You were nine years old when I became your mother, though I never wanted to be. Your real mom, the person everyone wanted to be around, because she was so funny, so giving – your real mom was so much more than that. But no one wanted to see it.
Every morning, after her coffee and usually well before we came home for lunch, she’d switch to grapefruit juice. She swore the grapefruit was slimming. And it was. I remember stealing a sip as she snatched it away, and that the bitterness of the juice made me gag. Or maybe it was the vodka, I’m not sure which. Either way, I’d discovered a secret that I didn’t understand, one that wouldn’t become clear until almost a year later when she took me to my first bar.
The juice made up the majority of her daily diet. And by midafternoon any hope that the vodka in the bottle hadn’t diminished beyond the line I’d drawn on it the day before to track what was missing and have proof (to show no one, as nobody cared) – by midafternoon, both the distance from that line and the change in her personality was undeniable. And no one in the world seemed to be bothered by it but me. She was drunk again. Drunk every day, except for the days she was in rehab or hospitalized. But we’ll get to all of that another time. Today I need to talk about you.
When you were nine and I became your mother, I wasn’t ready. I wasn’t ready for most things at twelve though. So I made mistakes during those early years, and especially during our teen years, when I was overbearing at times. Trying too hard to shield you, I smothered you and made you resent me. Hindsight very clearly, and very cruelly, shows me that now. What does hindsight show you?
You probably felt that my involvement was neither necessary nor helpful. And you might be right. What good did I do tracking her alcohol intake and making her confront it, beyond forcing her to live probably 15 years longer than she should have? Maybe that was selfish of me. People should be able to leave this world when they’re ready.
And who did I think I was telling you what to do when I was also drinking - and doing drugs AND fighting everything that moved? I was far from a model child. Especially compared to you. You were so good at being the favored child, ignoring the drama, doing well in school, and having few cares beyond shaking me awake after she beat me unconscious in a drunken rage for dumping out her vodka for the thousandth time.
Ever think that could’ve been you?
Or ever consider how crushing her “condition” would have been to you and that carefree existence if someone hadn’t been there confronting it, keeping her alive and keeping that anger we grew to know so well directed elsewhere?
Ever try to understand the effects that confrontation, that responsibility, that shame and embarrassment would’ve had on you after years of getting slapped across the face? Having screaming matches and fistfights with your drunken mother in front of your friends? Having someone claw at you, shouting that you’re a rotten, selfish little bitch as you rip through cabinets to find and dump out the vodka that was always there? Knowing the neighbors heard, everyone heard - and no one cared?
Imagine if it had been you trying to reason with and then arguing with her “friends” who would buy the vodka? Calling and visiting local liquor stores, begging and even threatening them about delivering to the house as she was too physically destroyed from years of self-abuse to get there herself, only to have them sympathize but change nothing? Checking on her while she was sleeping to make sure she was still breathing, but also picturing yourself smothering her?
Can you imagine the rage, frustration and how tenuous one’s grip on reality would feel after years of fighting someone else’s demons, while feeding your own?
No, because you didn’t have to do any of that. Not until you were much older. But those things started happening to me when I was twelve and became your mother.
Ever consider that there was no one around to become mine?