Why I don’t celebrate Mother’s Day. May 11, 2008Posted by phledge in black bile, family, fat, medical school, yellow bile.
If there is one way I believe myself to be a lesser, evil being, it is the way I feel about my mother, who died in 2001. It’s complicated, and contradictory, and changes depending on what I’m doing, but by and large I did not have much patience or respect for her. I live much of my life focused on not becoming her (who doesn’t?) but since this blog has pretty much become my therapy I’ll explain why:
My mom started attempting suicide when she was a teenager, and her father tried to have her committed for it. She begged to avoid treatment, and he relented. She started college on a pre-med track but despaired there and dropped out of school to get married and have children. She starved herself with a month of lettuce dieting to get into my great-grandmother’s wedding gown. Shortly after my birth (I’m the eldest of her several children) she attempted suicide again; I did not find out about this until well into my twenties, upon asking why she was so frequently hospitalized. It became apparent to her that the only time she was not suicidal was when she was pregnant; suffice it to say, her post-me-partum attempt would not be her last. Whether this was due to hormonal changes or the fact that she felt that being needed was the only thing that made life worth living, we’ll never know. She clearly resented my growing up and becoming independent. She also agonized over the fact that I was becoming fat like her—comments like, “You’ll be 200 pounds before you turn sixteen!” and “The way you’re looking at your food, like you are in love with it or something, that disgusts me,” were fairly common even when I was quite young and, in pictorial retrospect, not really fat. We were almost constantly on some sort of diet, punctuated by insane binges of Mexican food and Cinnabon runs. One of her favorite words to describe herself was “fatenugly.” It was never two words. She often mused that what she wanted more than anything as a young girl was to have babies so that someone would love her unconditionally; I think she told me this to convince me that being a mother was the most important thing in life (for everyone, not just her), but it came out as a cautionary tale of how disabling codependence is. We had a young childless couple move in next door to us when I was, oh, probably five or six years old, and when I asked her why they didn’t have kids she flat out told me, “They don’t love each other.” As her life progressed and she stopped making babies, she stopped raising her children; it became my job. (I should point out here that my father was a truck driver and was gone for days at a time. He sent her money for bills; she spent it on clothes we couldn’t afford and dining out. On his returns there would inevitably be arguments about her irresponsibility and the eventual separation between them came as no surprise to any of their children.) I was essentially a mother to my baby sister, thirteen years my junior, and ran the rest of the household as best a teenager could. It was unsatisfactory to my mom, but she had no desire or will to fix it; rather, she moaned, “I’m such a horrible mother,” and went back to bed. She was medicated for most of her life. She dieted for most of her life, though never “successfully,” which is to say that she weighed much less (and was much healthier) when I was born, and much more when she died despite these diets. She dragged me to Weight Watchers when I was fifteen years old and I endured the humiliation of getting on a scale in front of complete strangers at least ten years older than I was. She liked going to my sisters’ softball games, but would not attend my ski races or my violin recitals. She gradually became more depressed, developed type 2 diabetes, learned that she could get an incredible amount of attention by giving herself insulin but not eating, and burned brain cells by dropping her blood sugar below 40 on a regular basis. She developed a tremor that left her incapable of eating from utensils. Her siblings, all but one successful and wealthy lawyers, paid her bills but chided her for not taking care of herself, her house, or her children. She was a closet smoker, locking herself in the most-trafficked bathroom and rendering it unusable for a good thirty minutes, then emerging as if nothing was billowing out behind her, nothing lingering in the toilet water (I should clarify: a cigarette butt), nothing scattered on the linoleum. She was a prescription drug addict and visited several physicians of different stripes—an orthopedic surgeon here, a pain management specialist there, our family doc—to get prescriptions. When I announced that I was going to become a doctor, she was the only one who expressed reservations about it; that is, she told me I wouldn’t be a good physician. I imagine this is because she rightly assumed that I would not be so patient with a patient like herself. At any given time she had at least three dozen pill bottles on our filthy kitchen counter. Her oldest brother, an elementary school teacher, visited us once when I was in my early twenties and going to college, and flat out told me later that our living conditions would have prompted him to call social services if he had seen it in one of his students’ homes. They were afraid to call because they thought she’d lose it if she lost her kids. (Party of oblivious? Your table is ready.) She never cleaned, rarely cooked, even only occasionally showered or dressed in anything but a housegown. My baby sister moved into my dad’s house at the age of fourteen, after having called emergency medical services on a minimum of four occasions of finding my mom face down in the family room, drooling and incoherent from hypoglycemia. Fourteen! She was fourteen fucking years old and my mother had given up on herself to the point that she had to scare the living shit out of my baby sister by courting death! Fuck. We got my sister out of the house, and within three weeks of being utterly alone in her own house, my mother died of a drug overdose. The night before her death, she called over to my dad’s, where I happened to be eating dinner with the rest of the family. She told me she loved me and she was glad I was doing well, then asked to speak to my dad. From the one-sided conversation, I could tell she was asking about how the rest of the kids were doing; my father, oblivious (although I probably would have been, too), crowed that the baby sister was doing great and everyone seemed really happy. I have absolutely no doubt that she killed herself, after hearing that nobody needed her anymore. My brother, second-youngest child, found her that morning and unfortunately he doesn’t believe in therapy. I guess he believes in suffering. I guarantee my mom did.
I don’t think I realized how angry I still am with her, until I wrote this (and, oh Maude, I am so sorry that this is one. freaking. paragraph). So if you’re reading, forgive me, and thank you for letting me vent, yet again, almost seven years after her demise.
“If you can’t be a good example, then you’ll just have to be a terrible warning.” –Catherine Aird