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”?