My mother was adopted when she was about 6 months-old. The story goes like this: My grandparents were walking through the orphanage when they came upon my mother. She was sitting in a crib. She looked up at my grandfather with big, blue eyes, and he said, “There’s our girl.” That was it. They brought her home. They were told that her birth mother was a Swedish divorcée who found herself pregnant after a relationship with a Swedish man who was visiting the United States. After discovering that she was pregnant, he returned to Sweden. My mother was born and given to the orphanage where she was neglected, never held, and diagnosed with malnutrition when my grandparents took her to the doctor.
Culturally, my mother was raised as the Scandinavian she was. My grandmother was Norwegian, and my grandfather was Swedish. My grandfather was raised in a farming community solely consisting of other Swedes and Native Americans. My grandmother was raised by a Norwegian artist and his very musical Norwegian wife. My grandparents were good people. The best sort of people. They were, however, stoic as Scandinavians can be, and I think my mother felt unloved and left out. She was adopted. She didn’t look like anyone. My mother was strikingly blonde and fair while my grandmother was a darker Norwegian. My grandmother’s brother married into another Norwegian family that was terribly clannish. My grandfather’s family resented him for leaving the farm and moving to the city to make a living. She wanted to fit in with her first cousins who were the darlings of their respective high schools. My mother struggled to fit in. She felt too tall. Not cute and petite like them.
She made bad choices. A lot of very, very bad choices. Her life has been a series of them. Particularly where I’m concerned. She’s been married three times. She’s tried to commit suicide numerous times. She’s battled depression for numerous years. She has hurt many people. She has Borderline Personality Disorder. She won’t get help. She refuses.
One of my mother’s first cousins, Maria, emailed me today:
I was happy to receive a Christmas card from your Mom today. She did not write anything, but I noticed they have moved. I was talking to my sister the other day and mentioned that I have not seen or heard from your mom in so long. I know you don’t much either. Do you keep up some contact? How are they?
I’ve written about my family in other posts. All in all, my mother’s side of the family is altogether lovely albeit a bit clannish. I don’t see them often. The last conversation I had with Maria was over a year ago at an indoor park wherein her daughter (my second cousin) insisted that we all meet. It was a beautiful autumnal day in my neck of the woods which is often hard to come by. Why we spent that day inside, I’ll never know. Maria’s daughter always shuns me. I’m always prepared for it, but it stings every time it happens. I have a name for it. I’ve been “Berg-ed”. That’s the family name–Berg. ICE-berg-ed. If I ever want to feel shunned, left out, or invited but not included, I’ll just go hang out with the Bergs for an hour. They’ll tell jokes and stories that only they understand, name-drop, patronize me, and stand in a circle laughing loudly with their backs turned to me. I digress…
Once again, while Maria’s daughter was openly shunning me, Maria began asking me about my mother. Again, I had nothing to tell her: “Maria, my mother has been ignoring me for years. We don’t have a relationship.” Her response: “I don’t understand. She’s your mother. Surely, you can work it out.” “Maria, this isn’t up to me.” “Well, you can forgive her…” “This isn’t about forgiveness.” “What’s it about then?” “Maria, there’s a lot to it. She needs to get help. She’s mentally ill. If you want to understand her, then go home, look up Borderline Personality Disorder, and read. Read a lot. That will give you a sense.” “Well, you need to pray. Claim the name of Jesus.” “Maria…I appreciate what you are trying to do, but…we are not there. Jesus would have her take responsibility for her actions. And, if her mental illness has ravaged her mind to such a point that she can no longer do that? Then, her husband needs to step in. Forgiveness and reconciliation are not the same thing.”
She looked at me like I was the Mata Hari. What I spoke was wrong. It’s not Christian. Blood is thicker than water. But, what if that blood is poison?
I love my mother, but she hates herself. That hatred spews outward to everyone in her midst. I have wept an ocean over the loss of my relationship with her. I remember what she used to be like when she was stable and lucid, and her world seemed bright and right. She taught me to love ballet and Grieg. She gave me my first piece of Swiss chocolate and taught me how to eat it properly. We visited Versailles together. She makes the best apple dumplings in the world. I have wanderlust because she taught me that the world is a beautiful place, meant to be explored. I’m a foodie because of her, too. I’m also the handy person in the house because of her. I can do electrical work, cut in a room, and fix just about anything in the house because I watched my mother, a single mom, do it. I learned that if it had to be done, you better learn to do it. Ain’t no one gonna do it for you. I love her to pieces, and telling her that I would not have a relationship with her any longer broke a part of me–permanently.
How can I possibly open up my chest and reveal the scars, the cracks, and the gaping hole that is there to my insensitive family? How can I tear back the veil of time and show them all the spaces where I have cried out, screamed into my pillow, and curled up under my covers, because of my grief? How can I possibly let them feel what I feel? How can I paint a picture for them that would represent the full and complete image of what I have suffered at her hands? Perhaps what she has suffered at her own hands? Will they then suspend their judgment of me? Would they offer me some mercy? Would they stop looking at me as if I’m some sort of pagan pariah? What have they paid to love her? What has it cost them?
Where were they after I returned from captivity? All they said: “We prayed for you.” But, they turned their backs just like my mother did. I was a defiled Untouchable to them just as I was to my mother–on my own. It’s too much for me to take in. Where are they now? Where have they been? They send cards proclaiming their love for us, all the while knowing that there is a family here with four little girls and no grandparents, no aunts, no uncles, no one. Just a mom and a dad…and four little girls. No one else. Every holiday. Alone. Every birthday. Alone. This Christmas. Alone. But…they pray. What has it cost them to love my mother? What does it cost them to love us? Nothing. Not one goddamn thing.
I could give my mother what she wants, but I would lose myself. I could play the part of the “nice, shiny Christian” by kowtowing to her in front of the family. Everyone would applaud and say what a dutiful, obedient daughter I am. They would say: “We prayed for you.” And, I would drown in a sea of nothingness. My life and identity as well as those of my daughters would disappear over the event horizon of my mother’s self-loathing and unending fear of abandonment. We would be annihilated. I cannot.
Even if God and I are the only ones who will ever know the truth of my own heart, I can honestly say that I love her. I am weary of the judgment. But, if that is the price that I must pay for safety and freedom, then that is the cross I am willing to bear. It just feels so heavy tonight, and I wish I had no more tears left to give her. It seems, however, that I do.