The kindest letter I can muster up for my abusive mom

(Note: I don’t understand why the paragraph breaks aren’t showing up correctly… maybe I can fix it later, but I’m going to sleep right now.)

June 27, 2017

Happy 55th Birthday, Mom.

I remember 15 years ago, how stressful it was purchasing a gift for your 40th birthday, how important it was to me that I succeed in getting something you’d like. The fact that this is a milestone birthday number wasn’t lost on me.

How I, a 12 year old who’d only had my ears pierced for a little over a year at that point, shopped at a huge Jewelry Exchange place for the first time in my life and told my dad (your ex-husband) about your taste in always gold and not silver, how we (he) spent $100 on pretty earrings made of white gold with gold plating so it still didn’t look silver in color and… and then when that weekend spent with my dad was over, when I was back home… I waited with bated breath to see if it would make you angry because I’d failed at gift giving in some important way I’d overlooked.

You must not have liked your Mother’s Day gift 5 or so weeks prior because why else would I have been so determined to do this well this time? I’m not sure. Maybe I remembered a different gift thing you hated but it was probably Mother’s Day. I think I gave you little Hallmarks figurines of like a lighthouse and other things you’d see at the beach. Because despite how much i remembered you being unhappy at the beach the last time we ever went, when I was 8, you in the years since would comment that you liked the beach… you even wanted that “By The Sea” song played at your funeral

In the end, you smiled weakly in my bedroom when you opened your gift and said you liked it – without sounding like you meant it. And I thought that was the end of my feelings about giving you this gift. That the reaction happened, and it was over. It could’ve been worse, it could’ve been so much worse, this was a pretty good reaction, but I wanted to cry anyway, because I’d tried so hard but you still weren’t happy.

Literally nothing would make you happy, because you were in the midst of Persistent Depressive Disorder, but none of us knew that. Not my dad or me and my brother, not you.

I wrote a bunch of other stuff recounting the awful but I just hit “backspace” for a few paragraphs. I changed my mind. I want this to be… in a different tone.

I saw you for the first and probably only time I’ll ever see any glimpse of what you in your 50s looks like back in December at your mother’s funeral home visitation (my grandmother’s). It was so jarring seeing 54 year old you. Your hair was so much grayer. Your hair was shorter. You were wearing a shirt that actually looked pretty nice, I was surprised I liked your style.

I hadn’t seen you in 7 years. I haven’t even seen any new photos. My brother noticed your teeth looked decaying. He noticed your breath smelled like cigarettes. I didn’t notice these things. He even noticed you flip off the casket.

You came over to me, and my brother, and two of my younger cousins, including the 17-year-old one you later made burst into hysterical tears with some harsh whisper. Why did you do that to her? But sorry, I’m digressing. You came over to us and you called your mother abusive. You said she was an evil bitch. You asked the 4 of us to “Name one good thing about her. Just one!” and I felt so guilty that in that moment I couldn’t think of how to respond. I wanted to defend my grandmother. There were plenty of good things, I’d been mentioning them to people in the days before and after that moment, and other points that day when you weren’t there. I’d been hearing about them from others. But in that moment, when you asked me, my cousins were ignoring you on purpose and not taking your bait, being calm and reasonable about your scariness. I, on the other hand, was so hurt by everything about your presence, so outraged on behalf of my grandmother and on behalf of my cousins/aunts/uncles/the strangers who shouldn’t have to deal with you and everything else.

But you know who else I could say “one good thing” about, “just one”?

Well. You.

Even if both your parents were that awful to you, and maybe it was unforgivable (but then why did you let me be half-raised by the woman??)… you really can’t name one good thing about her?

I’ve fantasized about your funeral for years, and I know you taunted your own mother with “You aren’t dead yet?” on a phone call at least once, not to mention you repeated how you were old and wouldn’t be around forever repeatedly on voicemails you left me even before your mother’s passing. I can’t imagine you haven’t thought about your mother and maybe fantasized about her funeral a bit yourself. And you weren’t prepared to consider anything nice about her? At all?

