This isn’t an equipping post or an inspirational post. It’s just me, remembering something. Most of the time I simply sweep the past behind me because most of it has been so thoroughly examined and consecrated that it no longer has a sting. But this memory quietly bubbled up today as I was changing the sheets on my bed. Or maybe it seeped into my mind like a slow hiss. Some memories play out like a film. We’re standing outside the event as an observer. We see ourselves as if we’re not even an active participant in our own lives. Some memories are alive and vivid, happening to us in real time as if we are reliving them over again. That’s what this memory was like. I was suddenly thrust back in time, standing directly next to my mother as she was helping me organize my basement.
It’s funny to me because I seldom think about my mother these days. If she comes to mind at all it’s only in passing. I don’t feel very much. She’s where she is. I am where I am. We are 300 miles apart in distance, but we might as well be a universe apart in spirit. And you know what? I am finally okay with that. I grieved the loss of that relationship as if she died so it feels very surreal to me that she still lives because, to me, she died along with every dream I had that I would ever have a healthy mother.
This is why it felt all the more strange to find myself in a remembered time in my basement standing next to my mother. The memory was brilliantly clear. I remembered every detail around her presence. It was my birthday. All I wanted for my birthday was an organized basement. So, she and my stepfather drove in for the weekend, bought a plethora of organizational bins, and helped me take things out of the cardboard boxes and put them in plastic bins. My stepdad organized our tools, installed some lights, and built some shelves. I was just happy to have the task finally underway. It had been weighing on me. As is my mother’s way in all things, no gift is given freely, and I am never allowed to expand into any sort of identity that might threaten hers. This is how her borderline personality disorder is expressed. She will try to be generous, but she must always take a pound of flesh in exchange preferably at a vital spot that might cause longterm damage.
I recalled that I was organizing the newly built shelf. I was happy. She saw that I was happy. She came alongside me and commented on my basement.
“It’s coming along nicely.”
“Yes, I’m so happy. Thank you so much. This was so helpful.”
“Well, don’t think you’ll be getting anything else from us for your birthday. I think that this is quite enough, don’t you?” she remarked with a hardened smile.
Stunned into silence, I nodded.
“Well then, I can tell you that this looks nothing like our house. It sure is beginning to look good after all that renovation we’ve been doing. Granted it was a mess after taking down those walls, and I didn’t like it. All that dust!” She then turned to me with a haughty expression and quietly said, “But I’ll tell you this. You would never have been able to handle it.” She then tossed her hair and continued organizing the shelf as if she had just told me that she liked my haircut.
This is standard behavior for my mother. She’s like a scorpion. As soon as you feel like you understand her or even feel comfortable, she’ll get you from behind. My training would have dictated that I say nothing to her after a sting like that. Granted, that’s tame for my mother. She was just being herself. In her eyes, she is the Queen. She gives happiness. She is the provider of all good things. If I seem just a bit happier than she intended, then she must take it away as a reminder that I am her subordinate always dependent upon her for everything. In this case, however, I didn’t want to submit. I didn’t want to remain silent. I didn’t like the sting. So, I spoke up.
I turned to her and said emphatically, ‘You have no idea what I’m capable of handling, Mother.”
She was so surprised by my response that she stumbled backwards and fell. I did not help her up. She glared at me. I knew I would pay for it later, but I didn’t care. I was an adult.
When I remembered this today I felt an urge to cry. Then, I felt another far baser urge. I wanted to find my mother and shove her face in her own shitty declarations and yell back, “Do you see? You were wrong about me! Do you see? I’ve handled you! I’ve grown up and become a far better person than you’ll ever be! Do you see? I am raising my daughters under extraordinary circumstances, and they are great kids! I’ve been married for nineteen years! I’ve done this in spite of you with all the hurdles you’ve thrown in front of me! I don’t need you. I don’t need your approval. I’m doing just fine! So there!”
And then I felt guilty for feeling that “carnal” urge to shove my mother’s face in her own abusive shite. I sat with my feelings for a moment, picked up my newly covered pillow, and sniffed it. It smelled clean and fresh, and that comforted me. It was also cool against my cheek, and I have a thing about cool pillowcases. I had no idea why I had remembered my mother’s toxic words today. I try to pay attention to memories when they come forward. They speak to us. My mother often told me that I wasn’t good enough. She had to impose her own self-loathing on me through words and violence. As is typical for her expression of borderline personality disorder, she could not permit me to separate or individuate. I was never allowed to be. I was only allowed to do particularly what she forced me to do.
I think it’s why I can let this memory pass on with the rest of them and release my mother from yet another debt. Ten years ago, this memory would have hurt me more. Today, I see her more clearly because I see myself more clearly. I can do today because I am, but my doing doesn’t define my being. If I fail, it doesn’t define me in any way. My being is already settled. I in no way loathe who I am. I don’t feel empty or rootless. My mother can’t agree with any of this. One can’t give what one doesn’t have.
Standing in my basement, my mother did indeed fall. She lost her place of power over me because I spoke up. Maybe that’s why I remembered this moment today. Maybe it’s not her words that I was supposed to recall.
Maybe I was supposed to remember mine.
“You have no idea what I’m capable of handling, Mother.”
Maybe you have some memories that bubble up and sting you, too. Maybe you’re not seeing what’s really there. Maybe you’re a helluva lot stronger than you know.
If I was really the star of my story that whole time, and I just realized it now…then what does that mean for you?