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December 26, 2007

How I Learned to Stop Hating My Mother

younger woman and older woman smiling at each other

Photo Credit: Margo Silver

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So the question of what made my mother such a catastrophically bad one never occurred to me until the other night, when I was dining with some girlfriends and talking about the uniquely feminine compromises and frustrations we were tussling with while working and raising kids. And it got me wondering what my mother's were and how they drove her to lose herself nightly in a bottle of Stoli.

After three failed rehabs, a couple of DUIs, and at least one serious flirtation with death, my mother quietly quit drinking for good about five years ago. Since then, we slipped into a peaceful détente and, terrified of testing it, never, ever talked about our 30-year war. But suddenly, I realized I needed to. Now that her mind was clear, now that I was in a place where understanding could take the place of judgment, I wanted to hear from her what the hell had happened. After all, we are mirror images of each other — blonde hair and blue eyes, high cheekbones and small builds — and I'm at that same age and stage of life that she was when everything fell apart for her.

I didn't want to chance it in person — we are both still too raw for that — but she did agree to get into it over the phone.

This is what I remember. Tiptoeing down the beige-carpeted stairs late at night, I poked my head far enough around the wall to peer into the living room, where my mother rocked in her navy-blue chair, swigging cheap white wine. I stood, riveted, staring at her nighttime face, which was contorted with depthless rage. She never noticed me hidden in the shadows as her cigarette withered in the ashtray while she gesticulated wildly, thrusting her middle finger into the face of someone who wasn't there. This was my routine for years, compulsively spying on her, trying to figure out who this beautiful and smart and tortured woman was from a distance. I felt — no, I knew — she did not love me. Curled into a question mark, I cried myself to sleep every night.

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