The final thing she did for you you’ll never know. She put you back in her Will. She loved you enough that even though she and her late husband had agreed to give your 6th of their money (distributed evenly among their 6 kids) instead split amongst me and my brother, she changed her mind while she was still lucid enough to make that decision and decided you might be turning your life around and maybe deserved to be in the will again.

I’m so glad I don’t believe in consciousness surviving after death, because the idea of her knowing how you behaved at her funeral is horrific.

My fantasizing about your funeral is vague and fleeting. I imagine you dying and I find out way too late and miss out on your funeral, because I’m so no contact with you, and that kinda upsets me, a little. I want to be there. I want to be able to speak about you too. About the bad a little, the honest truth if it comes up… but also I want to list little good things about you.

My dad believes you always had a great sense of empathy, which I was always pretty skeptical of, but there are these moments where you did feel so bad that I was hurting. You brought up many years later that you still have the earrings and still wear them and think of me. You cared that I was upset that night, I realize now. And I think you really did like them, in fact. You just physically couldn’t feel the ‘right’ emotions but you intellectually appreciated them more than I realized.

You remember all sorts of times I was upset, you felt bad about them to varying degrees, some of which weren’t really your fault, like when you followed society’s lead and traumatized me with Santa Claus, or in one of your recent voicemails where you talk about something I don’t remember about middle school yearbooks and probably me feeling left out for my parent not purchasing one so I couldn’t get one signed when everyone else was doing that… but you also reframe a lot of times I was upset because of you as instead because of my dad, and you selectively have forgotten so much. You are in a permanent state of delusion where it matters that, as you said in your newest voicemail, you remember me when I was so young I can’t remember myself then. Pointing that out almost feels like a consent violation at this point. I didn’t consent for you to know things about me that I don’t even know… okay it’s stupid and silly but the way you said it… and the context of everything you’ve done to me since then…

But even so. Even though you were abusive and worthy of me cutting off all contact with…even though I can so much more easily remember so many bad things…

I like that you passed down a love of music and television to me in a way that easily helped me become a vidder for over a decade of my life now. I kinda like your taste in TV shows and in music, I must admit.

I appreciated that I was not raised in a homophobic context. I appreciate that you told me and my brother it’d be okay if we were gay, even if at the time I was frustrated by that kind of thing.

I remember how you taught me to shave my legs, paint my nails… girly things that people learn from females in their lives… you taught me skills that are still useful.

Despite your abusiveness, and your mental illnesses, and the ways at the time it didn’t feel kind at all, despite how it seemed to make things worse… I remember the lessons you tried to teach about things like roller skating, the “don’t overthink it, relax, and just… let your body ease into just doing it” sentiment which came back to me in my class on World Religions in college while we were learning about Taoism.

A unique thing I just realize you kinda taught me, and I guess it’s a good thing, and you never intended it… the importance of respecting someone’s chosen nickname vs. especially chosen lack of nickname. People abbreviating your name without your consent was never fair to you and of all the things you got frustrated by in your life, this was one of the most understandable and reasonable. The world was ignoring your name and that was never fair. I grew up knowing to be more… cognizant of those kinds of desires.

You noticed how much I loved Spanish class long before I ever realized I might end up earning a Bachelor’s degree in Linguistics. You were sometimes observant and sometimes rooting for me in a positive way.

Sometimes protective, like when I’d already read through most of the 4th Harry Potter book around age 10 but then you’d heard there was “scary stuff” like the hand being cut off and a death by the end of that book and you tried to stop me from reading it, but you were too late because I’d just been reading it so fast, lol, and I swore I wasn’t traumatized by that. You also didn’t want me or my brother watching The X-Files and things with heavy sexual innuendo either, such as even the sitcom Friends, when I was around that age or even slightly older. I mainly appreciate, in retrospect the way you didn’t censor us from that much but did seem to think a little bit about what we were watching. You… cared?

