So, I figured something out yesterday. I figured it out without trying to, as my body, faithful beast of burden, mopped the salt and grime from the church hall floor. That's one of my jobs, cleaning the church. It doesn't pay much, but it pays. And I get a weekly lesson in humility, as I wipe some stranger's shit stains off the toilet seat, or bitch to myself while vacuuming the stairs about how nobody seems to ever wipe their feet, or how some people treat the sanctuary like a movie theatre and throw their trash on the floor of their pew and I pick up their dirty tissues and pieces of baby cereal with my fingertips. This patching together of several low paying jobs is one way I survive in this tiny rural town, without a car and with limited options. These little jobs do all add up to something that keeps a roof over our heads. My life is endless testimony to the grace of small tasks amounting to something big and real. But that's not what I mean to talk about here. It really isn't.
Or, maybe it is.
In a nutshell, this is how I got to this place: I was married to a charismatic, charming man who turned out, in a fairly short period of time, to be a controlling, cruel man. Someone with decidedly different private and public faces. I was so in love with him. I truly was. It took me years to disentangle myself from the dream of him and awaken to the nightmare of him. I tried so hard to do the right thing so that he would love me. But just when I figured out what that thing was, he would change the rules. It was that kind of crazy making, and more. It was a daily exercise in having my self-esteem trashed, my opinions discarded, my wants negated. I could not say the right thing. I could not do the right thing. He became wildly unpredictable and would physically attack me over what seemed to me to be an offhand comment. I started losing my grip. I eventually had a breakdown. I was often suicidal. But somehow, I made it through and I made it out. Along with the wreckage that was myself, I was also financially ruined.
Out of this mess, I carried my beautiful daughter. She had witnessed some ugly things, but I got her out. It was not easy. Since I am a person of very long memory who had herself grown up in a very abusive home, I did all I could to smooth the transition for her. I did all I could to shelter her. I managed to find a good enough job so that I would be approved for a mortgage. She needed stability, and so did I. We had been living on the second floor of a run down, fire trap old house. But it was in a nice village, and on a nice street. People were kind. Some of them, in fact, were angels.
Once we'd moved into our own home, about a year or two after, the exhaustion of what I had accomplished, and endured, caught up with me, and I had another breakdown. It took several years to pick up the pieces of myself after that, and to re-assemble me in a way that worked. And what makes me work is being truthful with myself about what I can and cannot accomplish. I am one person, and I can only do so much. But I do as much as I can, and the best I can.
Fast forward 11 or so years to right now. My daughter has been home on her winter break from college. As alluded to above, I have willingly devoted these past many years to raising her, to providing a safe and stable environment for her. I realized years ago that I was the one constant in her life, and I understood the responsibility of that. We don't have much -- we certainly don't have as much as she would like us to have -- but we have enough. We have a home, and years back when I had to make some hard decisions, I decided I would rather have my own home even if that meant having to give up the car.
It has been my hope that my daughter will have a better life than me. I don't think that is an unreasonable hope; I think many parents share it. My daughter is bright, and talented, and goes to a very competitive, prestigious private college that has many successful and famous people among its alumni. I am so proud of her. But I have also had to take care to not tangle up my hopes and dreams for her in amidst her own hopes and dreams for herself. It is a level of separation and letting go that I think is healthy -- it lets us both be clear about who we are.
But what I figured out yesterday was this: I need to ratchet up this letting go to a new level. Because my beautiful, bright, talented daughter is a lot like her father. I can't say the right thing to her. I can't do the right thing for her. I can't do the right thing, period. Nothing I offer satisfies her. She blames me for her unhappiness. And while she doesn't physically attack me, neither does she take responsibility for her own happiness.
And so my heart, on the one hand, goes out to this obviously unhappy, obviously struggling, young woman, but her behavior towards me is tearing down my confidence and self-esteem. It is as if she is exuding an invisible, noxious gas, and I am being poisoned by it. I am feeling inept as a parent, incompetent as a mother -- in over my head, in fact. And, as English poet Steve Smith wrote, "Not waving/but drowning."
What I realized as I mopped yesterday was I am the only one in this fractured family that has jobs -- the only one who works! And it is from me that they take and take and take (he pays $40/week child support, sporadically, and contributes nothing to her college expenses, and obviously, she lives with me with all the expenses, naturally, involved with that. And this isn't self pity talking, it is bad fact.). What I also realized yesterday as I wiped down the toilets was that I wanted to die. I wanted it all to end -- the struggle of it, the feeling bad about it. I had been sucked into a vortex of despair and I was going down. I felt like a piece of shit myself, a tiny nothing, someone who did not deserve to be treated any better.
I haven't felt that way for a very long time!
And so here I am on a ragged edge of motherhood. It's cold here and it's windy, and I love my girl, but I will be damed if I will be taken down again in the same way her father took me down, for all those many years. I do not believe she is consciously doing this to me. I am not even sure he was consciously doing it to me. But it was done. And it is being done, and I am conscious of it, and I need to find a new way.
I ain't gonna fall off this ragged edge.