I’m learning to acknowledge the love that I still feel for my mom, even if it is technically in conflict with my palpable resentment of her.
TW/CW: this essay discusses family trauma and mentions emotional and physical abuse.
May is an extremely weird and emotionally painful month for me. On one hand, while spring started two months ago, May is usually when it moves into full swing. The sun is out, but not punishing me in the way that it will do when summer rolls around. It’s breezy outside. Airy even. Flowers are coming out after being jumped by rain droplets for the last one and a half months. Lots of celebrations usually follow. Graduations. Weddings. The “start” of summer for those in [grade] school. It’s a beautiful time and in the past, was my favorite month and season.
But on the other hand? The whole month (but particularly the first half) is stacked with things I’ve been told my whole life I should celebrate….but I’d rather not. Because there’s no reason, presently, that I should want to celebrate them. Celebrate these things that I attempted to love, but actually, I really hate. Things like my mom’s birthday. Followed by Mother’s Day. Followed by my own birthday. And then capped off with my sister’s birthday at the conclusion of the month. It should technically be the most amazing month. But it’s the month, besides November, that I struggle with the most. Why? Well, my family has been banned from talking to me.
My mother is at the top of that list. And yet? I still miss her.
It’s hilarious really. When I was much, much younger, the ongoing assumption that I had was that my mom would always be in my life. That there would be some element of a push and pull in our relationship because our upbringings were so different (as it is with immigrants and their children), but that ultimately, at the end of the day, like a Barney episode or some guest episode on Full House, love would prevail and me and my mom would find some type of way to be cool. To remain close.
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Of course, this was but a dream and it was quickly revealed to be a farce when it became obvious that she was never going to suddenly graduate into upstanding and righteous mother that I falsely believed her to be.
It’s hard to pinpoint when exactly I had this Eureka! moment. It’s easy to say that it was when the disgusting family secret that felt like it was ripped from a Tyler Perry script became publicly known and I decided to move away forever. It’s also easy to say that it happened when my mother accused me of something particularly heinous over a minor squabble between her and my father about if it was cool for me to sleep over at my play-cousin’s house. It’s also easy to blame it on all the times that my mother didn’t take up for me or my siblings whenever my father’s verbal and physical abuse ramped up to a fever pitch.
But…as we know, life is extremely complex and my breaking point with my mother was not as clean as my rage issues would have liked it to be.
All of the above things were true and were revealed to be true, yes, but in the interim, my mom and I were pretty fucking close. Part of it is because we were victims of abuse from the same exact person. And there was always some unspoken agreement that we would one day be rid of him. I also credit much of it to the temperament (and subsequent bonding that occurred) from both being Taurus women. Our mutual fixation on nice things and amassing them for our own enjoyment. The other part of it? Well, brace yourself, is that I’m about 99.9 percent sure that she saw herself in me and wanted me to [try] to be better. That sounds extremely narcissistic and egocentric but bear with me. As much bitterness as I’ve clung onto because of the failings of my mother to protect her children—all of her children—my mother was pretty (and firmly) instrumental in my life and in the shaping of my life path when she found the will, the strength, and the dignity to…say something. My love for writing—after being sparked by a Black English teacher—continued to be encouraged by my mother from a young age. She pushed me to apply to be a part of the school newspaper when I was in middle school. And when my father’s intimidation tactics sadly prevailed and I quit, my mom circled back years later and encouraged me to self-publish a pet project of mine when I couldn’t break into traditional publishing.
Besides that? Well, she had other select moments when her backbone would occasionally find her and she would take up for me. One of those other moments happened when my dad tried to intimidate me out of joining and staying on the debate team. Or when she laughed in his face when he said he was gonna make me walk to school after I had gotten my license against his wishes and she simply gave me the keys to her car. Or when she completely ignored my father’s temper tantrum on the day I graduated from the University of Chicago when they both found out that I had been studying film (read: Cinema Media Studies) the entire time instead of studying pre-Med as I had previously told them (re: lied) about. And she—a pretty fucked up Nigerian matriarch—simply told me she was happy with my actual major as long as I was happy about it and had a plan of how I could make it work. I didn’t have a fucking plan, of course, but the faith that my mother invested in me in that moment (hell, in every moment that involved my journey as a writer), being who she was, is a faith that I carry with me to this day.
Painfully so. It’s why I am presently still writing even though I strongly feel that there is an expiration date on how long I can keep doing this—writing—until I quit and disappear from digital media altogether. I keep writing. Because it comes with some awareness that even if my mother was meant to be better than this or was intended to amount to more than who she was, she wasn’t up for making that leap. Or worse, had resigned herself to the fact that there was no “better than this”. That there was just…this. And still, she turned all of her attention and any shred of will that compelled her to leave her repugnant situation into some investment that one day I would be the one to leave and stay gone.
It’s a weird thing. Recognizing that your mother ain’t shit, while also acknowledging that she has firmly planted all her hopes and dreams on your own head, hoping that you will grow up to be the kind of woman that she did not have the courage to be. And loving her, probably foolishly, because of the latter.
My rage issues (re: my inner kid) are boundless. And they compel me to hate her for her cowardice. And that’s not a feeling I plan on suppressing for anyone else’s comfort. But I’m also learning—as I am learning with my complex relationship with this month—to hold acknowledge the love that I still possess for my mother, even if it is technically in conflict with my palpable resentment of her.
I will always love her, even if I don’t particularly want to. That doesn’t make me a hypocrite. Nor does it mean that I’m suddenly dishonoring my boundaries. It just means that your girl is human. And that is in fact, my dear readers, the human affliction.
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