The Five Stages of Mother’s Day

Unless you’ve been under a rock, you may have no idea that we recently celebrated the United States’ version of Mother’s Day. It’s a day of frantic flower deliveries, crowded brunches, gifts of handmade cards, and forced good wishes muttered under surly teen breaths. For some, it’s a day of sadness. If a mother has passed, if a child is lost, or a woman who desperately wants children doesn’t have any, Mother’s Day can be very painful. I remember being part of that latter group, keeping a smiling, brave face on for my own mother and mother-in-law, and then returning home after the obligatory brunch to cry my eyes out.

Grief is a weird, ever-changing emotion. Here in America, where the lifestyle is one of instant gratification mixed with unfailing optimism, grief isn’t really allowed after a certain amount of time. After about a year, people start worrying if you’re still crying over your dead loved one. I remember still being a wreck a year on from Dad’s death and wondering what was wrong with me. Eventually, I learned about the five stages of grief–denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. It took me a while, but I eventually accepted Dad’s death, his absence, and the hole he left behind.

I’m currently working on acceptance regarding my relationship with my mother.

Since becoming estranged from her last February–my choice–I have worked through many, many… many emotions. Probably the biggest emotion of all has been guilt.

Guilt that I should be a better daughter, buck up, and deal with the roller coaster of her borderline personality disorder.

Guilt that I didn’t notice her mental issue earlier and try to get her help when she was younger.

Guilt that I believed all of her lies and just swallowed them whole.

Guilt that I existed with her bad choices, made excuses for them, and put my friends and family through the stress of our fractured relationship.

While chewing on the guilt, I’m also working through the five stages of grief. But, rather than grief, I’ve decided for the purpose of this post to call it The Five Stages of Mother’s Day. Because this hasn’t been a 15-month-long process. This has been my life.

~Denial~

When I watched how she treated Dad, her friends, her family, I just assumed that was how everyone was to everyone else. I was a child and didn’t know any different. My parents never hit me or berated me, but my mother berated everyone else. I was a nervous kid, but could never put my finger on why I was this way. Eventually, I grew up just like her. I had a short fuse that would ignite at the slightest provocation. Tyler, the kids, my closest mates, no one was immune. Throughout my childhood, I made all the awful Crayon cards for my mother, school art projects, knick-knacks and such for Mother’s Day. And… she didn’t keep them.

~Anger~

The April after Dad’s death, I returned to West Virginia to bury his ashes and celebrate Mom’s birthday and Easter. After paying for two funerals, four plane tickets, and helping out Mom financially, Tyler and I were cash-strapped. But, I still took her to the mall and bought her a passel of clothes. For Mother’s Day, I sent her a card. I found out from my cousin that my mother was angry that I didn’t get her a gift for the holiday. I explained, exasperated, what I had purchased for her just the month before, and that I couldn’t even really afford that. This was the first time I was really, truly hurt. And pissed.

~Bargaining~

Between 1999 and 2006, I spent every Mother’s Day on pins and needles, making sure she received something that was worthy of her appreciation. Flowers, cards, gifts, didn’t matter. I learned pretty quickly that Mom didn’t want something that she needed. It needed to be some ornament that outwardly showed status. A pricey scarf, teacups, jewelry, purses–I was essentially buying her love. And she ate it up. Because that’s what she wanted. Not thoughtfulness, but fripperies. Once, when I did give her items of usefulness, I found out from a friend that her response to that holiday when asked, “What did you get?”

“Nothing good,” came the reply.

~Depression~

As I became the recipient of the handmade scribbles, elementary school artwork, hugs, and such, I cherished each one. I struggled to find a special place to put each item. Bookshelves became full of hand-drawn pictures and a basket turned into the reservoir of all those precious memories. Meanwhile, I struggled to find the right card to express that I loved my own mother, but when it came to saying, “Thank you.” I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t thank her for the depression, anxiety, and constant upset. Finding that “perfect” gift was making sure the gift would pass her inspection and would be appreciated. There was no joy in the selection. No happiness in the forced Mother’s Day lunch conversation. No comfort in the hug. Only stress and sadness.

~Acceptance~

After two Mother’s Days without my own mother, I realize that this is now my life. My mother’s day was a day of hiding out in my basement, cross-stitching and watching true crime shows. The kids came down every now and then to check on me, give me hugs, wish me a happy day, and give me their gifts. They make me whole, give me joy and happiness in their every action. I am so incredibly lucky to have them as my children and I wouldn’t trade them for anyone or anything. But I felt that I had to hide, that I’m a horrible daughter for not calling my mother, texting my friends, calling my grandmother, emailing my relatives. I just couldn’t do it. I put my phone on do not disturb and immersed myself in the counted stitches of my latest project, allowing the tiny embroidery to calm my anxiety. Acceptance will take a really long time–probably years. It’s the stage I’m still working towards. Someday, I’ll be able to face the day knowing that I’m a daughter who told her mother to go away and that that was the right choice.

