My mother had had a hard life. There have been many challenges, many obstacles, and in a sense you could trace their origins back to her father, her rapist.
When your father is also your rapist your childhood is poisoned at the center, contaminated at the core. And from there growth is irregular, perverse, distorted. Growth no longer occurs naturally. Inversions stage a revolt, or suppress a revolt.
My mother’s father was her rapist, her jailor, the keeper of the keys to the dungeon in which she was locked. I don’t know much about him. What I do know is that I’ve never heard anyone speak a good or kind word about him. He was regarded by everyone in the family as mean-spirited and miserable, a cheap, petty, and malicious man.
He seems to fit the profile of a one-dimensional villain, in that he wasn’t even a rapist and child abuser who, on the surface, was a friendly or nice guy, he was an asshole and a rapist. What qualities, I wonder, if any, redeemed him as a human being?
My mother got married and had a kid, me, when she was eighteen. My father was seventeen. My mother and father decided to prematurely enter the world of grown-ups, and my mother escaped from her dungeon into a fire-pit. My father had a drug and alcohol problem. Our household was torn apart by squalls, violence, accusations, threats. Everything except peace, never ever peace. “Peace” in my house equated to tense jittery respites, undercurrents simmering and bubbling, until the next blow-up, the next battle.
My mother was married to my father for seventeen years. She left him many times, when we—me, her, and my sister—would move into my grandmother’s. These trips were advertised as permanent, yet they usually lasted anywhere from three days to two weeks. After leaving my father “for good” for what felt like the thousandth time, eventually one of those times stuck, and became the true and lasting end-point my mother had been building toward for years.
For the first time in my life my mother was on her own, with her two kids—I was fourteen at the time, my sister eight—and she did what she could to keep us afloat. Welfare, food stamps, a waitressing gig at a bingo hall, while returning to school part-time to work toward a teaching degree.
If my mother didn’t say I love you enough, or at all, when we were kids, she actively demonstrated that love by taking care of us, making sure there was food to eat, that we had a roof over our heads. She loved through action, though I didn’t recognize it as such or appreciate it back then. Then came the contaminated backwash of memories that had been blocked, that had been dammed from her consciousness since she was a child. Memories of her father’s sexual abuse came back to my mother and sent her into an emotional and mental tailspin.
There was the day she lapsed into a fugue and walked back to her childhood home as if she still lived there, there were the pills, there was the suicide attempt.
My mother began the work of directly addressing the ghosts and demons of her past. She did this determined to heal the shame and hurt which poisoned her insides.
I always tell my mother I’ve had two mothers. The one who was married to my father, and the one who came after the divorce. The second one put in time and effort to reclaim vital parts of her soul, to restore herself to herself, and to this day she continues that kind of soul-work. Whether she sees it or not, she has exhibited bravery, she has been a fighter.
My mother is now sixty one years old. She has been diagnosed with a rare form of lymphoma (Waldenstrom Macroglobulinemia). She has good days and bad days. Her body is starting to betray her, sometimes subtly, sometimes in more pronounced ways. Sometimes I feel sorry for my mother, I feel pity. I feel as if her life has been a struggle from the very beginning, she was robbed of her childhood by her father’s malignancy, and there have been many battles, struggles, and disorders between then and now.
I do not want my mother to wither away, with so much life inside her still unlived.
Live, live, I want to scream, as if my rage will work as a spell, a difference-maker.
Live, live, I want to shake the disease from her body, her bones, want her once and for all, even if just for a brief while, to be free of all malignancies, to know what it feels like to live beyond shackles and contamination.