable, but must be accepted in order to move on. In that way I am free of her, and in the perverse irony of it all, I win because I no longer care that I win. I win because I know that winning is impossible. Living is not.