I wish for my mother comfort. I wish her love and joy with her friends. I wish her peace. But, I need to wish her those things from afar. Our lives are better for it.

Choosing to Transform

Choosing to transform. That is what life is all about! Right, Paige?

When Jarrod started his taekwondo journey several years ago, I was a very naive martial arts mom. I had no idea. I imagined that like anything else, it was one lesson a week and I even thought to myself, “OK. He’ll get his black belt in a couple of years and then we’ll move on to something else.”

Insert picture of martial arts instructors rolling on the floor, laughing out loud.

What I didn’t understand then was that gaining a black belt is only the beginning of one’s martial arts training, not the end. The black belt signifies that that person is finally ready to become a true student of the art, that they have put in the hard work necessary to truly immerse themselves in the finer techniques. It really is a three-dimensional art form. The muscle memory required and the control necessary to perform at a peak level is amazing. And you don’t get there until you earn your first black belt.

Jarrod receiving his second degree, level 4 black belt from Senior Master Bowen, 7th degree black belt.

And I know this because I have now started my own taekwondo journey.

I have not only watched Jarrod for many years now and how he has transformed from an awkward little kid to a controlled martial artist, I have watched other children, teens, adults, and their instructors work toward higher and more difficult goals. And to see their kicks get more precise, their punches more controlled, is incredible. Jarrod is now a second degree, level four black belt and he shows no signs of stopping or slowing down. In fact, he has his eyes on the prize–a high-level black belt and his own taekwondo studio just like his instructor, Ms. Bowen.

Amelia receiving her level 2 green belt from Ms. Bailey, 5th degree black belt.

Meanwhile, Amelia has begun her own martial arts journey. She, too, has watched her brother and although she is a much different martial artist, she is determined to make her own mark in the sport. I watch her make the same mistakes Jarrod made at this early point in his classes and I see her consciously correct herself, working to perfect the movements that will make her a very special martial artist. I love watching Amelia and Jarrod work together, Jarrod giving Amelia pointers and Amelia practicing her form or her one-steps. It warms my heart to see them working together, not against each other as so many siblings do.

As my children took up and perfected this sport, I began exercising in earnest. See, I’m 47 years old now and I can feel my body slowing down, my metabolism working against me, and the aches and pains increasing. It’s frustrating, but I realize that I need to work harder AND smarter to keep myself in shape. Ms. Bowen and Ms. Bailey started a fitness boot camp at the beginning of the school year and even though I found myself most Monday and Wednesday mornings wanting to puke, I could feel my stamina improving. I began running again. Overall, everything is going swimmingly.

My first class was full of black belts and… little old me. Thankfully, they were gentle and encouraging!

Paige is not only a fellow taekwondo mom, she’s also a martial artist herself. She is a student of Ms. Bowen and Ms. Bailey and just received her first degree, level 1 black belt. The day she received her belt, she and Ms. Bailey both nodded toward me in the crowd and after many, many months of waffling, wondering, and stewing, I knew that they had just given me the signs I needed. I took the plunge the next day and started my own martial arts journey.

Many people talk about their 50th birthday in terms of purchases or trips. “I’m saving up for a Corvette!” or “I’m going to go to Bali!” Rather than buying a sports car or going to the end of the Earth, I’ve decided instead to prepare for my 50th a few years early. I want to welcome in my 50th birthday with a black belt around my waist and a new sense of self-respect. I want to face down my 50th by showing my kids that you can choose to transform yourself at any age, at any time, that you don’t have to be young to try something new or different, and that age is just a number and not a state of mind.

I want to prove to myself that through the aches and pains, I can still round kick the crap out of a punching bag.

And so, it is with great personal pride that I announce Bowen’s Tiger Rock’s newest white belt… ME! As Ms. Bowen is fond of saying, “A black belt is just a white belt who never gave up!” Well, this is one white belt who isn’t going to give up, Ms. Bowen! Let’s do this!

I had the honor of receiving my white belt from Ms. Hughes, 4th degree black belt.

Uncle Curtis

At a Charleston Camera Club meeting, circa December, 1993.

I haven’t really ever blogged about my Uncle Curtis. I’ve only ever posted about him a couple of times on social media. He was the inspiration for our cat, Andy’s, name. And next to my parents, he was my closest family member.

