Most everyone you talk to will have some friction with a parent or relative. Maybe this is because of a wrongdoing from childhood, be it unkind words, physical abuse, neglect, or any number of traumas that often come with raising another human being. While the severity can differ it can be hard to find closure or acceptance of yourself when you have been wronged by someone meant to love and protect you from the harshness of the world. I've found myself recently struggling with the strained and essentially nonexistent relationship I've had with my mother. I understand that my experience isn't the worst by far, but I hope to share some of the insights I've gained.
I was born to an 18-year-old high school student in a rural town in Georgia, the result of an affair on her long term boyfriend.
Her mother disowned her with she found out about the pregnancy and my mother was left with few options. She attempted to convince her boyfriend that I was his child, hoping that he would immediately marry her and invite her to live in his parents home. Unbeknownst to my mother, my grandmother had already called to give the boyfriend the heads up. He had tried to give my mother the opportunity to come clean, which she rejected. I still remember asking where the hole in the wall of their bedroom came from. The result of a fist versus drywall in a fit of rage. My biological father, my mother's senior by a good five years, wasn't ready to give up college or to settle down to family life and attempted to convince my mother to have an abortion. She refused and he renounced any parental obligations that he may have had to me.
The next few years are still unknown to me. There are rumors of clubs, drugs, and late nights. Photos of my mother at the start of a 6-month Las Vegas marriage wearing a mini skirt and rocking her signature '80s tease hairstyle. Briefly living in California. An abrupt return to the south. A front lawn on fire. And eventually a rekindling that led to my mother and her long-term boyfriend (yes, the one who was cheated on) getting married when I was somewhere between 2- and 4-years-old. He adopted me and we began our happy suburban life.
I didn't know any of this when I was growing up. I didn't find out until the abrupt suicide of the man I thought was my father. I was at the tender age of 9-years-old. I was not only dealing with the death of a parent but now the realization that the man I thought was my father simply wasn't. My mother remarried the same year and, luckily for me, she married the most caring, loving, and generous Eastern European man either of us could have hoped for. He took me in as his own and exposed me to a totally new culture that shaped the way I looked at the world.
Fast forward nearly 14 years. I was a new college graduate seeing the world as, to steal a phrase from my southern roots, a fresh spring chicken. I was a successful undergraduate research student in microbiology and had made a name for myself in my undergraduate career. I began working for my college when I returned from a summer trip to Europe and landed myself a questionable (but cheap!) first apartment. Within a year, I had moved in with a boyfriend and some roommates and decided to take advantage of the low cost of living and enroll in graduate school. Right about my second month in the program, my step-father called to inform me that my mother was having an affair after a string of multiple affairs throughout the years. She ended the marriage of her closest friend before she and my step-dad had been married for even a year. He had found out about the past affairs and the current love escapades through a poorly guarded email account. She was now refusing to end her current romance but also refusing to give my step-father the divorce he wanted. She threatened to call the police, had fits of rage, faked broken limbs, and broke countless items throughout the house. He was devastated and had no one to turn to. All of his friends and family were left in Europe so that he could build a life with this woman who had now destroyed his heart.
It's been nearly three years since this happened. I took on the role of my step-father's friend and confidant, opening my life up to him and listening to his woes and heartbreak in a way I never imagined I would connect with a parent. I couldn't believe what my mother had become. A constant smile and a lie fooled the world about her situation. The only insight I got was from my step-father and through the destroyed car I saw after she decided to drive drunk. She still to this day won't admit that she has done anything wrong in breaking up her family. My young brother and sister must deal with the constant fighting, screaming, and uncertainty because there is no chance of my step-father moving out thanks to his credit cards being maxed out without his knowledge.
I try so desperately to reconnect with my mother and get some insight into her perception of the story. But every conversation is the same. I call her three times a day for a minimum of three days. After I give up, she (usually) calls me back to tell me that everything is fine and getting better every day. The psychological effect on me is nothing compared to what I imagine my siblings are suffering through. But the pain of knowing that I cannot speak to my mother, that she doesn't want or care enough to speak to me, and that the relationship is damaged beyond repair is heartbreaking.
From all this I have learned that there is no one truth. The world is far from black and white. There is no "right" side of a story or a complete and honest recount from one person. Memories change and emotions affect the way we see and remember our experiences. I always assumed that I would be close to my mother even with all her flaws and mistakes. I never in a thousand lifetimes thought that what I might need in order to be healthy is to disconnect from the person who, every time a thought of them enters my mind, makes my heart breaks a little more. Knowing that I can provide some outlet for my step-father and that our relationship has grown stronger and providing any and all support that I can for my siblings keeps me sane. Life never turns out the way you expect and being open to learning from the hardships, to me, is the greatest lesson we can gain here in the human experience.