One day, I'll write a book and give it this title. Or maybe it'll be a compilation of stories from various people about their mothers. I don't know. Big giant great title kudos to a writer friend of mine I'm lucky to get to have lunch with just about every day at work. muah. I'll totally link to her blog if ever she has one.
Every story I ever tell a friend about my mother starts with those words.
I've never really written here very honestly about her, simply for the fact that I'd hate for her to find something I'd written one day and be crushed by what I'd said. Never mind the fact that I'd only write what's true, and never mind the fact that she and I don't have a very close relationship anyway, and a half dozen other true never minds... It would still make me feel bad to have hurt my mother.
My entire life has been shaped by her. I don't know many people who can't say that. Whether it's positive or negative, whether your life is shaped by your mother's presence or absence, I think there's just some bond there that sticks. Defines who you are. Gives you your YOUNESS.
In the case of my mother, I've been driven by every bad decision she's ever made, every crazy thing she's done...to NOT BE HER.
That sounds really harsh, and I guess it is. Maybe in some ways I realize she did well. Somehow all four of us kids are decent human beings who own homes and have jobs and children and we all care about other people and even have a sense of humor. (Though, as an aside, I suppose maybe I should take some credit for that, as for a good chunk of my brothers' lives I was the sole caregiver, all while being a kid myself.)
But overall, my mother has always been the victim of her life. If you call her on any random afternoon and ask how work went, you'll most likely get a response along the lines of, "UGH it was just EXHAUSTING." Followed by five minutes of commentary about how her body aches and the people at work are just NOT NICE and how she sweetly does her job that she's so lucky to have when all anyone else ever does is sit around and gossip and not pull their own weight. Which is kinda hard to take when you know she was sitting at a desk in a heated and/or air conditioned office on a comfy ergonomic chair with regularly required breaks and a half hour for lunch. I repeat, not rescuing people from burning buildings or working in a sweatshop in southeast Asia.
And if you happen to get her on her cell in those after work hours? She will also be sure to tell you all about how she is "fighting traffic -- it's just HORRENDOUS." Traffic in the Milwaukee suburbs? Even those words on a screen look like a joke.
But I digress. The point of this post is to tell you a story that happened just last week. It's a sad story...one that we all know is so common among women. And is a very super clear indicator as to why I am the me I am today.
Let me start by giving you a bit of backstory.
In the summer of 2012, my mother lived with a boyfriend. We'll call him Don. And actually, before I can go on you should know my mother has an awful way of running her mouth and letting it get her into trouble. I guess that sounds contradictory -- someone who constantly paints themselves as a victim doesn't also seem like the type to bully people, but I've long since stopped trying to understand the logic inside my mother's head. She can be downright nasty when she wants to be, and has done it to me on more occasions than I could ever count -- it doesn't matter how glaringly obvious it is that she is wrong (either about the facts that she's arguing or for arguing the way she is in the first place) she has absolutely no problem shouting to be heard regardless as to where we are or who we're with. Especially if she feels she's been wronged.
So...in 2012 she's living with Don. And Don, by this point, has seen her at her finest several times and does not care for it. Only one day, it's Don's daughter she chooses to, shall we say, "express her opinions toward in a loud manner." Things escalated. I was not there, so I don't know exactly what happened. I do, however, know my mother had bruises from the altercation because I saw them afterward.*
My brothers, also knowing full well her, um, well let's just say it...her crazy ass way of screaming at people all the ways she feels they are WRONG...are also good men. If they see evidence of their mother being abused, they will step in, offer her a place to stay and escort her to her old home to help her move her things out safely. (Even as the one of them taking her in has a days-old newborn baby at home.)
Wouldn't you know it but three escorts nearly weren't enough to keep another physical altercation from happening.
I fucking kid you not.
So that was August of 2012. In October she got her own apartment and moved out of my brother's place. While it was a tiny one-bedroom with an even tinier kitchen, it was all hers. The time she spent living in that place was literally the only time she has ever lived on her own in her entire adult life.
It lasted about a year.
I was so proud of her. Finally, finally...she wasn't relying on or expecting some man to take care of her. It was her life to live on her terms. It was almost as if living on her own made her finally see that while small and nothing fancy, that place was something to be proud of. It was a cute little place. She bought some frames for the artwork my kids gave her, and furnished it with hand-me-down items from Goodwill and Craig's List. She was proud of that place -- I could physically see it in her.
Only not long after she moved in she lost her job.
This is really nothing new. It's happened numerous times in my life..."Mom's been let go again..." That's what happens when you have no education and no real skills. Over the past several years she's bounced from one menial desk job to another, always in different fields. She's done entry level accounting for a travel agency, was some sort of office assistant at an optometrist's office and was an appointment scheduler at an oncology clinic. If only she'd stick with one thing...one field...and maybe take a class or two...hone some sort of skill at something...
