Maybe, just maybe, tomorrow will be different
Today I’m home with a sick toddler. He’s alternately screaming and babbling. Some moments he wants my comfort; others he wants to be left completely alone. In his leave-alone moments, I’m tidying up what little I can as I listen to him babble. More and more of his words makes sense in combination.
“No more outside!” he exclaimed as we walked back inside earlier. “Is a nose,” he said sagely while pointing at Black Widow’s nose on a gift bag.
As I listen to him, I think of my mom. She must have had like mornings with me when I was little.
I think of my godmother, Anna, who snuggled with both my sons while we were in Oregon last weekend.
Thinking of both of them together reminded me of a journal entry I wrote in July 2003, the summer my mom’s mental health completely crumbled. Anna gave me permission to post this entry a couple months back, but I had to wait for the right moment. The right convergence of circumstances.
As Christmas nears, I remember my mom. I think of that sparkle in her eyes and all those love-filled dreams she dreamed.
I find my heart is warmed by remembering not her conclusion, but her beginning. Her heart throughout.
It is warmed by knowing I carry little pieces of her with me, and knowing
as I see the sparkle in my godmother’s eyes
that my mom shines on
from many hearts.
July 5, 2003
I’m in Cottage Grove with my godmother and my younger sister again, but since it was the 4th of July, Rachel, Nick, and David came out, too. (David stayed the night and is having a tasty early-morning root beer float. I guess he already has such bad gas he doesn’t need to worry about unsettling his stomach anymore.)
Last weekend, Anna and I sat down at the kitchen table for a while before anyone else had awakened and talked about dreams. This led into a different kind of dream. She said, “I wish you – all of you – could have seen your mom when she was young, before all this changed.” I told her I could, that I still remembered being awed by my mom and how close she could keep us with her humor and her smile. She was so full of hope when I was really little, still thinking that the world might yet be so good to her. I always remember that when we had strange arguments about things that just didn’t seem quite right, knowing I could never hold this against her knowing who she was before she was broken. Bits of it shone through still, and we’ll always love her for those and how much she clearly loved us, but after a point it was never the same.
One thing in particular Anna said had me pensive. I thought about it during brief moments in the week between, and it seemed to illuminate a lot for me. “You should have seen how much fun we had. We always used to dream about what kind of wives we’d be, how our husbands would be” and I thought of the progression of photos in our mom’s photo box. With pictures of our dad, you can see this light in his eyes, this hope, when he was in kindergarten and first grade… but by the time you get to fourth grade, it’s already gone. There’s no spark, no light, and his smile is just empty. Maybe it’s because the things my mom’s parents did to her weren’t as heinous… but things weren’t easy for her either. In spite of that, she never lost the sparkle. Even during the toughest times, there was always a hint of smile and the sense she could imagine at a pin’s drop whole different worlds full of nothing but good. Looking at those pictures, you could see she always hoped for the best, that no matter how bad thigns were now, things would be different later.
Anna’s comment startled me, because I finally had idea when it happened that she lost that. She never lost it exactly fully since it resurfaces often, briefly, so strong we smile at the memory of times when it was more often and know that’s at the core of her who she’ll always be… but it came under attack from other demons she just couldn’t keep at bay any longer.
My big revelation was that: that mom (and she even said it once, though I didn’t know what it meant) leapt from one painful, abusive situation to an even worse one. All her younger life, she’d looked forward and gone, “But someday I’ll be married… and then everything will be great, because I’ll be a good wife and I’ll love my kids and I’ll never be who my parents were.” But she leapt to quickly. She ignored the fact that my dad tried to ‘give her away’ to his best friend on the eve of his wedding (a man who adored her and would never have given her the kind of life she was subjected to) and hoped too high for what she could make him.
Man, did I ever learn a lesson about trying to change people. Good and young I learned that.
And so, so strongly, it struck me:
What more do you have to hope for when the thing you’ve hung all your hopes on turns out awful? For twenty years she’d looked forward to it, and then the horrible realization must have settled in, that this was what life was going to be like evermore.
