But like that Genie's bottle or Pandora's Box, this proverbial can of worms refuses to be closed. The words must come out.
My mother was an alcoholic who died from her disease by way of cirrhosis of the liver.
She was also my Mother and the person I automatically think of when I'm faced with my own questions, trials, and tribulations as I parent my own children.
If I ever do get around to writing a novel, it will likely be centered around a tragically flawed person who despite her brilliance, beauty, charm, and children's desperate need of her, succumbs to her demons and thus becomes a footnote in the life that should have been. Because that's really how I feel. I feel like her story never got told, never even really started, before she died, and now her story is simply the background to my own life. Everything I do, I do either to remove myself from her legacy or try to emulate her in every way possible.
It's a complex thing to explain, let alone, live. There were truly two of her, the drunk, and the mother who so wanted to be perfect for her daughters that she completely came unhinged in her attempts to be.
Anyone who knew her would testify that she was the most fun, lovely, compassionate and wickedly whip-smart and witty person they'd ever met. She could converse for hours on pretty much any topic, but civil rights and the plight of the downtrodden were her passion. Anything which involved helping the under-dog. From a baby squirrel who fell from a tree, to a client whose kids had never been to the Zoo, my mother was going to help them.
She played the piano and to this day, the memory of her sitting at the upright Wurlitzer and Sons makes me smile.
She ensured that we knew how fortunate we were. We sponsored a child in Africa through the Christian Relief Fund because she felt strongly that to really know our fortune, we must see reality for most of the rest of the World.
She threw us Birthday parties and everyone dressed up and she led the games of Operator and Pin the Tail on the Donkey.
She curled our hair for portraits at JC Penny.
She spent long nights working in her office to spare one client an inkling of misery.
She was always buying blankets to give to the homeless she drove past on her way to work, both in Hartford, and later on, in Pacifica CA.
She taught us that no matter the color of someone's skin, we all had the same blood inside.
She drove through snowstorms to pick up a single Mom and her kids in the midst of a domestic situation, not out of a sense of duty as their lawyer, but because she couldn't stand the thought that they didn't have a warm place to sleep.
She would nurture the most forgotten among us.
But , because of her disease, the nurturing of her own kids became inconsistent. Sometimes, there was fear, hatred, and shame that muddled the waters. The older I got the more embarrassing and pickled with anger our relationship became. I was realizing just how wrong things were, that I shouldn't have to drag my passed-out Mom up two flights of stairs to bed, or on the other hand, pour water on her the next morning so she would wake up and go to work. And God, did she play the victim. Everything that was crumbling in her life could be pinned on someone else.
She died in California when I was 23. November 30th, 2000. She was 53, the same age her own alcoholic father had been when he died.
And just like that, the seismic shift from childhood demon to memory's saint happened.
I don't know if it's exclusive to kids of alcoholics and addicts, or maybe kids of the mentally ill can attest to it also, but once your parent is gone.....well, what are you to do with the memories? Are you to allow yourself to remain the harsh judge of their frailties, to stay angry and hurt and utterly powerless, or do you, for your own hearts' sake, allow yourself to look gently on those transgressions so you can have something nice to hold onto in your soul?
I was 23 and she was dead and I never got to fully unleash my anger towards her. I never got the apology. It was all just so sad and pathetic and such a lame ending to what could and should have been an amazing life. I couldn't reconcile the two legacies she left.
And now, I have my own children, and I'm left wondering, should I?
Do I "get to" honor her? Or were her life choices so selfish that I should still hold her in contempt? Must I recall the brutal details of her failures, or has the act of having lived through them penance enough?
I don't see why I can't do both. Yes, she had a disease and it made her do and be horrible things.
But she was my Mom. She was my Mommy, which my boys now call me. She was a person who did amazing things which changed the course of other peoples' histories. She mattered, to a lot of people, but also, very much so, to me. What I know of "mothering" came from her. When I sing songs to my boys at bedtime, I think of her voice, which, towards the end of my time living with her, used to send my shoulders into tight balls of disdain; but which now I miss so very much. I remember the kissing of boo-boos, the coloring of eggs, the fanatical Christmas tree decorating, the hugs and the warmth of her, and the love.
She wasn't the best Mom, but, she was mine. At the very least, she showed me what it is to be vulnerable, complex, messy, and ultimately, very, very, human.
Rest in Peace, Mom.
I forgive you, and love you, and think of you all the time. I hope to continue your story and make you proud.
And to do what you always wanted, but never could, do. To write my story with the Happy Ever After you wanted.