This all happened just before Christmas last year, which is right around her birthday. Yeah, you know what? That REALLY SUCKS. But the four of us kids called and texted each other and talked about how we might be able to help her out. We decided that even with our own kids and jobs and babies and our own financial stresses that we could pitch in and help her with rent for a month or two so that she didn't have to jump at the first crappy job available. We thought that after all of these years of false starts it might be great for her to take a few weeks and decide what she really wanted to do.
We talked to her about our offer. In the end, she started getting unemployment benefits pretty quickly, so at most one of my brothers paid her car payment for her that first month. We never had to pay her rent for her, but made it clear that the offer still stood firm.
She was unemployed for ten months.
I mean, I know. The economy. Yadda yadda. I could link here to articles about "the hiring gap" or whatever crap they're calling it. Companies are hiring...but skilled employees, of which we've already established she is not. (I could also point out that a lot of classes can be taken or at least started in ten months, but I'll let you draw those conclusions yourselves.)
Long story short, I don't entirely understand how unemployment benefits work, as I've never been in the position to have to use them. (Thankfully, I will add -- it's important for me to be clear how thankful I am to be in the position I'm in...) I don't know how long you're supposed to get them, what percentage of your pay you get, et cetera. But one day a few weeks ago she was saying that she got a check for nine dollars instead of her regular weekly amount.
Try as I might, no matter what questions I asked her, I got no real explanation as to whether that was some sort of snafu, or whether that was the last of her benefits dwindling away. I only got the feeling that she didn't really understand it, either, and when I suggested she dig into it further, she got offended.
Not long after the conversation about the nine dollar check, the clouds parted and rays shone down and angels sang.
She got a temp job. (Somewhat ironically, that job is to call people and provide some sort of assistance regarding the new government health care plans.) This is a contract position, so she knows it will last a few months, and the company can choose to hire her on in some capacity or another after that.
Here's where my real story starts. If you've skimmed over all of my blabbering above, here's where you should stop fake paying attention.
So last week Thursday I call her while on my way home from work. A friend was having a birthday party at a bar Sunday night and I was wondering if she could come over to watch my kids and put them to bed so I could go for a few hours.
"Oh, well, I should be able to," was her reply. "If I'm not busy moving stuff around."
Here's where you picture me doing that thing dogs do when you talk to them and say a word that kinda sounds like "treat" or "outside" but isn't exactly that word. My head kinda tilted to the left and my ears went up.
"What do you mean, Mom? Moving stuff around?"
Shortly after this point in the conversation I think my brain went into shock at what she was saying because I don't entirely remember how it went. But in a totally round about way, she told me she hadn't paid her October rent and wouldn't have enough money for a few weeks to pay for November. She had completely forgotten her kids' previous offer for monetary help and jumped straight off the deep end into an empty pool full of hungry sharks who were pissed off that there was also no water in their pool because she went on to tell me that she was moving back in with Don.
Like I said, a lot of this conversation turned into that MWAH-WAH-WAH that the teacher does in the Charlie Brown cartoons because I was so stunned (his name hadn't even come up in a year's time) but when she started to say the stereotypical things that victims say, such as
"Oh but we've been talking and I know it'll be different this time..."
"It was totally my fault and he didn't mean it..."
"Really it's so much more sensible to have two incomes and split the cost of living..."
I straight up began to cry.
Even after knowing her my entire life. After understanding her brand of crazy. KNOWING her shortcomings.
I never thought that she thought so little of herself -- had such a lack of respect for herself.
I went on to tell her -- pleading with her -- not to do that. I said, "Mom - I know I have a shitty little apartment, but PLEASE, before you move back in with him, PLEASE consider moving in with me instead. Don't worry about your things if you need to get them out of your apartment -- we'll all talk and we'll figure it out. PLEASE know that you can move in with me -- any time, day or night. We'll make it work. I mean, he got physical with you."
She brushed me off.
I reminded her of our previous offer of money. She made it clear she felt she was too far gone...too far in the hole. (Mind you, her rent was just over three weeks behind at this point. Not three months. Three WEEKS. She needed only about $550.)
"Well thanks, honey," she said, "but I think this will be for the best."
I can't even imagine a world in which that might be true.
*I in no way intend to imply that what Don did to my mother was justified because of the way she verbally attacks people. Acting the way she does isn't right, either, but the right thing to do would have been to walk away, not push her around. It is NEVER OK to hit your partner. Fuck that - it's NEVER OK to hit anyone, ever.