I liked the tradition you had been doing, which you I think were inspired by your own mother to do, because your sister has done it with her children (my cousins) too – giving us a one-of-a-kind Christmas ornament as a Christmas gift each year, so that by the time my brother and I were adults we would have a small collection of ornaments to start with. It didn’t work out, and before my brother even turned 16 we lost the ornaments in our cutting off contact with you and it not being worth it to re-engage to get things like them. But it was a… really nice thing. And probably one good thing about your mother that even you could’ve said. I’m gonna ask your sister, if I remember to, when I see her next.

When I showed pictures of you, both 27-year-old you (the age I am now) in a picture with me as a baby and a picture of you more likely from 2003/2005 ish, to my queerplatonic partner, he was surprised that you looked… nice. Normal. He’d kind of been picturing a monster, he said. But you…

At your mother’s funeral service at the church, you didn’t show up that morning. An old cousin of your mother hugged each of her kids and then… me. She asked if I was you, and I know people think the two of us look alike. I hadn’t heard that really since high school, for obvious reasons… but it’s true, I have a lot of you in me, whether I like it or not.

My entire childhood is shaped by memories of you, so many little moments, so much to acknowledge and accept as a part of our past.

I accidentally called you back after your voicemail on Sunday. I hit cancel/end on the call the moment it started, so I hope maybe you never saw that I called. It was a slip of my finger. I was trying to get rid of the new call notification.

After your mother’s funeral, I stopped being as scared of what you might do in the future, but also stopped having any trace of a fantasy that you might… change in any way. You were exactly like I remembered you in court 7 and 9 years prior. You were uncannily exactly what we all were expecting, your siblings, your children, etc, and yet still impossible to be prepared for, really.

But I stopped feeling like I needed to listen to your voicemails as soon as I could to make sure you weren’t planning something like filing unfounded criminal charges against us. I actually let some of your voicemails expire, automatically deleted after 30 days without me ever hearing what you’d said. I mainly casually listen once every 20 days or so if I can remember. I’m curious, but it’s… I’m more relaxed now, mainly. It’s easier to deal with the truth now that it’s been over a decade since I gave you back my key to the house.

I grieved you finally in a mix and surge of confusing emotions while I grieved my grandmother. I had started to grieve you a decade ago, but I finally felt the sadness part of the grief, not just the numbness.

I might want to stop listening to your voicemails altogether. They probably aren’t good for my mental health, even when they’re surprisingly… kind. I never know what to expect, of course. You fluctuate from day to day, angry to sad to loving to weird no-context vague voice-journalling…

…I might want to actually block your number. Not just reject calls to voicemail automatically but prevent you from texting those “I love you”s to me and…

I don’t know. Your siblings feel so sorry for you, wish you could be happy, wish you could get help for your mental illnesses. After they called the cops on you at the visitation, at the dinner, they were scared you would show up, and they tried to pick a restaurant different from the one they knew you loved right around there. They mistakenly picked one you liked even more, my brother and I were quick to inform them. We know you well, we know your taste in restaurants, we all may be cutting you out of our lives, but we’re afraid and hurt. We don’t want to hurt you. If only you knew. If only you knew how sad your 5 siblings are to see what you’ve… become.

I know you grieve the “loss” of your children, you’ve made that clear in your voicemails. (“I think about you every day,” you say…) You hold onto old things of mine I wish I had, like my fun spider earrings from Halloween, and you tell me you wear them, and you think of me. (As an example, to bring back the meaningful earrings theme.) Us cutting you out of our lives I guess was bound to have that consequence, but I had to do it. I’ve never doubted that for a second.

It was in some ways the easiest and best decision I’ve ever made.

A much harder decision was knowing I’d (probably) have to see you again if I went to my grandmother’s visitation & funeral, and still deciding to go to that anyway. Everyone would’ve understood if my brother and I didn’t come; they all said so. But as we told you that day at the visitation, “We thought we should come”. We didn’t mean to shock you by being there. We saw how surprised you were. But you mocking us thinking we should come or just being incredulous that we… have positive emotions at all for her… respect for her(/our!) grieving family too… I simply wish you could live in the reality the rest of us live in.

