I ran into my mother today while I was at work. I am temporarily working at a store in a mall where she shops; I have been very afraid of this happening, to be honest with myself. The other day at another mall I thought I saw her, but it was not. The sudden sight of this person put me completely off balance, and it wasn’t even her. I reacted with a mild panic attack, but was luckily on the phone with my best friend who was able to quickly calm me down, especially once it turned out to be a complete stranger.
Today it actually was her. The woman I have not seen nor spoken with or had any contact with since she stormed out of my daughter’s wedding in early August. The mother who allowed her husband to abuse me; who denies it to this day, even though the first, most violent act I remember between us occurred when he was trying to hit her and the zipper on the back pocket of my jeans cut her leg badly while I was trying to protect her.
She was surprised to see me; I was of course surprised and yes, appalled, to see her. But I was much calmer than I thought I would be in the situation. I think that perhaps the dread of it and the “close call” the other day numbed my reaction a bit.
I told her I didn’t think she’d recognize me from the back with my new hair color. She responded,”Well, I AM your mother.” She got a little choked up I think, when she said that, and I did too. I said, “I know, Mom, but you need help. I need help.” She cut me off, saying, “I don’t need ANY help. I am not an alchoholic. I am happily married, I have a busy fulfilling life and I have a lot of friends.” I said nothing.
She began asking about my children. Of my eldest, she said, “How is San Diego going?” She did not use my daughter’s name once. She mentioned the younger two by name. It is only the eldest that sent my mother a letter similar to mine, calling Mom out on her behavior, not only at the wedding, but also towards my daughter’s new husband, towards my husband and my other children. She did not ask about my husband at all.
She asked how I was doing, and I told her things were going well. I told her my husband and I have never been happier together and that these tough times have made our marriage stronger. She rolled her eyes and grimaced. I told her about his new job, which she appeared pleased to hear about. She asked about my job and I told her I was enjoying it, though it has been very stressful. I spoke a little about my staffing problems, I believe.
She asked about my father, telling me how awful she thought he looked at the wedding. She does not know that I know she sent him a letter telling him he looked “like a broken man, because of all the burdens and stress” I have put upon him. I told him how much better he is doing with the adjustments to his medications.
All in all it was a conversation that I could have had with anyone of slight acquaintance. She made no move to touch me, to hug me, to even shake my hand. I am probably lucky she did not tell me how awful I look. She stayed while I helped two customers, but finally left, headed back towards Barnes & Noble, where she had come from.. I felt sick to my stomach. I felt like crying. I thought of the many things I could have said, and in fact wish I had thought to.
“Glad you have so many friends, since you have ‘no close familial relationships’.” (referring to her recent “endorsement” on my friend’s LinkedIn page, where she spoke of his help in setting up “various charitable trusts to dispose of [their] assets upon [their] deaths, since [they} have no close familial relationships.”)
“It’s good to have friends, especially when you have alienated your only child and her family.”
About my father, I should have said, “Contrary to your belief, he is not a ‘broken man’ because of tjhe ‘burdens and stress’ I put upon him. Not only has his health improved, but he is incredibly supportive and proud of me despite my flaws and problems.”
I should have said, “If you’re not an alcoholic, then why do you run through a third of a bottle of bourbon a night?”
“If you don’t need help, why do you think you are estranged from me and my family?”
“Did you actually READ my letter? Do you still deny that any of that happened?”
But perhaps most of all, I wish I had said, “Mom, I love you, but I need you to love me differently than you have these 49 years. I need you to love me unconditionally, to believe me, to hear me, and to stop writing off or complaining about everyone I love.”
“Mom, I really want to have a relationship with you again, but I can’t until you are willing to be the mother I have always needed and never really had.”
Instead we wished each other a happy holiday and she walked away. She just . . . walked away.