This weekend, I made the hour long trek to my parent’s house. It is the third time I have seen them in two year and the first time with out the protection of my children. I know, even though my parents don’t particularly like children, the kid and the baby provide a kind of buffer in the conversation between us. Without them,… I just can’t take it.
As part of a bargain struck when my parents offered us money to get us through a short month, I was to spend several hours cleaning their house. When I arrived I tried to be focused, getting a list of exactly what was to be cleaned. There was already a conflict though. My dad asked me to pick up the living room that had become strewn with piles of paper – torn out notebook paper, notes written on post-ins and handouts from various companies or events. Each pile was layers thick and each pile seemed to fade into the next, leaving no room for organization. My mother though quickly shrieked, “Oh no. Not in there. Although I’m sure you would like that,” with an angry sneer.
I tried to begin then tacking the sink full of dishes, bypassing the long plastic table filled to the brim with glassware, plastic silverware containers and half empty two liters that I remembered from my last visit several months ago. The half empty bottles of wine cluttering the kitchen counter were new though. I was stopped yet again. “Can you run to the store and get some milk?” I tried to get the specifics, but it led nowhere. I finally grabbed some cash and walked out the door as my mother tried to give me detailed directions on how to drive to the gas station just half a block from their house. My frustration level was low. I was being calm. I was determined to get through this.
After fetching the gallon of milk, I once again began tackling the dishes. Within minutes, my mother was standing at the entry way talking. Just talking at me, never to me. It’s always somehow important though. What latest horrible thing did the neighbors do, how dare the city ticket them for putting up moldy lattice work behind the house that extended into the alley, how could the landlord demand they keep the house in some sort of working order, how dare the woman at her latest women’s group meeting insist on a quorum to vote, etc.
And, then, when I was only starting to scrub on the third dish, I got yelled at. “We need to leave. We have to get to lunch. Stop doing that. No! Stop it! We will wait for you in the car.” I sighed and went ahead, hoping it would only last a short time. I needed to get back home. I had work to do in my own house. This was the precious little time I had to spend with my kids and husband. But, no. It was a 2 ½ hour meal. My mother refused to hurry. I know what happens when I try to hurry her. She will vomit up her entire meal at the table and scream at me. She will be the victim in the grotesque little sideshow. And, I will be the horrible person who dared to hurry her.
We finally got back to the house and my parent laid down for a nap. I got the dishes done. Hand-washing them thoroughly twice before putting them in the dishwasher – as my parent’s protocol demands. I tackled the laundry – sorting and folding. When I went to put things away though, I paused. Where do I put things. My parents have a total of two walk in closets and five larger dressers. However, their bedroom reflects their hoarding almost more than any other part of the house. There is no way to climb the treacherous mountains of random stuff to put anything away. So, I was told to just leave them in the dining room. In piles, which will disintegrate back to solid mess in less than a week.
My frustration and anger grew out of control. I don’t know why, but with each dish that was so uniquely me parent’s and every shirt that had the trademark wear and each mouse trap I set eyes on, I just felt this climbing sense of panic. Like I had fallen back into a place I had worked so hard to get out of. How did I end up back here. I haven’t felt that level of rage in a long time. Since the last time I lived with them briefly. It is the built up anger from my childhood that was always buried deep and never allowed out. It was the reason I had trouble controlling my life. It was that feeling of suppression and fear and frustration and anxiety and so many other words that barely contain the right gravity for this situation.
Finally, I could not take it anymore. I left. I was rushed and beginning to snap at them. I just needed out of that house right that minute or I would explode. As I failed at politely apologizing for having to leave without doing everything they needed, my mother shoved a pile of stuff into my hands. It is her way of trying to spread her piles into my life as well. Most of what she gives me ends up the trash. She has been known to show up at my house in the middle of the night and leave a collection of boxes and trash bags on the porch, containing broken toys, old clothes that would fit no one in our house and rotted fruit.
When I got in the car, I actually looked at my new pile of junk. In a zip lock was a small collection of ribbons and medals. I don’t remember them much. Even at the time I got them, I had no concept of their meaning and didn’t care much for them. I’ve always hated competition, but there were many times when my mother would enter me into things without my knowledge or we would just happen upon some sort of test on the way to go somewhere else. There were two purple best of show ribbons, a blue ribbon, a third place one and three medals for things ranging from music theory to music composition to digital art. They are all from elementary school. They are my mother’s memories, not mine.
My mother just called to thank me for my visit and asked if I liked the bag of awards. I told her the truth – as soon as I got home, I gave them to the kid to play with. He loves them. Maybe I shouldn’t have told her. Just as in every conversation with my mother – she yelled and cried and insisted that I am a horrible person. She just had to tell me that he would ruin them and I should keep them forever. But, I have no connection to them. There is just no reason for me to keep them. I never wanted them in the first place. But, that, like so much of my childhood, was part of the façade that the world saw. It was all apart of the carefully crafted fake smile into the outward world. Part of a “me” who I never saw in the mirror and not someone I would have even liked very much. It’s my mother. Not me. Never me.
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