A few people have mentioned I’m going soft on Mother. I am portraying her in a decent light they say. They are right. It’s hard to say about one’s mother, but mine was dreadful a lot of the time. Her behavior toward me as a human being was mean and painful.
I believe this abuse contributed to the mental illness I have struggled with since I was 30. Now I live peacefully. However warped it may sound, if she hadn’t been who she was, I would not be who I am, and I’m fine being me.
I’m open to sharing her with you. It might help someone understand we are not alone. I hope readers know I realize so many others have suffered through so much more than I. My heart is with them. I do not write to seek sympathy or pity.
I have a few good friends. I love them lots. They are hard to come by and can be hard to keep. What does friendship mean to you? It’s different for everyone.
One of the strongest friendships I have seen is the guy who drove OJ Simpson all over wherever in that white Ford Bronco. The police are in pursuit. The friend continues driving away from the slow chase. He is doing this for OJ knowing he likely will be arrested or charged with I don’t know what. Although this was illegal, in my opinion, this was true friendship. He had OJ’s back at that moment.
Mother had a true friendship with Eddie. They went back to the early 70s. Mother was a bookkeeper for a wrecker company. He was in Sales. She was first-rate at her job. Within a year, she discovered her boss was embezzling. They got rid of him and she got that position. Mother loved working there and evidently had feelings for Eddie.
Eddie was married. There were many times Mother would fix a spread of food and put it in a basket and leave the house in the evening. She arrived back late but not inordinately so. She drove a light green Ford Fairlane Fastback. I took my driving test in this car. The officer complimented me on my parallel parking skills, which was a surprise because I could barely see out those back windows.
When Mother and I would go places in the car, I began to notice the passenger side window had a smear of something I couldn’t identify. I finally figured out it was the greasy kid stuff Eddie used for his hair. When he leaned on the window during their rendezvous, it left an icky sticky spot. This was how I knew something was going on. I didn’t know what. Looked like they were just hanging out in her car.
Eddie called Mother on the phone one time. I told him she wasn’t home and said I would let her know he had called. Unintentionally, I forgot to tell her. I mean, I forget things sometimes. When I did remember and told her, she got almost in my face and called me a bitch. Name-calling is below the belt. Any good therapist will tell you that. I prefer name-calling to slaps across the face. This is the beginning of Mother and Eddie as I knew them. Their friendship lasted until she died.
I remember the last time I saw her. We had a nice visit. I don’t know what made her decide she wanted me banished from her life. Granted, our relationship was rocky, but I never saw this estrangement coming.
I called her often in the beginning of this new arrangement. She never answered. I called Eddie every so often hopeful he would keep me up-to-date. He would say he hadn’t seen her in quite awhile. He didn’t keep in touch much. He said every so often he did her grocery shopping. Not really anything else going on. I somewhat believed what he told me but a nagging feeling was telling me he wasn’t on the up and up. Maybe their friendship had dimmed and they were barely friends. It was possible.
I took a road trip to Tampa to see her, unannounced. Her car was in the carport. She was home. She wouldn’t answer the door. I blew the car horn. I knocked firmly. I rang the doorbell over and over. I just couldn’t get her to acknowledge me. A neighbor across the street came out and told me to leave her alone. I went to the next door neighbor to see if they knew how Mother was doing. He said no. I left my name and number in case he heard anything.
I hung around a little bit longer. She stayed inside. I finally left. On her front porch chair, I put a CD of hymns and a beautiful blue rosary. We are not Catholic. I just happen to like rosaries, my version of worry beads. She called later to tell me to stop talking to her neighbors. She told me to leave them alone. She was angry. It was then I told her life is short. I want us to be on good terms.
Back in Atlanta
So that was it. Almost the end of hope. For better or worse, I never stopped trying to make a connection. I have difficulty ever giving up hope in general. Big gaps of time would pass but every now and then I’d pick up the phone. No answer, no returned call. Someone once told me all because it feels good when you stop banging your head against the wall doesn’t mean you continue to bang your head against the wall. Good advice.
