Somebody left me a message on my blog a few days ago, telling me that I am blind to my mother’s innocent, well meaning love and that I am acting like a sullen teenager. It was the longest response I’ve received to any of the almost fifty stories that I’ve posted. She – I assumed it was a woman ~ it had that voice – ended by saying that I wrote well.
That part mystified me more than anything else. I can’t imagine liking the writing of someone who appears in the writing as an utter jerk.
Anyway, I called the message my first hate mail, as if I had accomplished something.
It also felt like a letter from my own alter-self.
I have often treated my mother as if she were a sweet innocent person whom I should do my best to take care of. And it worked perfectly. The only parts that didn’t work were the huge headaches I got sometimes, and how I never felt at ease to talk about myself with her instead always listening and the way that often after visits I’d feel empty, like I’d been used up though I hadn’t noticed the siphoning.
While I lived in the ashram my mother lived in a garage apartment on the property of family friends. The main house was almost two hundred years old, a small farmhouse with low ceilings, slanted roofs in the small upstairs bedrooms, dark wide floorboards and rambling roses outside. My mother’s apartment above an empty garage filled with ancient farm tools had a nice rough edge to it. It wasn’t a smooth plastic place. I liked visiting there, watching videos and escaping the asceticism of the ashram. I liked the giant sunflowers my mother grew and the morning glories that blossomed on the railing of the steps leading up to her door where, in the fall, a pumpkin always sat.
I came down to spend the weekend once to celebrate her birthday. My two sisters lived a few thousand miles away, my father even further. It seemed that if I were not there my mother would be alone and I could not bear that. When she woke up that morning I had decorated the kitchen table with a small forest of marigolds -- plants she could add to her garden – and I had brought her special tea and a tea pot for brewing it because she often said she couldn’t taste tea the way she used to.
I haven’t called my mother since she visited ten days ago. I’ve lost the card I wrote to her, saying nice things about her visit. I knew my sisters are amongst those who don’t think I’ve behaved well.
It was one sister’s birthday yesterday and I did nothing. I had a few mild plans of things I might do – a small gift (which I ate myself), an email I never wrote. Everything I thought of ended up feeling like a cover-up I didn’t have the energy for.
I think about the other sister who for awhile fifteen years ago or so was accusing my father of having molested her when she was a baby. For a few years there she didn’t talk to any of us, except my mother, of course. She never cut herself off from my mother. I was thinking how this sister returned to the fold pretty quickly and more than thoroughly. Now she sends money to my father every month, asks him to write down his memories of childhood, traveled to Europe to visit him.
When I was in Budapest last year I saw a photograph collection she had made of her trip there. The last photo was a close-up of her and my father, looking perfectly satisfactory as a friendly loving father-daughter portrait.
I think my mother handles the big scary monster of life by – by what? I grew up hearing her tell me stories about how her brothers and sisters didn’t like her. “They used to run away from me,” she told me many times. I always saw her as someone people didn’t like very much – including me and my father – not because she was mean, but because she couldn’t take care of herself, because she had sort of anti-charisma, no strength, no belief in herself, no ability to really support another person.
One thing I can say for sure is that my mother does not ask for much. She doesn’t expect much. She is happy with her little home and her routine of getting up early, manual tasks, low-paying jobs. This smallness of hers drove my father crazy. I think he felt her always pulling him down—she who didn’t want life to get too big.
Natvar would accuse me of the same thing and I had no defense. It sounded right. Like my father, Natvar would talk big as if he had big plans and just needed to be discovered. And he thundered at me when I couldn’t keep up with him, when instead of rising to greet him on this wave of enthusiasm, I was numb. “You want to sabotage me, don’t you,” he’d say, and I thought he had to be right. I was always afraid of becoming my mother and it did not surprise me when it seemed to happen.
Natvar is dead. My father is crumpled and pretty much out of sight. My sisters obey the conventions of family obedience. My mother plays innocent child, the one you can’t find a way not to like. She sends my father $100. She tucks a $20 bill under my soap dish before she goes home.
The person who wrote the nasty email tries to explain that my mother is just trying to tell me she loves me. That explanation is actually already a very familiar one. I know that interpretation. It’s a very small explanation though, a ready-made one. It’s like trying to cover a big bowl with a small piece of Saran wrap, stretching and stretching, saying it fits, but there’s that big gap.