My father was the youngest of four. Gladys, the oldest, died at age 7 when she was scalded from water in her mother’s wash tub. She had put her little hands on the sides and tried to lift herself up to see what was inside and the tub tipped and poured scalding hot water all over her. Next, was Uncle Curtis, born in 1922, then Uncle Romie, born in 1926, and finally my father, born in 1931. They were all children of the coal fields, living in Kingston, West Virginia, their father a miner for the Kingston Pocahontas Coal Company. The town originally had a population of about 2,500, had two YMCAs, a theater, bowling alley, and was the last stop on the Paint Creek Branch of the C&O Railroad. Eventually, the mine shut down and everything was removed except for the school, which still stands today but is derelict.

Uncle Curtis attended school until the 11th grade. I know he, his brothers, and parents eventually moved to South Charleston, West Virginia, and built the house on Kentucky Street where I grew up, but I don’t know all of the particulars. What I do know is that he worked as a stock boy for the GC Murphy Company store in downtown South Charleston. He was completely deaf in one ear and only had partial hearing in his other ear, but what he lacked in hearing he made up for in photographs.

He was extremely unobtrusive and could melt into a crowd, old beat up second-hand Nikon in hand, the frayed strap around his neck, ball cap on backwards, and take pictures of anyone and everyone. People were his favorite subject and when I inherited all of his photographs and negatives, I had no clue who was in the photos he took, but they were all so amazing, giving one the impression that the people didn’t even know he was there. Or, at least, didn’t mind. I tried taking up the lens after his death and found that people would spot me, stare, and turn away. I didn’t have the ability to fade into the scenery like Uncle Curtis did. So, instead, I packed up his Nikon and took it to Egypt, where it captured the pyramids, temples, and tombs of that amazing country.

His passion may have been photography, but his love was me, Sarah, Lollie, and Tommy, his nieces and nephew. He never married nor had children of his own, but I know he loved us. Any time I mentioned taking an interest in something, he would truck off to the library, intent on finding out more about that interest which he would then bring up in conversation later on. I remember a happenstance mention by me about watching Wimbledon which led to a his lifelong interest in the sport and you could always find a tennis match blasting from the television in his one-room apartment. In the summer of 1993, I spent ten weeks doing research in the field of space plasma and aeronomics and was actually published. Uncle Curtis was the only member of my family to read that academic paper and ask me questions about it. He had an incredibly curious mind, a sweet personality, an amazing sense of humor, and magnificent fashion sense. Some of my favorite clothes were Christmas and birthday gifts from him that he had picked out.

He died two weeks after my father from, what we can only assume, was a broken heart. Were he still alive, he would have turned 97 this week. He was one of my most favorite people on Earth and I miss him. It has been long past due that I write about him and remember him properly. Love you, Uncle Curtis, and hope you had a wonderful birthday in the great beyond!

The 13th Floor

“What floor are we on, Papa?”

Jarrod stood there, in the elevator, one hand on the door making sure it stayed open, other hand poised over the buttons, index finger extended and ready to press the floor we needed to access for our stay.

“Fourteenth,” Tyler responded.

“Technically,” I replied, “we’re on the 13th floor.”

All three kids looked at me quizzically.

“Well, it’s supposedly bad luck for hotels to have a 13th floor, so if you look on the elevator button panel, there’s a 12th floor and a 14th, but no 13th. Technically, though, the 14th floor is the 13th. So, we’re on the 13th floor.”

“Huh.” Amelia said, “That means that we’re in room 1313 because our room number says 1413 but if the 14th floor is actually the 13th floor, then we’re in the most unlucky room in the building.”

“But, only if you’re a Templar, Amelia.” Heath stated.

“I need a drink.” Tyler muttered.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

You always told me that you worked the hardest during our summers in Lewisburg. That it was you who did all the canning and the summer garden work around my grandparents’ house. You always made sure to point out that my aunt, your sister, did nothing, that she was lazy and acted like a princess, making sure to do just enough to stay in your father’s good graces and make you look like the bad guy.

Except, that wasn’t it at all. Turns out, you were the daughter who needed reminding that in order to reap your share of the bounty, you needed to sow. You were the one who acted disgruntled every time you were reminded to get up and do your share. Your sister was the one who was always there, ready to throw in a lending hand and willingly do her part. Meanwhile, you did just the absolute minimum while telling everyone the opposite.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“You know what drives me nuts?” Tyler asked one morning, feet propped on the ottoman, enjoying his last few minutes of freedom before work.

“What?” I responded.

