She came for the weekend with a bottle of SAMe. It will lift your mood, she said. She had not tried it herself. My mother has always had an infatuation with alternative remedies. Their house is full of vitamin supplements and herbs. She is always looking for something to make her better. Her insomnia is caused by her being a night person. She would take Valerian but it doesn’t work. It doesn’t work because of her antidepressants and she’s just a night person. It has nothing to do with the fact that she drinks up to six cans of Diet Coke a day. Sometimes she drinks it because it’s good. Other times she drinks it because she is convinced that the caffeine gets her medication into her system faster. It is about everything else other than her own part in her own problems. Once when a stitch on her arm became infected, she became obsessed with thyme water. I just need to put some thyme water on it and it will clear up. She didn’t try to find or make thyme water, she just knew that was what she needed. Finally, my sister took her to the local immediate treatment centre where some Neosporin and a band-aid cleared the infection in a day. Believe me, the irony of what I point out is not lost on me. I know the part I play in my own loneliness. The difference between my mother’s situation and mine is that I do try to put myself out there as best I can. Putting myself out there has always been difficult, and it has not gotten any easier with the passage of time.
The plan was she would take the train in on Friday morning and we would go to breakfast. I’m never quite sure what my mother communicates to my sister, so I texted the plan to her. She must have forgotten about my birthday party, she said. She must have, I replie. I didn’t know my sister was having a birthday party. I was not invited. What more could I say? I texted my mother back with a new plan. I would get a car, drive out for the party, and she would come home with me that night. The rest of the weekend would involved lunch with friends, shopping (one of her favourite activities), a free screening of Turandot in a local park, a visit to a favourite kitchen shop, exploring the city, and talking. I hoped we would have a nice weekend like we had a month before where it was just the two of us, not like the day two weeks before with my father.
Saturday I woke her at 9:30 and found her in good spirits. She asked what the plan was and when I reminded her, she was excited about lunch. After lunch, her mood began to change. I brought up the possibility of my taking a vacation in the spring and she began to fixate on places in my neighbourhood where she could get food and supplies. She started reading every sign and every menu. When I brought up the opera she began to hem and haw. When I found out it had been postponed due to rain she was relieved. I tried to talk politics with her, but she shut me down saying I was yelling. One did not raise one’s voice in my parents’ house, so anything above quiet is yelling. Putting a finger in someone’s chest or threatening them was acceptable. Then it started. Maybe guys think you’re a lesbian. You are very interested in gay rights and reproductive rights. You’re very opinionated. Maybe men think you’re gay. My mother thinks I am a closeted lesbian. I don’t know where it came from but she has been harbouring belief for close to 30 years. Actually, she’s probably held it for longer but she first articulated this belief the night I told her I had been sexually assaulted. I was 19. She has this in her head and nothing I do or say shakes it.
The following morning I woke my mother up at 9:30 and told her if we wanted to get to the kitchen store before it closed at 1 that we needed to get going. I felt how my father must feel. He had told me countless times how he has to prod my mother into action. She asked what the plan was. I told her kitchen store in the morning and opera in the afternoon and whatever she wanted in between. The visit to the kitchen store went fine but I found she got more disagreeable as the day progressed. She kept asking for the plan for the day. When I brought up the opera she became distant. Finally I asked her if she really wanted to go. She said if I wanted to go she would go. I told her, no mom because if you go and you don’t want to be there you’ll be miserable. Forced to make a decision she opted not to go. While walking to get snacks she started in again. You should grow out your hair an inch. Not much, just an inch. Why don’t you wear contacts? You practically begged for contacts when you were in high school. Why don’t you wear them? When did they get uncomfortable? When you were in college? Technology has changed. They’re better now. Once again, it was about my appearance, my attitude. With my mother, something has always been wrong with me. There were times when I would see her after a prolonged absence and the first thing she would say was, your skin’s breaking out again or your skin looks good. My father has, so far as I know, never defended me. In the midst of yet another barrage I texted my sister, Shoot me.
She started, Shoot me. In the days before text messaging she would phone and whisper Shoot me! Shoot me! to my voicemail. I would phone her back and she would regale me with tales of what our mother had done this time. My father barely engages when he visits. I would tell her I was sorry and to hang in there. When I texted her with shoot me and followed with her haranguing me about my appearance (again), she told me I should be more forgiving. Instead of my sister, I got the Relief Society president. My heart sank and I put my phone away. Our evening was to be spent watching Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries. Midway through an episode she pronounced, she’s a loose woman. I said, no she’s an independent woman of means who solves crimes, enjoys sex and has it with whomever whenever she chooses. Hmmpf, was her answer. Hmmpf is her answer whenever I defend myself, which I do more and more these days. I must defend myself and there is not one else who will defend me.
I put her on the train the following morning and went off to Rosh Hashanah services at a different synagogue. Three hours into the service and hopelessly lost, I left and had lunch with a friend. The next morning I fell into a sobbing heap on the bedroom floor and smashed a plastic hanger on the closet door. Later, I recovered myself and went for a walk. I bought my first tube of waterproof mascara. That night I phoned my father to wish him a belated birthday. I told him what happened and while sympathetic he didn’t have much to say except, you know, when your mother is with you she’s with you. When she’s with your sister, your sister shuts herself away in her office and your mother spends most of the day alone. I had often wondered how my sister managed my parents’ visits and now I knew. She avoided them for as long as possible. The laser focus of our mother’s criticism stopped for her when she left home the first time. She’d stopped engaging our mother after that. I continue to be the focus of my mother’s criticism because I have no place in which to hide while she is here. I have no choice but to engage. I had the answer to the question my therapist had asked weeks ago. My sister avoids my mother’s criticism by hiding. My father and I have no choice but to be present.
My mother and I are going to have a talk when she returns in December. I have decided that she needs to know that she her constant criticism isn’t helping, it’s hurting. She is doing what my ex-husband used to do. His criticism was relentless compared to hers but the end result is still the same. She needs to know that when I come to her I need support not advice. I am fine with the way I look, even if others are not. I know what I need to do. I do not need her to tell me that it was time to stop grieving the end of my marriage. Grief is not the way in our family. Your marriage is over. You dodged a bullet. You’re better off without him. There is nothing to grieve. I didn’t need her to tell me any of that. The bottle of SAMe she brought did the trick.