BRAZEN AND BADASS
“I’ve been through the desert on a horse with no name, it felt good to be out of the rain,” or is it out in the rain? It’s a desert so I’m thinking that it is out of the rain, but I’ll pay closer attention next time the song blasts on. When that America song comes on the radio, regardless of the correct phrase, I am five, in the front seat of my mother’s pale yellow triumph, top folded down by unsnapping it before we left because automatic tops didn’t exist except in James Bond movies. My mother endlessly smoking from the familiar blue and white box of Parliaments, one after the other. She lit them with the automatic lighter provided as standard along with the ashtray to collect the cigarettes looking carefree as she and I headed towards Third Beach, to meet her friend Ann and Ann’s son who was about my age. I can smell the ocean and the salty breeze in our hair as we sped down the road listening to America and Carol King belt out familiar tune after tune.
My mother was only twenty-five when I was five, but it never occurred to me that anything was particularly odd or young about this. I am not sure where my brother was or if she was still pregnant with him but when I do the math, she would have had to have been at least six or seven months pregnant. I am sure with my good memory I would have recalled this. So he was either born already and would have been seven months and home with someone and this would have made me six instead of five and it would have been the summer of 1971 instead of 1970. Or he wasn’t born yet and therefore I was four and it was 1969. This is sad to me because I don’t recall a lot of my brother’s presence in my young life; there was a bit of invisibility to him. Of course there could have been the possibility he was tucked away in the little back area of the Triumph, a definite consideration because there weren’t many child safety laws back then. Regardless, my beach memories are some of the fondest ones I recall when it comes to me and my mother, Ann. These memories unfold with a gentle smile like the black and white Kodak prints locked away in the five or six yellowy albums Ann gave me when she moved to North Carolina almost the same day I announced my engagement. At least that is what it felt like at the time, Ann always running, farther and farther.
Mother daughter relationships are layered with complexity. Add to this recipe alcoholism and a slew of other emotional injuries and our relationship’s potential became weaker and less likely the older we became. The further away I am from my mother though, I have a more objective view of how I move and dance with my mother who doesn’t want to have a relationship with her only surviving daughter. For the most part since the words came in that stark and abrupt email, “I prefer you never contact me again,” almost three years ago, the untangling of her hold on my emotional state has been one of freedom and release. She might say the same thing about me; I readily admit that we both didn’t bring out the best in each other. In a sad and unraveling way, it has been healthier for both of us.
But I still miss her. I have reached out and have attempted to break that awkward silence by those damaging words. She in turn has responded in her own way and for this rare communication, I feel like at least the relationship cannot be labeled as estranged. Estranged feels immature, permanent, unforgiving, unapologetic. This is not who I am. So we both seem to accept the space between us and realize that this is probably as good as it ever is going to get. I know I have broken the cycle of abrupt family endings by having a strong relationship with my son and my former husband and the life we had and have now. The thing about Ann though, is that she is a part of me, whether we agree with each other, whether we judge each other or feel frustrated by either of our behavior. She shows up in ways I have grappled with despite countless Alanon meetings and therapy sessions trying to learn what it is about me that I can control or change.
My mother has used shopping to fill the hole in her heart for as long as I remember, way before my brother died, way before my father left. This was my example. When the going gets tough, go shopping, Ann could have written this mantra. In Ann’s case, to be more specific, it would be when the going gets tough, buy a new car. When I was a young girl, we had lots of different cars, so it will likely come as no surprise that I have the same contagious problem when I am relationship triggered. I wish I could recognize the fall down the rabbit hole before I ended up at the car dealer signing on the dotted line, but this time around, once again, I ignored the signs right in front of me that caused the tornado.
This time it is different; this time I changed the narrative. This time when the blah blah voice on my right shoulder came up to scold me for being irrational or irresponsible, I stood tall and looked at that voice, hands on hips, legs firmly planted, thigh muscles contracted and said, Whose voice is that anyway? Whose voice does that belong to? And why do I get these out of body commands to buy a car anyway? What is the trigger? Like Ann leaving, one of my oldest and dearest friends abruptly left too, without so much as a note; I know this is the trigger, this is the familiar way I deal with grief and loss. This is why the feelings come up because it connects me to my mother for a fleeting moment; there is a familiar rush with it. And during this whirlwind, I forget that I am the grown up superchick who has basically raised herself and raised a business with these two strong hands on her own. If I want to throw all cares to the wind and buy a new car, or in this case, lease one, I am a grown woman who gets to unabashedly make this choice. I am not five, I am fifty three, getting closer to my mid fifties by the minute and I can’t get into trouble by anyone. There is no timeout or punishment for my decisions, rash, planned or everything in between. It is the first time I have looked at that voice and challenged it and the freedom that washed over me stabilized my core like a long held warrior pose as I stood up to this familiar voice. At Last.
I can feel sad and feel grief and for a change not punish myself for the ways I deal with that grief. As soon as I challenged this blithering voice, it went back in its shell, and I marched forth, brazen and bad ass with a new bat mobile in my driveway. I wish I could call Ann and tell her. She would be laughing with her infectious laugh and would likely recognize that despite our distance, we do share some similarities. It is those that I miss.