“Mothers are all slightly insane.”
- J.D. Salinger
For most of my childhood, I knew something was off with my mother. Her behavior would embarrass me. When I turned 13, something clicked and I understood that there was a problem beyond embarrassment.
Sarah Fine has a definition for my mother’s condition on her BLOG:
Schizotypal Personality Disorder--odd behavior and thinking
But that doesn’t tell you much.
As a teenager, if a friend visited my home for the first time, I’d be filled with anxiety. I’d warn them. How people reacted after meeting my mother would determine how strong our friendship would be. If people couldn’t understand my mother, then they couldn’t understand me.
Those who see her at family gatherings or at her workplace, mostly view her as a character. I have no tolerance for the trite comments they make. When she was in charge of me, I protected my sister from the sinister side. So I can’t pretend nothing worse lurks behind the veneer.
Yet she’s not a wicked person. She loves her grandchildren. She’s one of my biggest fans of my writing. She’ll compare me to authors who write nothing like me, but the sentiment is there. And as soon as I told her about my short story in 100 Stories for Queensland anthology, she requested a copy. Repeatedly. Unfortunately, she also requested a copy from my sister, so we both unknowingly bought her copies. That’s part of her problem.
I have friends and acquaintances who have no idea about her. It’s my choice whether or not to share that part of my past and present. When it does come up, I have to figure out how much to reveal. I can make a blanket statement, but it feels like avoidance. If I reveal more, it’s too easy to descend into maudlin.
When people do hear snippets, they often say something like, “You should write about it.” And I do. Sort of. My manuscripts always have fractured relationships. I write for teens because I get that trapped feeling. Parents are in control of much of a teenager’s life, and it’s a teen’s job to loosen the grip so they can become adults. But what if the control is a chokehold? I hope my stories give teens the message that these hard times will pass.
I also write YA because I remember that time vividly. The reason I know a few exchanges with my mother by heart is because I’d repeat the words in my head to survive living in a house where words were twisted or forgotten.
I wrestled whether or not to share a specific story. My husband thinks it’s not right to write anything I wouldn’t say to her. That’s fair. I’ve only eluded to her in two posts, both many months ago. And with time, I can appreciate the good things she instilled in me:
- A love for reading.
- Seeing a person beyond race, religion, and sexuality.
But most of her lessons were inconsistent. While she read to me, she also plopped me in front of the TV for hours. While she preaches equality, she’s also said some pretty inappropriate things while trying to relate when meeting a person of another ethnicity or religion.
Now that she’s older, I have different worries about her: health, decision-making, and job retention. It’s a battle. I have to work on keeping my patience when I talk to her. I should call her more. I should be many for her things I’m not.
But I’ve made great strides from the girl who hated her. Who worried that any moments she’d become her.
When I was around 17, after a pretty horrific scene, I called a friend in tears. He said, “That’s who she is. It’s not a reflection of you.” I exhaled for the first time in many years.
Yet I see pieces of her when I look in the mirror. When I was young we want to break free, be my own person. I can’t remove the physical characteristics my mother and I share. I could copy her speech patterns in a heartbeat. But I am not her. I strive to take the best of what she’s given me while I learn from the worst. But I also have to acknowledge that the good and the bad are part of me.
All these years later, Mother’s Day still resurfaces conflicting emotions. But I’m not embarrassed anymore. What to reveal? I’m still figuring that out.