I’ll never understand how one who could have expected so much of me, who took note of every one of my failures, and every one of everyone else’s successes, did all she could to make sure I never succeeded.
From chiding my awkwardness, to citing my lack of friends, my odd body shape, the nonexistent invitations to sleepovers, the common sense that never was, and the standardized test scores that were never quite high enough. My hair was never combed for church. My handwriting was sloppy. I sang off key at every performance. I acted like a goof and embarrassed her again. I said the wrong things on camera and could never live it down. I brought shame on all who knew me by merely existing.
And yet this woman who demanded perfection popped every one of my dreams as they floated into my life, each one an inadvertent sign that somehow, wonder of wonder, I’d managed to get something right.
NO: you can’t have a boyfriend. Stop acting like a whore. Are you pregnant?
NO: you can’t apply to college. We don’t have the money, and, by the way, here’s a beeper you must keep on you at all times so that we know what is going on. And then a cell phone. Never for emergencies. But to just to tell her how to spell a word. Or to answer in the middle of Sociology to report where I was. Or to get the same voicemail over and again: “Why do we give you a phone if you’re not going to answer it?” I learned to sleep with the phone under my pillow for fear that someone in the family would die and I wouldn’t have my phone to take the call.
NO: you’ll get raped or murdered if you go to Princeton. So when I did get mugged, I told no one. Not because I was afraid, but because I was ashamed. I’d proved her right, disgraced the family, and had the thing done to me that I deserved.
NO: you can’t live with your boyfriend, you’re a whore and you’ll ruin your sisters. Well, that settled it. I was 22 and engaged to a man I shouldn’t have been closer than 100 yards to.
NO: you can’t go away to Berkeley for law school. U of A it is then. I didn’t really want to study International Trade anymore, right?
NO: you have to get married in the church, in a dress, in front of God, but, more importantly, in front of our friends. The wedding was so awful, I cried for months. I never developed the wedding pictures.
NO: don’t talk about your ex-husband. He was a saint to have kept you on for as long as he did. That’s a story in itself or four, but let’s keep on track.
NO: don’t eat. You’re an embarrassment and no one will ever want you. This on on repeat for life. I think the last time I heard this tune was less than a month ago.
NO: that passion of yours…the writing thing you think is so clever…I never want to hear about it. And you’re never to write about me.
NO: you can’t leave. At 40, I still get to manipulate you. Be disappointed in you in a myriad of ways like tiny cuts all over your body that make you constantly weak. The flowers you bought? I’d have preferred better ones. That dress that you wore? Unacceptable. The life that you live? Nothing I can use as a weapon to tell others about. So instead I say the same thing, again and again. “This is my daughter, the lawyer. I raised her to be a man.” But what she really meant was, “I own her.”
You did, Mom. You raised me to roar like a lion. And then you shamed me every time I made a sound.