I’ve been thinking about my mother a lot lately.
There are a few different reasons for that.
For one thing, I have now officially outlived her. She died when she was 59 years and thirteen days old. I passed that milestone (if that’s what you want to call it) on April 16th of this year. I spent a few months fretting because, deep down in the irrational part of me, I was afraid I wouldn’t and that was unacceptable to me because I still have things I want to do.
Another reason that she has come to mind is because she never did forgive me for dropping out of college (twice!) without earning any sort of degree. At the time, I told her that there wasn’t anything I wanted to do for which I needed a degree, and if I ever decided I wanted to do something that required a degree, I’d go get one. As matters evolved, that is precisely what I ended up doing.
She didn’t live long enough to know that I eventually went back to school but she very much came to mind a week ago when I got my Masters degree. I sometimes think that she’d be pleased that I’m working on a Ph.D. but then I realize that she would be annoyed with me for working on a Ph.D. in anthropology. She would have wanted me to go into physics or something like that.
She never was easy to please.
But the most emotionally powerful reason why my mother has been on my mind lately has been Moana.
Kimmie sat me down when I went to Arizona last March and we watched it together. If you haven’t seen it yet and you want to eventually, you probably should stop reading right now.
In other words, SPOILER ALERT!
There is a particular part of the movie that calls her to mind and that is the sequence toward the end when Te Ka gets her heart back and transforms back into Te Fiti. That sequence metaphorically describes my mother better than anything I’ve ever seen or heard.
You see, one thing I have realized about my mother is that she was the most frightened and miserable person I have ever known. She threw my father out when I was seven years old. That meant that she was solely responsible for raising and supporting her two young daughters from that time, and I know from my own experience just how terrifying that prospect can be.
She also had some serious trust issues. I don’t know what happened to her early in her life to stunt her at such an early developmental stage but it was clearly evident looking back at her behavior. She had associates, as she went from one life situation to another. People liked her and she liked them, too, but she had no friends and nothing approaching a social life. No one to talk to. No one to hang out with. No one to play with. She also never again had anything like a boyfriend or lover once my father left.
She didn’t let anybody in. Not even her children.
She was a physically and emotionally abusive parent. The beatings healed relatively quickly, and I was afraid enough of her that I tried not to get her mad at me. But she said some terrible things to me during my childhood, things that were insensitive and hurtful. She humiliated me. She hurt my feelings. She slapped me down constantly. She damaged me. And then she tried to convince me that nobody would ever love me more or treat me better than she did. I think, if I had believed her, I would have killed myself.
Fortunately, I didn’t believe her.
I was never really able to make peace with her before she died because she refused to admit that there was anything she ever said or did to me that I didn’t deserve, or that she didn’t have the perfect right to do to me because she was my mother. She never could admit that she was wrong about anything.
I had lots and lots of reasons to hate her but I never did. That’s because I knew, deep down inside, that this was not who she really was.
My mother lived a life of tragically wasted potential. Even when she went back to school, she didn’t go to study something she was interested in. She wanted to become a teacher so that she would have the same hours as her school-aged children. It took her so long to finish that, by the time she did, neither of us were school-aged anymore. She never did do any teaching; she didn’t like children enough for it to appeal to her once she had no reason to want the hours. So, we were both grown and gone and she had nothing — no career, no friends, no interests … nothing.
Less than 20 years later, she was dead.
She was relatively young when she died and I have always believed that her misery is what killed her. But I also saw that she had the potential to be a wonderfully loving, gentle, fun human being. She had been damaged herself, long before she gave birth to me.
She never knew who she was.
She’s been gone for 24 years now but I still weep for her.