Update: Book is with the publisher for final content review, editing, and cover design. Hoping to establish a firm publishing date soonest! Thanks for reading!
I shook my head thinking about my conversation with Diane after her latest meltdown with Ma. I could, of course, relate to what she was saying. For those of us still willing to have anything to do with her it was just about impossible at any given time to prevent ourselves from wanting to rage inches from her face to try to get her to see that we saw through her. To make her see that we knew her behavior was contrived and purposeful, and to get her to admit to her part in intending to escalate our blood pressure and emotions.
We were on the phone, and I was trying again to help Diane to understand that it was more that Ma just could not, rather than would not, see the hurtful impact of her bitter personality and constant manipulations on those trying to help her and those she purported to love. I told her again how futile it was for any one of us to lose it and plunge into a meltdown anyway or to cajole and plead with Ma to acknowledge something, anything for her role in causing so much relational fracture.
“I know,” Diane was saying, “But can’t she just throw me one friggin bone, ever, dammit?”
“Look, I hear you,” I said, “But I don’t think she’s ever been sorry for anything. She’s just too far gone, you know?”
“I know, I have to stop letting her get to me,” Diane sighed into the phone.
“Exactly,” I said knowing that that was easier said than done and that we’d be having another conversation just like this one before too long.
I could picture Ma after Diane had stopped her yelling and shouting at her just sitting there, her face glazed over in a comic expression, like a dog watching television, and her head cocked to one side with a look that said, are you the one that’s crazy? I got to witness one of Diane’s previous meltdowns and could only sigh as I watched the veins bulge then recede back into her neck and thinking what a waste of time it was to try to reason with a true narcissist and it just wasn’t worth getting so worked up. I told her all that later but still it didn’t seem to help her control her anger because Ma just made it so hard to ignore because of the bitterness that seemed to ooze from her pores and the way she seethed with resentfulness at the idea that anyone could have a life or interest that took any sort of priority over pandering to her constant and neurotic needs.
Material needs were not the real problem. We plied her with enough orange juice to wipe out the crop of the state of Florida, enough cigarettes to kill a small town, enough KY jelly to lubricate AMTRAK railroad from coast to coast and, of course enough diabetic test supplies to bleed out an elephant. Her real desire ran much deeper than any of that, and I sensed that in spite of anything she said about “I loved you kids,” deep down she resented every single one of us for leaving her true desire for us all to circle back around her, unfulfilled.
But as for poor Diane, in the early years she had been forced to be the one who saw to it that the rest of us kids were taken care of, in any way she could, when my mother couldn’t or simply wouldn’t. Not just because as the oldest was she thrust into the role by my parents, but somehow she had been made to internalize responsibility for the rest of us in some way, although she was still a child herself. She’s carried this inexplicable belief that she had to take care of everyone throughout her life.
At twelve years old she’d make us dinner out of whatever she could scrape together, help us wash our clothes, and make sure we had something to eat for breakfast and school lunch every day. Even if it was just a bowl of thin Cream of Wheat in the morning and a peanut butter or cheese sandwich for lunch, we never left the house without at least something in our stomach and a little brown lunch bag in our hand. She’d use some of the few dollars she made once in a while babysitting to buy a package of cookies so we’d have a treat to look forward to. She’d even pick crab apples from a neighbor’s yard. Every year going back to school we’d beg our parents for a real lunch box with a thermos in it like most of the other kids had in which they carried cold milk or hot tomato soup. Maybe one decorated with The Jetsons or The Flintsones, but we never got one.
My mother would stay in bed most mornings, saying she was fighting her nerves or perhaps the usual headache brought on by another night of what she’d be sure to describe to all of us as some sort of sexual terror behind the bedroom door, so Diane missed more and more school each year until she just dropped out by the tenth grade. Ma was always telling my sisters how horrible Dad had been to her after any given night in the bedroom and describe how she’d “just laid there” and let him do it and how he forced her to put her mouth “down there.”
It wasn’t uncommon for her to do this while holding a conference in the bathroom. She’d seat herself on the toilet and my sisters would line up on the edge of the tub facing her, mouths agape as she spoke. While most mothers’ talks with their daughters were more focused on helping them to learn about life and cope with the pressures of growing up and slowly unfold the facts of life and womanhood, my mother’s “mother-daughter” talks were of a different nature, and not of the nurturing kind, that’s for sure.
It was during those bathroom talks my sisters told me that they learned many things from my mother that no child should ever see, hear, or know from a parent. One of those things Ma felt compelled to share with them was that revelation that my father had torn off her pretty white dress and raped her on their wedding night. But, of course, she said, “What could she do?”
To me, that particular story was nothing more than another example of the types of psychological weapons she deployed from her heavily stockpiled armory of emotional manipulation that she aimed with accuracy at my sisters’ already vulnerable psyches. It was insidious disclosures like these with their sexual overtones that Ma used to subtly and slyly weave over them a smothering blanket of guilt, sympathy for her and fear when it came to my father and men in general, and to strengthen their belief that they had to protect her from some constant threat of harm from Dad lest she leave them, and to steadily build on their ever-growing fear and loathing for him, never mentioning her protection of them.
I’m told a couple of Ma’s other bathroom lectures to further my sisters’ education included a demonstration on how to properly insert a diaphragm, even though she called herself a “good Catholic,” and to explain to them one of her favorite tricks saying that “if you put just a little ketchup on a sanitary napkin you can fake your period so a man won’t want to have sex with you!” She told them that if it worked for her like a charm every time with a man like Georgie, it would work on any guy.
End of Chapter 6….