Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Seeing My Mother in Strangers

It happens more often than I'd like. I'll be on a bus or a train or even watching a movie and suddenly my mother appears. My immediate reaction, always, is fury. Teeth-gnashing, fist-clenching rage. In a matter of seconds everything comes back to me and I have leave the room, the bus, the theater, because I'm afraid of what I might do.

It happened today on my way home from work. I got off the bus with an older lady carrying a dog in a dog-carrier/duffel-bag. The dog was tiny, quiet, and crammed in the doggie bag with a few paperback novels and magazines. The lady was very obviously drunk, though she didn't smell like alcohol, and she alternated between talking incoherently and nonchalantly at the dog and at her cell phone. Everything from this woman's upper lip, her posture, her sloshed-enunciation, to the way she pretended to give half a shit about the obviously uncomfortable but uncomplaining little dog... it just... it was all my mother. The more I stared at this woman, the more I saw my mother's insolent smirk, her lowered eyelids, her fuck-all attitude. It didn't matter that this woman was black and my mother was a red-headed white woman. To me, they were identical.

Another time it happened, I was on the train and two stinking-drunk ladies came on, one of them dragging behind her a tear-streak and terrified little girl who looked no more than seven years old. It was seven in the morning and these ladies were beyond plastered. One of them held a see-through 7-11 Big Gulp blatantly filled with beer and she had a death-grip on the wide-eyed little girl. The way this girl stared at the woman, who I assumed was her mother, was with pure horror. Anyone looking at them would have thought that the girl had been kidnapped and was just too scared to say anything about it. But, again, all I saw was my mother.

I moved far away from my family on purpose. When I told my grandmother, before I went to Japan for a year, that even a thousand miles away from my parents is not far enough--I was not joking. To this day, I am determined to never live close enough to either of my parents that they can casually "drop by" for a visit. I can't "bump into" my mother or stepmother at the grocery store. I won't be asked, as I am too-often asked each time I visit, for money I don't have to pay their bills. But, most of all, I won't have to see my mother. I don't have to see who she is now, dying, slowly withering away with her failing liver and lungs, and not who she once was; the strong, frightening drunk who broke her own mother's jaw in a fist fight.

That was the plan, anyway. I didn't expect to find her in strangers. Didn't think she'd just show up on street corners in broad daylight.

But at least these strangers, unlike her, can't hurt me. They are ghosts of her.

For now, still, I am free.

It seems like cowardice in a way, moving out here. My mom can barely move across her apartment in Arizona, scooting her oxygen tank, may as well slug me in the face. My stepmother weighs less than I do; there's no chance of her dragging me across the floor by my hair like she once did. My parents can't punish me like they used to.

But wasn't fear that motivated me. I moved as far away as I could because I knew that, if I stayed, I would still have to talk to them and, just to get by, to be able to even function, I would have to pretend that nothing bad ever happened.

It's fine for me to come out here to Chicago, hundreds of miles away, and forget. To live my own life and do what I want and not be weighed down by memories. But to allow my parents the luxury of believing that I forgive them, that it's all okay now and we just laugh about it... No.

I know, it's a kind of revenge that's petty, stupid and selfish, but I get sick to my stomach every time I hear my parents tell us or our friends or family about how good they were at raising us. "Just look at how great Aimee and Bryan turned out! Obviously, we did something right!"

No. You didn't. And I'm still fucked up because of you.