Your family still feels love for you as they grieve the loss of you, believe it or not. Me and my brother perhaps to a lesser degree than your siblings who all knew you when you were a child… They are the ones who really seem to still have love for you, hope even… but all the same. I wish you knew. I wish you could care. I wish you could love them back.

But mainly it ends up being listless wishing, a vague wishing you were… an entirely different person. I wouldn’t even recognize you as you if any of these things were true, unfortunately.

I don’t wish you would love me. Depending on my mood, I don’t believe that you do despite how many times you text it and say it in voicemails. I don’t feel loved by you. But as I wrote about here, okay, I can accept that you feel something you are convinced is love, for someone you are convinced is me. The problem at this point is twofold, and in some ways it’s been this way for ages, long before I cut you out of my life a decade ago…

The problem is that you are abusive, so it really doesn’t matter if you love me. You are toxic to have around me.

And the problem is that you no longer have any clue who I am, you haven’t even known me for roughly a third of my life (considering time before age ~4 I don’t even remember). You continue to believe delusional things about abuse I’ve suffered because of my father?? and that you never caused any harm to me or my brother. You were someone I stopped trusting and stopped feeling safe around probably before I exited elementary school, and so I didn’t let you in to know the full, true me anyway, even if you’d wanted to.

Your daughter.

I disagree completely with Samantha Field’s new blog post, Abusers and the Good Times, which is all about, and I quote:

Here’s the thing I want every abuse victim and survivor to understand: your abuser was horrible all of the time. Yes. Even when they brought you soup when you were sick, or bought you flowers for no reason.

Being “nice” is part of the abuse.


…the end result is that an abuser does something “nice” in order to bask in our gratitude for their mercy. They’re doing it because it allows them to feel magnanimous and noble– look at them, doing something good for the miserable little worm they live with. Their victim certainly doesn’t deserve their kindness, but aren’t they just the most good and loving person for bestowing it?

There are times when this was true for my mom. “I’m driving you to ballet, you should be grateful, this is a huge inconvenience for me” is kinda like expecting to be worshipped for doing her job and just being a parent. But that’s not a time I would EVER call my mom “being nice” or “kind”. That was a time she tried to make me feel guilty for being a normal kid.

An abuser, by being nice, is getting what they want from you the same way hitting you or demeaning you gets them what they want. Sometimes they want you cowering in fear, but sometimes they want to be worshiped.

The “honeymoon period”, or the term more inclusive of non-romantic-partnerships, the “candy-and-flowers stage”, for my mom, literally involved a variety of things. My mom was, sometimes, a parent to me and my brother. She made sure my brother had a chance to learn to read by stopping me in my excitement to read aloud from the books and instead making sure he had his turn when I was 6 and he was still 4. I crawled into her bed for comfort from nightmares. She taught me how to paint my nails and she didn’t do it just to be worshipped. Sometimes she did things out of obligation. She sat in the waiting room on 3 occasions for my foot surgeries. She changed my bandages and helped me in and out of the shower. She made sure I was prepared for my first period, and allowed me to not get Confirmed Catholic when I didn’t want to be. She was a human being with two children and life is not black and white. There are gray areas. People are complicated. She got progressively worse over the years but especially early on she wasn’t always being abusive.

And to say even at the very end that every second of niceness was manipulation and still abuse just… doesn’t ring true to me? She…

I don’t know. I just wanted to write something about my mom this year and her birthday seemed a fine time to do it. I only brought tears to my eyes a bit with the process of thinking of things for this or finally listening to all her June 2017 voicemails for the first time today in preparation – the one about middle school yearbooks was what caught me off guard. 😛 I’m guessing maybe that means she is working in a middle school?? But she was… so sorry for hurting me in a weird way that I wasn’t prepared to hear… But yeah idk. This was pretty cathartic, I think.

I’d always remembered my mom’s birthday was exactly one week before the 4th of July holiday… it was a mnemonic device to help and then eventually I just remembered. June 27th is her day. I can’t remember paying much attention in the past decade to her birthday, but this year… it just felt different.

Thanks for bearing with me and this long post.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s