“Can’t you just e-mail me with this stuff?”
Words coated in ice, slippery with sleet, sliding down my sensitive little back. They don’t roll off and shatter at my feet. They stick at the small of my back.
My ex-husband — father of my Girl from the West, a beautiful young woman now who reached legal age this week — chose these words in response to my phone call on our daughter’s birthday. This is what he had to say when I summoned the courage to call him to say, Hey! Our baby is all grown up. Imagine that?
I was being maudlin, thinking of that winter-storm level snow day in 1994, tethered to that hospital bed, hooked up to countless monitors and a pitocin drip, waiting for this unknown quantity to blast into our lives. And now, here she is, fully grown and ready to take on the world.
Of course, I know better than to just dial up without a good reason. He is not a chatterbox type. I called to discuss what to do about her medical insurance, college loan applications, and the like. I thought I’d lead in with the obvious, to rise above the politics of our divorce.
I retold the story to my mother a few days later, as a way to illustrate how people can be so disappointing and how we have to move on. She harbors her own disappointment with me, apparently, and grabbed my words mid-air and lobbed them back at me. She does not and never will support most of my choices. She’ll always think I could have done better. It’s useless to complain to her about a messy bed when I am the one who tangled the sheets. She is of the school that you take your licks or you rewrite the story in your head until you believe it.
And here is where I have a small epiphany. Maybe the one who was the physical abuser was the least of the matter. Emotional/verbal abuse slithers around me almost continuously and I am color blind to its stripes. I’m rewriting my story, too.
Last fall I had a long phone conversation with my brother, who lives thousands of miles away from all this. He was telling me why he decided not to come home for the holidays. He felt the message he was getting was one of disappointment. That his choices, his lifestyle, were unacceptable to my mother and that he was tired of justifying his life to her.
“I think, sometimes, that she’s upset because she can’t brag about us at the knitting circle,” I said. It was a bonding/healing moment for us.
I’m sorry — sometimes — that I returned from the estrangement arrangement.
I am sorry I didn’t accept your gift of baptism. I’m sorry you can’t understand my need to question the existence of a god or for doubting so-called sacred texts.
I am sorry you don’t notice I have a brain and that I use it to question everything.
I am sorry that no amount of perfection will ever be perfectly perfect enough for your level of perfectness.
I am sorry that I often model this behavior with the ones I love.
I am sorry that I don’t take more of my advice.
I am sorry that it takes me so long to recognize abuse.
I am sorry that I allow others to decide what makes me a good person.
I’m sorry I’m not warmer, more huggy and kissy, and loving and giving. (I want so badly to be that person.)
I am sorry I am born of such cold people.
I am trying to thaw.
Sorry it’s taking so long.