“The fact that the Chick-fil-A hash browns box can hold 16 hash browns but they only throw in like 12. Sometimes 10!” He held up the open box to show that he had lined up the offending rounds of browned potatoes with a large space to the left where five hash browns should have been.

“Well,” I looked at him over my reading glasses, “they’re not actually counting them. They just throw handfuls in there. They’re in a hurry because every high schooler in Towne Lake is running there for breakfast in the morning and the crowds are horrendous.”

“Doesn’t matter,” he harrumphed, “if it can hold 16, there should be 16 in here. Bunch of liars.”

“Bless your heart.” I muttered for the 1,000th time.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“Your father always made fun of anything I ever did.”

“What?!” I exclaimed, not believing I had just heard what she said.

“He did! Any time I made anything, he made fun of it.”

It was the 20th anniversary of my father’s death, always a hard day for me. And now she was remembering him with a lie.

“He did no such thing. He was always proud of everything you did.”

She grumbled under her breath and nothing more was said.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“Lying is the worst,” I’ve always said to our children. “Don’t lie to me or to your Papa. We will always tell you the truth. Even when it’s difficult or uncomfortable. We expect the same courtesy from you. If you lie to us, that is worse than anything else you could possibly do. A lie is a betrayal of self and of our ties as a family.”

I try, really hard, to make sure they don’t lie. But, I know they do. It’s in our nature as humans to lie in order to cover our butts.

Did you practice piano? SURE!

Mom face activated. Teenager skulks into the living room and actually practices.

Did you do your homework? UH-HUH!

Mom face re-activated. Pre-teen heavily sighs, picks up his backpack and pulls out his homework folder.

Honestly, though, those lies don’t bother me. It’s the big ones that would kill me. If they ever lied about loving me, I would die, and I know I feel that way because of the lies of my childhood.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I looked into the stands. I stood in the center of the football field, my last band festival as a senior and as drum major. I could see my mother and my father, but not my grandparents, aunts, uncles, or cousins. We were in Lewisburg, at the local high school, where they all lived. But, none of them were there.

As usual.

You chalked it up to none of them liking us, especially me. I got it. I was the weird grandkid. The odd niece. The strange cousin. I was used to it. But it still hurt.

Later, though, I found out that no one was there because you never told them about it. For six years, they asked and you never responded, never let them know. They never saw me out in the middle of the football field. They never witnessed me win a trophy, salute the crowd, or conduct until my arms ached. You purposefully lied to them and removed them from my life. I still can’t discern the reason for it.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Gaslighting is a term I didn’t hear until I was an adult. According to Psychology Today,

Gaslighting is a tactic in which a person or entity, in order to gain more power, makes a victim question their reality. It works much better than you may think. Anyone is susceptible to gaslighting, and it is a common technique of abusers, dictators, narcissists, and cult leaders. It is done slowly, so the victim doesn’t realize how much they’ve been brainwashed.

Gaslighting is lying. It is projecting. It wears you down. It confuses you. It makes you dependent. It makes you feel crazy. It’s manipulation. It’s abuse.

In the above quote, it talks about cult leaders using gaslighting and I remember last year telling Tyler, “I’ve been a member of the Cult of Mom my entire life.” The cognitive dissonance was strong and I had a horrible time reconciling my experiences to what was actually true. I don’t like to throw around PTSD because there are so many people out there who suffer from awful forms of PTSD. Soldiers, physical abuse victims, victims of violent crime, those are the people who have PTSD. But I’ve discovered that my depression and anxiety are milder symptoms of PTSD. Those are my reactions to having been gaslit my whole life. I always wondered why a ringing phone sent me into a state of panic, why an authority figure in my life wanting to talk to me freaked me out, why I was constantly negative about myself and didn’t feel worthy of love or good things.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Slowly, but surely, I’m healing. I don’t expect it to happen overnight. It’s been over a year and I realize that I may never be “over” any of it. I’ll just be able to deal with it in a more healthy manner. There are still moments that will make me pause. Like last night, watching a woman out to eat with her mother, having easy conversation and enjoying each other’s company. I know I’ll never have that, and that’s OK. But it still makes me stop, think, remember, mourn, and move on. Each and every time.

My whole life, I lived on the 13th floor. Instinctually, I knew it was the 13th. I could count. But the most important person in my life kept telling me it was the 14th floor. And I gave her the benefit of the doubt. But not any more. I know it was the 13th. I’m proclaiming it was the 13th. She can stay on the 14th floor without me. I’m done.

Cognitive Dissonance, Eggshells, and Guilt

I don’t talk about Mom a lot online. Last year, I posted that we were no longer in contact and I’ve reached out to a few mutual friends to help me keep an eye on her simply because she’s no spring chicken. But, other than that, unless you’re a close friend who I talk to on a regular basis, I’ve been radio-silent.

