BOX OF WINE
The subject line read like this:
Then the email.
“I’d prefer you never contact me again,”
The first two words that came to mind when I read them at the end of a full day of work were relief and freedom. Of course this could have been a big dose of shock and denial, but finally after 52 years of having a mother who never seemed to enjoy her child, me, it was over. She released me and I allowed it.
Twenty years my senior, my mother and I had a combative relationship from the get go. There were so many years of back and forth tensions and disappointments and as sad as it was, it felt oddly liberating. A mother child relationship is complicated. There are societal expectations of the sugar coated connection between parent and child especially between mother and daughter.
As a child, I spent a lot of my life trying to be the daughter she expected. The problem was that the expectations had no boundaries. It was like the black hole of expectations. The reality is that there was another continual force between us and that force was Chablis and Chardonnay. I have been to enough Alanon meetings in my life to know that no person, no child, no spouse can compete with the bottle or in this case, the box. The bottle is a wedge with vaporous consequences infecting the quality of relationship and leaving it without a chance.
What part did the daughter of this ‘it takes two to tango’ relationship play? Perhaps if I had been more loving, more caring, more more more. It’s just that when your mother doesn’t accept the love you have to give, when she is hard to love, when love is about control and expectations on her own terms, all the Louise Hay, Oprah reruns and Deepak in the world cannot fill the gaping hole.
The thing is, that as a daughter of an alcoholic parent, the emotional cork plugged the hole when her pain was so unbearable and that is when she stopped any ability to go inside the despair and go through it. Pain is painful. We all have pain. Our deep family pain was a very nasty divorce between my parents and ultimately the death of my brother from cancer when he was only 25 over 20 years ago. As a mother, I don’t know how anyone ever gets through it. But as a daughter left behind as the only child, dangling with despair too, it is hard to wrap my head around the ultimate abandonment of letting me go.
I’d like to say we both gave it our all. I don’t even really know what this means because when you are competing with a perpetual box of wine, the relationships that matter, that may have even a chance of survival, are left in the dust and alcohol triumphs.
For the daughters out there with mothers like mine, there is likely a feeling of understanding of how this seemingly unthinkable closure could happen. The end comes to a close not by a fuck you fight or a phone hang up or the silent treatment, we have had enough of those in our history, but by her manipulative email. “Don’t ever call me again” seems like a serious period at the end of a sentence, but it is a passive aggressive 101 comma. The decision I made to not respond, to not engage, not beg, ultimately gives me the strange last word.
I didn’t ask for the last word. I didn’t want the last word. When a mother asks for their daughter to never contact them again, there is a deep underlying sadness in the request. When I don’t call and honor the request, am I not saying to her, this relationship is not worth the fight? Am I not saying to her, I don’t love you, I don’t care enough about you? Does it leave her with the feeling of ultimate unloveability like she has always felt about herself, not worthy of love, not good enough? Or does it leave her with a satisfaction affirming her years of thinking that I never cared about her? No one wins. It is a lose lose scenario.
After so many years of apologizing for not living up to the never good enough expectations, her release of me from her life was both a very sad finality and a new beginning. It is like the ultimate self-fulfilling prophecy.
With the feeling of freedom, though, comes the immediate what ifs? What if she dies, what if her husband dies, what if she gets sick, how will I know, will it be in the will that I am not allowed to be there? How does this figure with my son? How does my son navigate this relationship, maintaining a connection with his grandmother knowing that alcohol is a driver in its inadequacies and that her behavior and example as a mother will likely make him question her moral compass? Does she realize all of the consequences before she hits the send button or was it Chardonnay that helped her along?
I remember the first time I had the courage to bring up alcohol as a possibility of its power between us. I think I was deep into my late 30s. The funny thing about alcoholism is that it has its way of hiding. I didn’t even realize that my constant walking on eggshells feeling since I was five or six years old was because of alcohol. I actually think I personalized it and felt my own lack of self worth through her eyes. Not until I was into my marriage, did I start to explore alcoholism and its divisive yet invisible power affecting communication, feelings and most importantly the growth and maturity in a relationship both with her and more importantly with myself. No one ever really says aloud that alcohol is the problem.
Sometimes relationships are just past the repair phase. Sometimes unspoken hurts, resentments, jealousies buried for years because of the numbing effects of alcohol just have to finish. To go deeper would mean bringing up years of stifled pain that once the genie was let out of the bottle, would be too much for a 72 year old woman to bear. This is more true for people who have been drinking their pains and their feelings, drowning them hoping they would never have the excuse to surface and be found. It seems so much easier to stuff them, but the ultimate cost is severed relationships that are near impossible to come back once they are cut from the tether.
So I grieve. I grieve the loss, I grieve the sadness of abandonment, I release myself and I release her. I forgive her and I forgive myself every day hoping that she can sense the lack of anger and the never-ending empathy I send to her. I meditate on both of our healing as we wind through the rest of our time separately but forever connected. It is painful, but I have done so much work in my life that I must allow myself the honor to disengage from a relationship that just doesn’t feel very good. For both of us.
I instead revel in the things I learned from her. I focus on these things when I look at my situation of facing a double mastectomy without a mother to come help me but probably would not find helpful anyway except in the fantasy of the help.
I revel and embrace my love of the kitchen and new recipes, her great laugh and sense of humor, her traipsing me to Newbury St for haircuts when I was six years old. I reflect back on her taking me for my first facial at the age of 12 leading me to the path of being in and owning my own beauty business because of her influence. I smile when I am packing up to go to the beach and I light up with the feeling of sitting in my beach chair in the sand on the first day of summer because of her. I revel in the amazing skills I have as a great parent because of the care she had for my studies, my safety, my shelter. I revel in the lessons I learned about taking care of a home, decorating it. I revel in the wisdom of being way better at staying calm and peaceful during my divorce because it was what was best for my son and my health. When you are married to someone for 20 years, anger is not an option, my parents taught me this from their mistakes in their divorce.
Each time the sadness hits me that I don’t have a strong nurturing relationship with my mother, I take great comfort in how this loss has lead me to have a deep and honest one with my son. When I see other daughters share a bond with their mothers, I am aware that there is a very real possibility I may never see her again. I focus on the things that I loved and learned. I try to replace these sad thoughts with all of the good things I learned from her that have shaped and sculpted my views of the world.
For these things I am grateful, grieving a traumatic life loss, but grateful.