What also struck me, after I posted that baby picture of me in my mom’s arms about a month and a half ago, was my mom’s smile in that picture. Some of the hope still lingered then, in spite of the cuts, scars and bruises that covered her arms already.
We talked about it some more, this time all of us in the kitchen, and I told Anna what I’d been thinking. She set down the dish she was drying and said, “You know, it all changed when she went to California. At first we hadn’t noticed things were wrong with your dad, when you were really little, but by the time you were five and ready to leave we knew. Even though your mom never talked about it. And we didn’t want her to leave. And if she was determined to, we didn’t want her to take you kids; Brian was okay with it and everything.” (Brian, her husband and my godfather, died of cystic fibrosis when I was ten.) She said the first hint she had about it was how my dad always used to wipe his dirty hands on my mom. For a while she felt it wasn’t her place to anything, but in spite of her usual softheartedness she is never one who can hide her sentiments about things. Finally she said, “I never want you to do that again, and I never want to hear about you doing it again, either.” So dad stopped, while they were around anyway. Over time, other things showed too, and that was what led her and Brian to plead so hard for her not to go.
She did, and as Anna said, “She was never the same after California. Just never the same.” My mom talks about everything (or did, before that blow-up almost two weeks ago, which Anna seems to think is the final one in my mom’s mind), literally everything – even things Anna has no interest in knowing – with Anna, but she never, ever spoke of California. That remains something my mom carries with her, and carries alone since in my dad’s mind he has never done anything wrong… ever (the gift of pathological liars – they even convince themselves).
One time, at the most bizarre and unexpected moment, my mom apologized. She said, “I’m sorry for how I was with you in California. I thought if I became mean like your dad, maybe it wouldn’t hurt me anymore, maybe I could live that way. But it didn’t work like that.” She went on to explain that she was the meanest to me, that my dad loved me – and only me – so much that she hated me for his loving me so much, in a way he’d never loved and never would love her. I started crying thinking about it, which is funny because I only ever cry at movies and commercials and sentimental cards – seldom at memory of my own life. I was just overwhelmed by the memory of that, my mom trying to reach out and maybe clear up some of that darkness… it’s such a slow process, coming to understand some of what she was always trying to say but never had any words for, and… ah, I’m crying again… I know I’ll never, ever be able to hate her for any of the things she did, because she always apologized and meant it with everything she ever was. I never felt alone. With all these kids who had “normal” parents running around, I think I was the only one of my friends who never for a moment doubted how much she was loved. Even when the expression was wrong, or marred, mom always made it clear, and even when she was struggling it was so so clear that she was struggling to just show us that, to show us who… deep down beyond those other things that express themselves… all she was was her love for us.
So, yeah, my mom wasn’t perfect. She never will be, as noone ever will it. Do I wish things were different, that we could just make a cake and sit down for once, eating the whole thing in silence and peace… just one cake? Sure I do. Sure there’ll always be a hint of smile on my face as I imagine what that would be like, but I guess that wasn’t the life I was given, and all things told, I just don’t think it’s been that bad. Because in spite of all the bruises and all the wounds, I will always walk through the world knowing that there is so much love – like in Magnolia – that people can have for each other, that they just don’t know how to express because they were never taught to do it right. And in spite of its improper expression, that is the flame in my heart that makes it okay to live even through the toughest days.
Since I was little, I’ve always like rounding things out. All my stories had to have happy endings when I was little, and even when that didn’t become so for my make-believe stories, the way I told it to myself and others always involved a happy ending – hope for what was yet to come, knowledge that there was something beautiful holding it together and negating the bad that I’d just told. I guess I’m finally understanding that sometimes there just aren’t those kind of endings, because in life things never really end… they just keep on going, and you go with them or get left behind in the past, in memory instead of into everything the world could be. But I don’t feel sad anymore. I don’t feel like I need that happy ending anymore, because maybe there’s happiness or peace in just accepting what is. Not trying to gloss over that, but finding the good in what there is now and thinking that maybe, just maybe, tomorrow will be different.