I’m not sure if that’s a good or bad thing.

I’ve spent the last 13 months reading books about borderline personality disorder, subscribing to Facebook and Reddit groups that allow for safe spaces to post about borderline parents, and going to therapy. Well, scratch that. Therapy only lasted six months because my therapist started talking about reconciliation and Christian resource books and talking to my mother again and I tried to put the kibosh on that but she kept saying those words and so I canceled my next appointment and never went back. Yes, I ghosted my therapist. I figured it was for the best. And I’ve been too lazy, and frankly a little scared, to look for another one.

Reconciliation is a no-go for me as there is nothing to reconcile. Living with someone who has borderline personality disorder is about setting boundaries and keeping those boundaries in place. Except, like a toddler, the person with BPD will constantly push those boundaries and you, the loved one, will spend your life walking on eggshells. As reddit user u/NothingIsEverEnough succinctly stated, One book says “stop walking on eggshells”, I immediately called bullshit on it. The book teaches you how to walk on eggshells with lesser damage, but you will walk on eggshells as long as you’re in the relationship.

I’ve walked on eggshells for over four decades and I’m done, ya’ll.

So, instead of therapy, I call Toni, talk to Jodi over our property line, text Stefanie, and drink more coffee.

Yes, Heather, you made the right decision. Toni tells me.
Your mom pinned something on Pinterest, so she’s still alive. Jodi informs me.
I got your back. Just let me know who I need to cut. Stefanie says.
You are amazing and you are so smart and beautiful and talented. Everything you do and say is brilliant and I love you. Coffee will whisper to me.

I know that coffee is lying but three outta four ain’t bad.

I have a notebook that I bought last year that I use as a silent therapist. In it are neatly written pages of memories of my mother’s lies and mental illness. It’s probably not healthy to have it, but whenever I think, Maybe I’m being too harsh. I just need to call her and apologize and not leave her by herself, I just pick up that notebook and re-read it and remember why I have established this No Contact  boundary and why that needs to remain the status quo. I also read it to remind myself that I have borderline personality tendencies and that I need to fight that and not react as a person with BPD would react. Any time I find myself overthinking a situation, misreading a social cue, or worse, splitting, I pick up that notebook to stop it.

Fyodor Dostoyevsky nailed it when he said, “I swear to you gentlemen, that to be overly conscious is a sickness, a real, thorough sickness.”

My goal is to, someday, burn that book and the memories written in it. But not today. Today, I need it.

I guess, through all this rambling, what I’m trying to say is that I’m going to have blog posts that seem to start in the middle of a discussion, that tell a story halfway through. And those are the posts where I’m working through my relationship with my mother, myself, and our shared mental illness. If you don’t want to read those, I totally get it. If you read and have nothing to add, that’s fine. If you read and decide that you have words of wisdom to share with me, by all means do so. I just need a safe space, outside of my notebook to share my life with my mother. I hope you all understand.

Not Very Sociable

These are my new “pick the kids up from the bus stop” sunglasses. Because a hobby of mine is to embarrass the kids as much as possible.

One month ago today, I got sick. I mean, not with anything horrifying like measles or leprosy or hantavirus. It was just an average cold. With fever, snot, coughing, and lots of misery. I guess you could say it was more like an above-average cold. An over-achieving cold.

Still going to give it an F for “Fuck that.”

On the second day of my feverish delirium, I was sprawled out on my couch, half-in and half-out of a blanket, watching the twelfth hour of a Mysteries at the Museum marathon, and scrolling through Facebook on my phone. It was at that moment that I realized I was tired.

Metaphorically tired. I mean, I was also literally tired because… sick, but I was also tired of what I was doing. Scrolling.

No matter how many advertisers I deleted from my Ad Settings, no matter how many offensive Facebook pages I hid, no matter how many times I excused inflammatory comments or tried to read past something with which I disagreed, I realized that it was my fault for coming back. Isn’t the definition of madness doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results? But, if I hide those things with which I disagree, aren’t I creating an echo chamber? But, if I don’t hide those things, won’t my anxiety get worse?

When I first joined Facebook in 2007, I joined under my old blog handle and only accepted friendships from those who read Burt Reynolds’ Mustache, a comedy blog for which I wrote monthly posts. Eventually, I started getting emails asking, “Are you Heather Dobson?” After about the twentieth email sussing out my true identity, I changed my name and accepted friend requests from, well, everyone. Bloggers, high school friends, family, neighbors, old co-workers, you name it. It was the one place on the Internet where all parts of my life converged into a strange amalgam of memory and current events. My fellow high school Black Eagles learned I now cuss like a sailor while my blogger friends found out I was a Rainbow Girl in my youth.

