It started when I was thinking of my Mother. Tonight I watched a Criminal Minds episode in which a 10 year old boy who killed his own mother grew up to be one of those misogynistic sexually sadistic serial killers I know all men are to varying degrees. It occurred to me that I know no one who doesn't hate his or her own mother on some level. When you ask people about their mother, they tend to sigh, roll their eyes, and talk about how crazy or abusive she is. It's as if there's some colossal misunderstanding, some horrible thing we all project over those women who are our mothers. But this image is always more or less the same. And so it can't be real. But what does it represent?
This is even true for the friends of mine whose mothers I know and love. The first example that comes to mind is Nancy Rankin. I think she's amazing, but Alex used to protest & crinkle her nose when I mentioned this.
At any rate, my thoughts about how the human race seems to demonize this "Mother" we project over whomever actually brought us into this earthly realm brought me to that scene I've been looking into again. When I was very little, I remember my Mom pulling me aside. My Father had just come home and was sitting in his big corduroy arm chair, spent and sweaty. She whispered to me that I should go and give my Dad a big hug and a kiss. I should tell him I love him. I would do this, even though Dad was all smelly and sweaty, because my Mother told me to. I've been interpreting this scene as sinister triangulation, perhaps bordering on covert incest. And I'd assumed the "smelliness" of Dad was due to his drinking. But for some reason tonight, I was able to really look at that scene. There was my Father, with his head back, his eyes closed, sighing -- he appeared to be praying some foxhole prayer, he looked desperate. And he was covered with sweat from mowing the lawn. He smelled because he had been toiling over all our land, trying to manicure it, to make it "ok" for a family to live there.
When Seth and I were growing up, my family had about one acre of land on the outskirts of Tallahassee, Florida. My Father had lost everything to his greedy, manipulative, apparently soulless manager. He had been, and I suppose he still is, an American rock star in the 1970s. He had been in the highest grossing band of 1973 or 75. And then he had lost it all. He was working for 100% commission at an electronics store, making what money he could by installing these huge sound systems in schools and churches. My Mom had met him when they were on the road, living the decadent life.
And there they were. Attempting to maintain a household with two small children, very minimal income, and no real friendship or community network to support them.
I see that scene so differently now that I allow myself to remember the flecks of pine cones that dotted my Dad's skin as he sat there, despondent or defeated but still trudging forward. I remember how my Mom would assign us chores to do every week. One of them was picking up the pine cones in our yard, which seemed to go on forever. I remember why we would have to do that. Dad's lawn mower would shred them up into sharp projectiles and spit them out at him as worked for hours in the Florida sun to keep our family home looking "normal," acceptable, pretty.
I can't imagine what it must have felt like for them. I remember my Mother telling me the story of how she cried at the grocery store because she couldn't afford a can of soup or beans or something, and she had nothing to feed us. And someone she knew saw her there, and bought the can for her. And she cried more and was so grateful. I can only imagine what it must feel like to be so desperate to take care of your children, to make them feel like everything's ok, to watch them grow and have needs and to hide your worry and desperation about fulfilling those needs.
And then I come back to me -- sitting there on that curb, having crawled out of John's arms again at 3AM because I couldn't sleep, smoking a cigarette -- and my fears about motherhood. In a half a year, I'll be as old as my Mom was when she had me, her last child. I was the last for both of them, and they are two weeks apart in age. And it hit me what a blessing it is to be able to understand what my Mother went through, what my Mother goes through by being a Mother, that most hated form of uncompensated labor. What a blessing for my human soul to know what they knew when we never knew.
And I can't stop crying. And I start to pathologize myself. "Oh, if Dr. Simmonds thought I was schizoaffective, maybe he had some grounds for that diagnosis. Maybe I am just crazy." And my mind went round and round. As both my parents are artists, maybe I'm just one of those mute, inglor'ous Miltons, born with an artist's soul. a soul clinicians need to pathologize to attempt to understand. And maybe this business of thinking we know how to fix people -- mind, body, soul -- is just brutish and violent. And maybe this career I'm trying to eek out for myself working in addictions counseling is bunk and I should get out. My Mother keeps telling me to get a job as a teacher. I don't know. Maybe I should.