“It’s just so…difficult for me.”
I look at my niece as we sit at the kitchen table. My mother is in the other room with the rest of my family – six kids, four adults and her. I can tell that my mother is on the verge of tears just by the quiver in her voice. It’s a quiver that I am well acquainted with. I’m most familiar with that quiver accompanying some sort of invective about how much I have disappointed her. Perhaps that explains my automatic reaction, the creepy crawl all across my skin, that sudden pang of anxiety.
Being here is incredibly uncomfortable. But I came here anyway because it seemed like the right thing to do. I come once a week to say hi to my nephews and nieces and trick them into getting exercise because this quarantine has been pretty hard on them. My mother and I don’t really get along, although we’ve put that behind us for the time being.
When I came here earlier, she was shuffling around her office, hunched over a bit. The sciatica must have been bothering her again. There were so many new accoutrements around the edges of her office: a foam roller, special cushions for seat, the cane. She is pocked with the other standard signs of aging: her hair is thinning. Her body is sagging. Her face is wrinkled. Everything that would give you the impression of feebleness.
“Having them stay here is very, very hard.”
My mother is talking about my younger sister, and her husband, and their four children. Five years ago, my mother let my sister and her family move in for six months while they looked for a house. Yes, of course they stayed longer because who doesn’t want free rent? And that’s what my mother would have everyone in that room believe, although I know the truth of it. I doubt that my sister can leave. My younger sister has never been able to leave my mother. On the other hand, I can.
As I hear her orating in the next room, I can’t help but remember why I stopped coming here for the past two years. It’s this shit. This bizarre, manipulative, almost unquantifiable bullshit that she pulls all the time. It’s insidious, or at least it probably is insidious to my sister. I see it clear as day.
My younger sister comes into the room. She cleared everybody’s plate and is now clearing mine, too. I don’t say anything to her. We don’t really get along. It’s a long story. She tried to kill herself and blame it on me. I wasn’t having it. So I haven’t talked to her since then, which I know makes me sound cruel. So what. I’m cruel. I know.
I wonder how she deals with it. Not just this, but everything exactly like this that my mother does to her in smaller, subtler ways. She goes outside. She’s probably crying. I do nothing, because this is none of my business. Sure, it was my business years ago, right when she turned 18, and I told her that she should come live with me. That she should get out of that house and away from our mother. She didn’t want to leave our mother. She made her decision. I did try to save her one time. Once was enough.
My mother has been drinking. I can hear the clink of the ice cubes in her wine glass. I need a drink, too, so I go to the fridge and pour a glass for myself. Like mother, like daughter.
Earlier in the day, my older sister and her husband came over. My mother had given my older sister’s husband a roll of tin foil. Which seemed fairly anodyne, but apparently it was a thing.
“He uses too much tin foil! He needs to use the silpats! Don’t encourage him!” my older sister shrieks. (Apparently silpats are an expensive, reusable rubber sheet. I don’t know. They’re into that kind of stuff.)
My older sister’s husband smirks, since his tin foil use has been vindicated by my mother. I, on the other hand, am horrified by this dynamic. I don’t even really know how to begin to tell you why. To me, it is a microaggression that is probably piling on top of all the other finely orchestrated microaggressions that my mother has committed over the years.
I should probably let you know that this is my older sister’s second husband. Her first husband got addicted to meth at the ripe old age of 41 and tried to murder her. All of this after they had four kids together and had been married for twenty years. Perhaps this is why I’m horrified. My mother loved my older sister’s ex-husband. Whenever my older sister and her ex-husband fought, my mother always sided with the (now) ex-husband.
Isn’t this just more of the same? Granted, this guy isn’t going to go out and suddenly get addicted to drugs, but, still. Didn’t my mother learn anything? Such as, perhaps don’t antagonize your daughter by fomenting discord in her marriage? I don’t know. Maybe I’m missing something. I mean, I am missing something. I’m missing the part where my mother is loving and nurturing to my older sister. Or my younger sister. Or me.
So I leave. Before things get too uncomfortable. Because that’s what I do. I’m good at leaving. It’s a strong survival instinct that I have cultivated over the years. As soon as things get abusive: RUN.
Of course, I wait and finish my wine because, oof, after today, I need that. I slurp it down, grab my bag, call goodbye to everybody, and scurry away.
My mother walks me to the door.
“Goodbye! I love you!” she says to me.
“You need to be nice to people,” I hiss at her.
She smiles and waves goodbye. She was too drunk to know what I was talking about.