Slowly, but surely, though, click bait, the almighty dollar, and political opinions have overtaken everyone’s feeds. Many days, Facebook feels like a crowded party packed full of people, each shouting about their own life.

My kid won a gold medal!
This politician is an idiot!
This politician is a genius!
Thoughts and prayers!
Ban all the bad things!
Those things aren’t bad and this is why!

I fully admit that I’ve been part of this conversation for over eleven years, filling the feeds of others with my opinions, pictures, and thoughts. And you know what “they” say about opinions… everyone has one and everyone thinks everyone else’s stinks. After a huge familial blow-out over the Cheeto-in-Chief, I vowed that my Facebook feed would only be lighthearted, full of pictures of my family and pets.

And while that’s been true, Facebook in general is still a web site that exists for its own purpose. It is there to make money and in order to make money, it must convince us to click here, there, and everywhere. And that? Has gotten to be too much for me. I don’t mind attending the party where we’re all sharing pictures and hilarious stories of how that friend fell in a puddle and this other friend’s baby pee’d on them. But, when the party also includes arguments, disagreements, hurt feelings, relationships that end over opinion, and fights that never seem to end, never seem to find resolution, it gives me large amounts of anxiety.

I won’t deactivate my Facebook account because I need it in order to post on my paranormal group’s page, but I can tell you that this month off social media has been an eye-opener for me. I’ve had MUCH more time to listen to podcasts, read books, cross-stitch, and, more importantly, to listen to my inner voice. Social media had become my entire life and that wasn’t healthy for me.

I know that a number of you have texted and emailed me, asking if I’m OK. Yes, I’m fine. And I have decided that at the end of each month, I will post that month’s pictures and the goings-on of the Dobson family. But, my day-to-day social media interaction will have to be cut off for my own mental health. I’ll always lurk on my paranormal group’s Facebook page. My own page, though, will have to take a back seat to my life. But, if we’re friends on Facebook, it’s easy to get in touch with me. Just go to my page, click on About, and there you’ll find my address (physical and email) as well as my phone number. Feel free to contact me there!

Tiropita

“The Protector” by Jade Bryant. Click on the art to go to her web site to find out more about her work with Art Saves Lives International.

She handed me the Tupperware container from her fridge. We had navigated the path from her entryway to the kitchen, various art projects, mail, magazines, and Christmas decorations strewn everywhere. I stood in her kitchen, my heart pounding, wanting to be anywhere but here. I had come inside to retrieve this container full of my favorite Greek pastry for my birthday. But, it didn’t feel like my birthday. Instead, it felt as if I were a soldier, behind enemy lines, waiting for the ambush of her mental illness to strike. She handed the round, plastic, Tupperware to me, seemingly shoving it at me, as if she regretted making it and wanted me out of her house as quickly as possible. I turned and walked toward the front door, her footsteps following me through the cleared path. When I reached the door, I did the only thing I could do; I hugged her. She leaned in and reciprocated, but it felt wooden and contrived, as if she knew how to hug but didn’t know what it was for.

“I love you,” I said, not knowing if I really meant it.

“Love you, too,” she mumbled back.

And I walked out, the tiropita weighing down my arm, my mother’s borderline personality disorder weighing on my heart.

…—…

Getting pregnant with the twins was nearly impossible. Six months after giving birth to them, I decided to never again take birth control, because it gave me migraines. Instead, I would just not worry about it. It took hundreds of thousands of dollars, injections, scheduling, and medical intervention just to get pregnant. I figured my body was so defective there wasn’t any point in taking a nightly pill that served no purpose save to split my head in two every 28 days. Four days after the twins’ first birthday, a week after my period should have started, I was pregnant. All on my own. On the fifth day, I trekked to that same doctor, who made the twins’ lives possible, for a blood test. When Tyler told his mother that we had an appointment, she deduced what was going on, thanks to her nursing background. She assumed we had told everyone and when she mentioned the good news to my mom, instead of being excited, my mother was incensed. Angry and hurt at being left out of a nonexistent loop, she acted terse and short with Tyler and his mother. When she finally came to my house several hours later, I knew I was in for it when I saw her drawn expression and heard her brief answer to a simple, “How are you?”

“Fine.” Her lips were drawn and her eyes were angry.

“Well, I have news,” I said.

“Oh?” she replied, sour expression on her face.

“I’m pregnant.”

“I heard.” she responded, ice crystalizing her words.

