Saturday, 1 August 2009

Brandy baskets

My Mother came to visit for a week.

A mundane, simple statement that provokes all kinds of turmoil for me. To start with my Mother and I are opposites in every way. I am my Father, at least in personality. They separated while she was pregnant with me and then conducted a torturous courtship where he managed to have not one, but two simultaneous affairs. She couldn't live with him, couldn't live without him. They were due to remarry - she even bought the dress. But the affairs came to light and my Sunday visits to Daddy became gin fuelled violent rows, home in time for Sunday lunch with Granny.

I had dinner with Husband last night. 8 years together. He looked dashing in a suit and ordered a memorable bottle of red, while listening to me babble incessantly about my story course for the entire meal, willing him to understand the intricacies of story structure that I barely grasped myself. He mentioned my Mother. They discussed me, as always. My Mother said to him, 'She has forgiven her Father and yet she won't forgive me. But I try the hardest, I make all the effort to make it up to her.'

I couldn't breathe. It was the moment in a movie where time stops. Where the world slows down and the only thing you can hear is the dim squawking around you and you try and breathe.

She is an alcoholic. A recovering alcoholic. Her alcoholism is possibly the most interesting thing about her. If she wasn't my Mother, would I want to spend time with her?

She comes to stay and we begin the dance. She unpacks calling it 'her room' and I let it slide. The words 'spare room' linger in my head but I let it go. She has just arrived. Then the expectation. That I will cook, that I will attend to her. That somehow I have to be grateful, that I have to show how happy I am to see her. She showers Sproglet in love and declares him 'Granny's boy' and my hackles rise. How easy it is to be the brilliant grandparent and to forget how fucking woeful one was as a parent. But if we can just convince all around us that we can do this Grandparenting bit right - then no-one will cast up, no-one will remember.

I remember. And I can't let go. I try, but I can't. I spent my life with her walking on eggshells, trying to work out what I had done wrong, what had triggered a mood, what had sparked her venom. Now she has changed, I know it, we all know it. We've turned tables. She no longer has the power to make my life miserable - instead I watch as she squirms and tries and flounders and I let her walk on the eggshells. I don't consciously do this - I don't wake up wanting to make it difficult for her. But my default setting is adjusted to 'defend' and so every comment she makes I am there with my shield - ready to pounce - sure that she is judging every tiny thing I do.

The worst of all to criticise my Mothering. What would she know about that? Then I'll come home to find every piece of clothing washed and ironed to perfection. The fridge to be filled and Sproglet bathed and ready for bed. I'll feel all these stirrings of gratuity and then she'll tell me what she did, she'll expect gratitude and so I'll withhold it - like some stupid playground game, some power play. It is pathetic, but i don't know what else to do. Who else to be around her.

She'll offer to pay for new blinds for our bedroom and I will take the money. I'll accept it without thought. I'll never think about how hard she worked or what she went through to earn that money - I'll just be selfish and think how great the blinds will look. Fucking white blinds. She has a bad knee and will mention it in between hobbling and instead of having sympathy for her I will be mildly irritated as if on some dark level she is faking it - or even darker, that her fucking sore knee will mean I am duty bound to show sympathy for her - when my heart is stone.

Then she'll order dessert in a restaurant and the ice cream will come in a dish, in a brandy snap. And I'll eat the same dessert and I'll say how brandy snaps remind me of my childhood and she'll tell me how I used to suck all the cream out of them and then ask for more and in that moment I will love her so much and so strongly that my heart will be eaten up with guilt for being the bitch that I have been all week. And yet I can't forget, I can't move on.

Then we'll drive to the airport, not before she has pressed an envelope filled with money for the blinds in my hand and I will thank her and feel bad, but still take it - not knowing really what to say. Maybe I think she will always owe me. At the airport she will kiss Sproglet and he will ask where Granny is going and she will begin to cry and then hobble on her stick to the airport door, scared to look back. And I will drive off and feel relieved and come home and look at that sad little envelope with the fucking blinds money and I will weep.

Because I don't know why I can't love her, I don't know why I can't move on. Why I am always on edge when she is here and when she tells me how much Sproglet loves her and talks about it - it only serves to irritate me further. Husband says I need to give her a break - and I want to. I really want to.

Her last Husband walked out of her life almost 2 years ago. I had liked him the first time I met him in '96. Another man she'd brought into my life, made me love and then he'd gone. He hasn't spoken to me since they day he left. She mentioned this week she had seen him and shown him a photo of Sproglet. He asked if I was disappointed in him - she told him I was. I told her that I never want her to mention him to me again.

She stopped drinking 10 years ago this September. After a usual drunken evening I had taken her aside, confident that I would bear no consequence as she lived (lives) in Ireland and I was about to step on a plane back to London. It was so wonderful to be able to be honest with her and know that I could walk away. She attended her first AA meeting that night. She never looked back.

But I look back. I remember. Even without the drinking, the fear, the loneliness, my Mother and I were never friends. We were and are poles apart. We talk about trivia but the things that inspire me most in life (bar Sproglet) - a film, and article in a Sunday paper, a book - she would have never seen, never read. I often hate myself for wishing she was a different person - a person I had something in common with. For finding kinship with my Aunt (her Sister)and for enjoying her company more.

When I think of every Xmas, being duty bound to have this woman in my life it fills me with anger and resentment. Why should I? Why I am beholden to her? I will feel so conflicted and unresolved about her that it churns up the teenager in me and it is like I never left Belfast, that I never escaped.

My childhood was long ago and I don't want to be that sad bastard that can't let go, that can't just grow the fuck up - and yet here I am. I love her because she is my Mother and yet it isn't that simple. It is all immersed in politics and recriminations and revenge and I am not even aware that I am doing it.

She has gone and I realise that in the 7 days she was here I never once hugged her. That makes me sad.


Emily said...

"...Your payday never came. Your dreams ran
with bright colors like Mexican cottons
that bled onto the drab sheets of the day
and would not bleach with scrubbing.

My dear, what you said was one thing
but what you sang was another, sweetly
subversive and dark as blackberries
and I became the daughter of your dream.

This body is your body, ashes now
and roses, but alive in my eyes, my breasts,
my throat, my thighs. You run in me
a tang of salt in the creek waters of my blood,

you sing in my mind like wine. What you
did not dare in your life you dare in mine. "

(My Mother's Body ~ Marge Piercy)

Crummy Mummy said...

Emily - thank you so much for sharing such a beautiful poem with me. I'd never heard/read it before.

I love it - thank you. x

wesley's mom (sue) said...

This reminds me so much of my relationship with my mother. It's so easy for me to believe I've gotten over things when we're apart, but as soon as we're together everything comes rushing back.

Anonymous said...

I always had a choice to leave my torturous relationship - you didn't. Makes it harder to forgive.

I like the way you wrote this. A compelling read.

TheGirlWho said...

I remember really digging this when you first wrote it. Such an eloquent piece of writing about conflicted feelings that are so damn hard to vocalize or even acknowledge. So beautifully written.

Keenie Beanie said...

Wow. You have blown me away again with your eloquence and raw honesty. This is why I have enjoyed catching up on your past posts, having only recently discovered your blog.

Penelope said...

Wow. This is really well written.