You forgive her for never – not once – setting foot in your house.
You forgive her for yelling at you almost every day, because if she hadn’t yelled at you, if she had been one of those calm-voiced, even-tempered kind of moms, the kind who wasn’t enraged by a child who bumped the vacuum into the furniture or one who didn’t always scrub out the sink with Zud after washing the dishes, then you wouldn’t, years later, have been able to recognize the shock and pain in your own daughter’s eyes when you lose your temper and lash out – stupidly, momentarily, always apologetically (after the fact), but never, it seems, for the last time (unfortunately) – and without the memory of a childhood filled with longing for an inch of approval from the one person who refused to give it, then you might not have recognized that same desire and need for acknowledgement in your own child and you might not give it to her at every opportunity (as you do, as she deserves).
You forgive her for waiting five days to take you to the doctor when you broke your wrist, because those five days of pain, during which you were encouraged to “just stop babying it,” will lead to the first of only two apologies she will ever extend to you. She just couldn’t imagine how anyone could break a bone the way you described it happening. You seek a small measure of revenge by waiting 20 years to tell her how you really broke it.
You forgive her for slapping you when you laughed at her during one of her screaming fits. You had recently finished reading “Mommy Dearest” when she pulled you into her bedroom, pointed to the closet and demanded to know why you had hung your father’s dress shirts on dark hangers instead of white ones. And so, at 12 years old, you have your first epiphanous (real word?) moment, and you stand there, open-mouthed, watching the specks of spit flying past her flapping lips, marveling at the way the hanging-down thingie at the back of her throat does a little dance whenever she stops to suck in another breath of air and so continue her diatribe, and all the while, your own brain is screaming in elation, because you get it, you finally get it. Your mother is either one of two things: an idiot or Joan Crawford reincarnated. And so you laugh, at first just a smile, then a giggle, then a full-blown guffaw with a snort thrown in for emphasis. Afterwards, as you switch your father’s shirts from dark to white hangers, with the imprint of her palm burning on your cheek, you still smile, because how many people get to recognize an epiphany while it’s actually happening? And though you don’t realize it at the time, this story, told at future parties, will earn you the fast friendship of many a gay man and for this, years later, you are thankful.
You forgive her for being the kind of person who would spank a 4-year-old child for not following along at the Watchtower study. This, along with every other instance of unnecessary use of the rod, will lead to her second apology 30 years later.
You forgive her for never sharing the details of her own childhood, for you are able through the years to eavesdrop on enough conversations to put the disturbing pieces together on your own and you realize – maybe just a hair too late – that she did better by her children than her own parents did by her. And, at her memorial service, when you see the photographs where she and your father are young and smiling and playful and especially when you see the one where she’s striking a flirtatious beauty queen pose, you realize something else and it is devastating and it is this: you didn’t know her, you didn’t know her, you didn’t know her.
You forgive her for leaving too soon and you wonder over the irony of how a woman who never believed in destiny could have her fate sealed from the womb.
You forgive her (and this is a tough one) for letting her relationship with her granddaughter slide into ruins after you are disfellowshipped. You have no “because” for this.
You forgive her for all these things and more (and less), because . . . well, why the fuck not? Who are you to say that these are things that even need to be forgiven? Can’t they all fall under the category of shit happens, life’s a bitch, so deal with it? And when you reflect on the hand that was dealt her, (and this is the hand: In the 1940s, the FDA approves a drug that’s been known to cause cancer in lab rats, a drug your grandmother’s ob-gyn prescribes to her during her pregnancy with your mother and then 59 years later, your mother dies from a rare cancer that strikes only the children of women who took this drug), you know, you know, you know that had your mother been given a choice between a normal lifespan and infertility (which is what happened to 90% of the people who experienced ill effects from this drug) or an early death and children (three) and grandchildren (four and counting), she would have chosen you. She would have chosen all of you. And for that you are grateful and you know now, finally, too late again (but maybe not), that there is nothing to forgive.
---------------Switching tenses/persons (can never keep those things straight)---------------
So my mom died last week. My daughter and I have just returned from a 2000 mile road trip to attend her funeral - which is another post in itself. Tonight my heart is big and sore.... and I miss my mom.