“We weren’t going to tell anyone until the blood work came back from Dr. Nezhat.” I explained, trying to right the situation of happy news that had suddenly become a battle. “Betty figured it out and in her excitement, assumed you already knew. We wanted to tell everyone together.”

“I can’t believe you didn’t tell me.” she huffed.

“Well, I’m telling you now.” I clarified. “We wanted to tell you, Betty, Charley, the family all at the same time. I can tell that you’re angry and honestly, I’m just terrified. I’m going to have three kids under the age of two and I really need your support.”

“Well, then. You shouldn’t have gotten pregnant,” she nastily stated.

I asked her to leave my house. I wouldn’t speak to her for another month. It was when she called to tell me that she had gone to a counselor and wanted me to come to her second appointment that I finally heard from her. I was extremely sick, sad, and anxiety-ridden over her treatment of me. I was popping prescription anti-nausea medication and sitting in front of a stranger, telling this degreed woman the exact same timeline of events I had already told my mother one month before. It was when the counselor told Mom, “It seems that this was all just a big misunderstanding.” that Mom finally believed me.

She never again went to that counselor.

…—…

As I ate my birthday cupcake, she blew up at us. Tyler and I had tried to reason, cajole, and assist, but everything was stonewalled and met with accusatory glares and angry responses. I begged her to see a counselor, to try and deal with her anxiety and depression, not even mentioning the borderline personality disorder diagnosis our joint counselor had handed out five years prior. She turned to me, a wild look in her eyes, voice filled with disdain and anger, “And just how am I supposed to pay for that, Heather? With what money? I’m tired of being poor.” Her face was void of everything save hate.

She hated me, my father, her parents, Tyler, Tyler’s ability to pay for her bills, her life, her age, her situation, herself, and the world. And all of that hate was focused on me in one look.

I’ve heard of disassociation. I had never experienced it until that moment. All I remember is staring at Amelia’s self-portrait on the fireplace, trying hard to imagine the quiet, calm underwater world of the reefs of Bonaire.

I disassociated from my mother.

…—…

The day after my birthday, I drove her to her doctor appointment. It was a wet, damp day, the clouds heavy and the rain constant. Normally, I loved these days, but it was the day after my mother had, yet again, treated me as an enemy.

“I’m sorry to be such a burden.” she said, turning to me as her hand reached for the door latch, rain hitting the roof of the minivan. “After tomorrow, I’ll never be a burden to you ever again. I know you never wanted me here in Georgia.”

Finding that one dagger that could do the most damage and shoving it straight into my heart had become a particular talent of hers. She wielded that sharp weapon so often against others that whenever she used it against me, I was always surprised. Even after 20 years of personal experience with that particular blade, it still caught me unawares as it would enter my psyche and twist.

I stared at the license plate of the car parked next to us. It was a Wisconsin plate, out of place in the south. As my mind turned over her words, I tried to remember everything I knew about Wisconsin.

Cheese, Green Bay, dairy farms, Madison, badgers who were really miners and not badgers at all.

“I’ll never bother you again. You don’t want me here.”

Milwaukee is in Wisconsin. But, we moved you here. Bought you a house. Given you affirmations of love. Cared for you when you’re sick. Done everything you needed, wanted, and asked for. Even when you were ugly to us, we still gave you everything, including love. Toni went to Wisconsin and brought me a cheese hat. I wish I was in Wisconsin right now.

She got out and walked inside. I knew, right then, as my anxiety hit me square in the chest, pushing the knife in even further, that we were done. Our relationship was dead.

…—…

The tiropita sat in my refrigerator for a day before I decided to eat one for a snack. I pulled one out, peeling it off the wax paper. Putting it in my mouth, I felt the gummy texture. Too late, I realized it hadn’t been baked. All of the tiropita were raw. I laughed without humor and shook my head, realizing that this food was suddenly a metaphor for my current situation. I didn’t even have a Greek cookbook to tell me how to cook it because Mom had borrowed it in order to make the cheesy pies for me. I didn’t have the energy to even want to bake any others. I threw away the half-eaten raw tiropita and put the rest back in the fridge.

They say that you can taste love in food. All I tasted was sadness.

…—…

“I need you to come over, Mom.”

“Why?” she asked.

“Because, the doctor thinks I may have lupus or Sjogren’s syndrome. My inflammation levels are off the charts.” I replied.

“So?” she said, dismissively.

“Well,” I said in a rush, “If I do have either of those, the only treatment is steroids to suppress my immune system and I live with three little kids who are constantly bringing home viruses. How am I going to be their Mom if I’m constantly sick all the time? How will I protect myself?”

