Why did this happen?
There is no answer to that question.
There are too many answers to that question.
If your childhood was unhappy, if there was someone who hurt you when their role was to protect you, you may never know why it was that way. It may not be possible to reconstruct how their weaknesses and angers and sorrows were weighed, over and over, against their strengths and sense of responsibility and their love for you – and why they all too often came up short. It is dead weight you will carry on your back, in your mind and your heart, without ever seeing it in full. It is dark matter pulling unseen at the stars in your sky.
If you estrange yourself from them, you will grieve this loss for years, like the death of a beloved. Giovanna Calvino, daughter of Italo, spoke of timelessly mourning her father’s death: “For me, at the very best, only four-fifths made it through… The rest of me is trapped in a space-time loop where I am forever reeling from the loss of my father.” Estrangement is the loss of a beloved. You lost who they might have been to you. You will slowly learn to accept that some fraction of yourself will always be fearful, heartbroken and ashamed.
You will be called selfish when you pull yourself away from them in an effort to keep yourself safe, and it will make you feel like everything they said about you was true:
can’t do anything right
wish you’d never been born
You will continue to be desperate for an explanation, then and now – why did this happen to you? Why is it happening to you? (It is always happening, in some deep-buried oubliette of the mind.) While it is still happening, the only explanation they will give you is that it’s your own fault. You’re the reason they act this way. That’s all you have to grasp onto to explain your suffering, and you will grasp on and hold tight, because it at least gives you some reason, some meaning. Better to be a monster than to plunge into the vast ear-splitting silence of the truth – that your care was given to one behaving monstrously.
You will be selfish sometimes as you live your life; you will hurt others because you think that is just how people behave, or because no one ever protected you from being hurt, or because you simply cannot see that you are doing it. Once you come to realize it, you will feel this only proves their point about you. Can’t do anything right.
You will think about how many more people suffer much worse than you do, infinitely worse than anything that ever happened to you, and you will feel ashamed for making such a big deal out of it. It may seem easier, then, to pretend nothing happened at all. Soon, you will even try to feel nothing at all. You will shift that dark weight around inside you, trying to contain it completely. It will push unseen against your insides, straining against you. Straining you.
You will not be able to breathe when you think about letting yourself feel it all in full, like water rushing from a broken dam. Surely if you felt that much at once you would die.
Oh, you will go through many deaths in this way: you will be hurt and you will hurt others, and continue over and over to lose much that is fragile and tender and good. I am so sorry. I wish I knew another way.
In your grief you will lose all sense of self, all track of time.
When did I surface? I’m not sure. Perhaps it’s when I moved to New York, or when I subsequently cut off all contact with my mother, to keep myself safe. It could very well be when I started to reach out to reconnect with other family members, in spite of distance, and feelings of anger and betrayal. (Where the hell were they, you thought, angrily. You remember, though, that you were very good at lying at that age. And so was she.)
(I’m sorry for the pronoun confusion. Somehow, certain parts of this are easier to write in second person.)
My grief at not having a mother is around me and inside me at the same time. On the very worst days, it feels as it will permeate through the skin, melt the boundaries of my body until I am not defined by who I am but by the hazy ocean of pain that rocks through me.
But you don’t act that sad.
I pulled myself out, eventually. And when I couldn’t, I asked those to pull me whom I knew could, and would. Once out, I kept going, moving toward a life where I did not have to keep quiet or hide in fear. That’s not easy. Choosing to estrange myself from my mother when I saw I couldn’t be whole in any other way right now – that was definitely not easy. It was the right decision for me, though.
Don’t people push you to talk to your mother?
Not those who know me. I recognize I am in a unique position – I haven’t a single family member, including those also related to her by blood, who encourages me to speak to my mother. In fact, some actively discourage me when I do start to doubt myself. Not everyone who has estranged themselves from a parent can say that; in fact, most probably can’t. This is why I talk about my experience. Not because I think it’s positive – I hope no one reading this has to go through it. But if you do come to that point where you have to choose, know that it can be done. Trust in yourself and in the supportive people in your life.
But she is your Mother
I know. I know. I miss her even today. There is no logic to mothers, whether good or bad. They take up too great a space in our lives to exist rationally in our minds and hearts. Often that is beautiful. Sometimes – if something goes wrong – it is horrific.
Why did this happen? There is no answer; there are too many.