One year, it was several weeks after Mother’s Day, I decided to send flowers. Too obvious to send on Mother’s Day itself, didn’t want to blow my cover. I called the florist, got things squared away. Soon I receive my Visa bill and the florist credited my account for the flowers. I called to see why. The lady said the woman at that address refused the flowers. I’m assuming she knew they were from me. Surely she didn’t refuse flowers as a matter of course.
Time to Give Up?
Realizing there was not going to be a come to mama moment, I checked online to see if anything was going on there. I found out she had a remainder life estate on her house. This meant Eddie was getting the house. Fine with me and no surprise. There were personal effects I would have liked — old dishes, quilts, knick-knacks, crafts she’d made, things I’d made and given her. This was when I tapered off calling Eddie and Mother.
Some years had passed when I saw online the house had sold. I called Eddie. I figured Mother was sick. I didn’t think she would sell her house otherwise. He didn’t know a thing about the sale, news to him. No clue how she was feeling or where she was. At closing he claimed to be a family member. He said Mother had no next of kin. All lies. From that point forward, he blocked my calls. It was about four months from the sale of the house until her death.
When I was informed of Mother’s death three weeks after the fact, I called Eddie’s landline. His granddaughter answered. I told her who I was and I would like to speak with him. She said her grandparents were on vacation but she would give him my message. Barely a minute passed, she called back. She said Eddie would not talk to me but her grandmother would call when they got back. Um, strange new twist.
I got a call from Eddie, not his wife. Turns out he and his wife had been looking after Mother in recent months. She was in a nursing home. He called Mother difficult. That sounded about right. She wanted to be estranged. Why didn’t I let the woman be? I just couldn’t accept the rejection. Her life was the way she wanted it and Eddie helped make it so.
So, what to make of Eddie? Is this the type of friend OJ had? Eddie had Mother’s back. I think Mother was extremely fortunate to have him as a good protector and true friend. He was abiding her wishes. He was making her happy. Their friendship had grown through the years, and he was loyal. His behavior was unacceptable as far as I was concerned. He didn’t have to lie. Just tell the truth. Would that have been so hard?
Through those years, I was still trying to have the unconditional love that eluded me. Mother didn’t have the capacity or desire ever. Do I accept this because she was mentally ill? Or do I blame her for refusing to get help in order to make a better life for us? It is not an either/or. As much as I don’t care for the phrase, it was what it was.
Before the estrangement, we talked on the phone a lot. I so enjoyed our conversations. I once told her my mental issues were bothering me. She replied there was no excuse for feeling that way. “There are many resources out there where you can get help.” The irony. It sounds harsh, but it was a relief when she died. I felt free and would no longer self-torment. I could finally give up hope and let go. I could begin to heal. I mentioned before, she had my compassion and empathy.
The last time I talked with her was when Tampa was the target of Hurricane Irma in 2017. They were poised for a direct hit but ended up with a glancing blow. Tampa rarely gets hit. My cousin in Nashville called to see if I had heard from her.
Do you want to know what’s bizarre? I hadn’t even thought about Mother and the hurricane headed her way. So I thought I’d give it a try and call. She answered. She answered. Oh my. I just started crying and didn’t know what to say. I’m thinking positive things, a breakthrough? Ever hopeful me. I became an immediate emotional wreck.
I collected myself. I was nervous. I asked if she was okay. She was a little frazzled. She kept insisting she was not leaving her house. I’m fine. I’m not going anywhere. I am staying right here. We hung up. End of story. I wept uncontrollably.
What had just happened? I wonder if she picked up the phone by accident or did she think in a moment of fear she was going to die and she might want to speak to me one last time after all. I’ll never know, but it doesn’t stop me from thinking about it.
My thoughts are stars I cannot fathom into constellations.