My joints ached so badly that I could barely walk or hold a fork. I was a mess. I had been crying all day, having multiple anxiety attacks over the sudden negative change in my life. My neighbor had already been over to calm me down, but I couldn’t continue to bother her. She had work. I needed my mother.

“Could you come over and keep me company?”

“Fine.”

When she got here, I was in my bedroom, watching shitty late-morning talk shows, resorting to Jerry Springer to take my mind off the impending doom of my health. Mom quietly sat on the bed and after a few minutes, asked, “Do you have anything to eat?”

“Um,” I looked at her, disbelieving. I was barely able to make my way to the bathroom. Now I was supposed to feed her? “Feel free to raid the fridge.”

She went downstairs, rummaged around, and returned a short while later. “You don’t have anything here. I’m going out to get lunch.”

No offer to bring me anything. No calming words. No hugs. No nothing. She just left.

Turns out I had a common childhood virus that eventually went away, leaving my hands weak and my joints more susceptible to arthritis.

“Why didn’t you stay that day I asked you to come by?”

“Well,” she said, “you were just sitting there watching TV.”

The childhood virus eventually went away, but the memory of my mother incapable of being there for me didn’t.

…—…

“Mom,” I wrote, “For my mental health and well-being, I can no longer spend time with you. You need help. Please, feel free to call or text the kids whenever you feel like it or drop by to visit them. I’ll email you when they have performances or special events. I hope you get the help you need. Love, Heather.”

I slipped the note in her mailbox, always better at the written word than the spoken. It was the day after I was told that I had clearly never wanted her in Georgia. After decades of wishing her here, giving her love, time, and whatever energy I had left after being a mother myself, her only response was derision, anger, and hurt. Yet again, her borderline personality disorder was talking out of turn. Even though I knew it was her BPD talking, I could no longer take it. I felt like a puppy, always loyal, always trying to earn my master’s trust and love, instead being struck and cursed at. I was tired. I could no longer walk on this path of eggshells. Too often, the road had forked off into the distance, away from the gravelly, unstable path of her mental illness. And yet, I always chose this rocky drive, twisting my ankles, expecting love and receiving emptiness in return, giving her more than I should when my children needed me more. I took that path because it was my mother’s path. To choose the other meant walking away from her. I had stood at this fork once before and nearly chose to walk away then, but I continued onward. This time, though, I was done. I was done tiptoeing, carefully avoiding the pitfalls and potholes, only to have one open up in front of me without warning, causing hurt and distress. With that note in her mailbox, I took the road of my family, my life, and my mental health.

…—…

I turned the oven on to 350-degrees Fahrenheit, a good starting temperature when blindly baking anything. I set the timer to 10 minutes, placing the unbaked tiropita on a baking stone. After 10 minutes, the cheese pies were still flat, so I added five minutes, then another five after that. Finally, they were slightly browned and puffed up, like tiropita should be.

I popped one in my mouth, the heat burning my tongue. It still didn’t taste right. I ate another, and then a third. I sat for a moment, trying hard to enjoy what was probably the last birthday gift my mother would ever give me. Instead, they sat like rocks on my stomach, unyielding, full of sadness and grief.

I threw the rest away, washed the Tupperware container, and wondered how I would return the receptacle to her. It’s been three weeks since her harsh, yet expected, words. Except for a brief text to her youngest grandson, congratulating him on his newest black belt, she has had no contact with the kids. Except for a terse letter to her son-in-law telling him to pay her latest electric and gas bills because she could not, she has had no contact with us. I have been at turns relieved, sad, happy, mournful, angry, and content. I have self-reflected, second-guessed, wishfully imagined, and silently screamed.

I have vowed to never scatter eggshells on my children’s paths. I will love them unconditionally. I will stay true to myself and my choice to walk a path separate from my mother’s mental illness. I will love myself, take care of myself, and not feel guilty for protecting myself. For 46 years, I have carefully measured every word, assessing the possible emotional damage that could come from saying the wrong thing. As the decades have passed, I have closed myself off from the world, taking refuge in leaving my home as little as possible, because having minimal human contact meant I could save myself for those moments when I had to navigate my mother’s rough terrain.

It will probably take another 46 years to unlearn my hermit-like behavior, but I’ll give it my best.

I miss the mother who came to my band performances. I miss the mother who laughed with me over inappropriate humor. I miss the mother who cared for me when I was sick. I miss the mother who cooked my favorite meal when I was pregnant and on bed rest. I miss the mother who hugged me and told me that she loved me. I miss the mother who only ever saw the good in me. I miss the mother who supported me no matter what. I miss the mother who didn’t weigh my words against her world view.

I miss my mother.

I don’t miss her BPD.