My mother is a problem I can’t solve.
People say, make peace with your mother. But, like Iran and North Korea,
my mother doesn’t want peace; she prefers war. Or, at least, hostility.
There was no disagreement, no single event which set the wheels in motion – nor is it the first time
she’s chosen estrangement. She simply stops answering the phone when we call.
She sees herself as a victim, the long-suffering mother/sister/daughter/wife–
wronged by everyone she’s related to. She claims abandonment by her daughters,
and without us to say otherwise, she can perpetuate this story. She hasn’t spoken to her sister
in over 20 years; she wasn’t speaking to her mother or brother when they died, both in the same week.
And she didn’t attend either funeral – she claims that no one told her they had died,
which also can’t be refuted if no one speaks to her daughters.
We send her cards, letters – and she sends them back, unopened. Kathy still calls her every day.
Mom keeps her answering machine off, relying on caller ID to let her know who called.
Or, who is calling.
I have a philosophy – don’t complain about a problem unless you’ve exhausted every avenue of solving it.
Some say there is no problem – she has cut us off, we should do the same. Except – she is 76 years
old. Except, she lives alone, and, we care if she is okay.
Except, that she has now taken every photo of her daughters and their sons, and had them delivered to
Kathy’s house. Another chance to let us know that we have been boxed up and thrown out.
It seems ridiculous because it is – but still, it is. And it goes on, and it will go on, and it is a problem
I cannot solve.
Before my senior year of high school, knowing I couldn’t take another summer of babysitting,
I started filling out job applications. I finally got two interviews, both on the same day – McDonald’s and Ponderosa Steakhouse– conveniently located across the street from each other.
McDonald’s rejected me; Ponderosa became my first paycheck.
Ponderosa had recently changed their female employees’ uniforms from a hideous polyester skort, cowboy shirt and hat, to a hideous polyester brown jumper with a printed polyester blouse which shared its fabric with a headband. And the nametag – my Ponderosa Steakhouse nametag, SEMA, embossed in white and stuck there-on. I was official.
I loved having this job. I sucked at this job.
The set-up was like a cafeteria line, with a meat order taken at the front of the line, followed by stations
of various sides, before ending at the cash register. My first station was drinks and rolls,
the most remedial of the stations. Simple tasks – put the rolls onto a tray, place tray in the giant baked
potato oven for 60 seconds, remove from oven, paint with melted butter and dump into warming drawer.
As for customer interaction, also simple – ask them what they want to drink, give them what they want to drink, and hand them a butter-bathed roll on a plate, with a pat of butter on the side.
My biggest problem was keeping track of the rolls once I put them in the oven. Tray after tray of what more resembled hockey pucks than rolls, tray after tray tossed into the trash.
I cannot, to this day, explain how I kept that job for more than a week. But I did – I was there for nine months, and if you’d asked me at the time, I would have told you, I loved that job.
I never saw it coming. The nurses warned me while going over the release checklist – reasons
to call: excessive crying. “You, not the baby,” they clarified. I laughed.
I wasn’t home 20 minutes before the crying began. Mine, not the baby’s.
No one else took it very seriously, so I tried not to either. “You’re so tired,”everyone pointed out. “Just hormones,”was another plausible explanation. “You’re overwhelmed,” I was reminded.
I wasn’t sure if these comments were meant to placate me or modify my behavior, or maybe just to
say this is all normal and you’re fine. But I didn’t feel fine – I felt like I’d fallen down a hole, and it was
dark with steep sides and no apparent way out. And the more time passed and the less anyone seemed
to notice I was in that hole, the more I settled in there, and the less I tried to climb out.
Ian’s pediatrician was the first to ask, to really question, was I okay? “It can be very lonely,”
was all she needed to say; I started crying again.
The desire to conquer the hole took time, and it wasn’t a straight path. Doctors, faith, meditation,
medication, pilates – I worked hard at it. I still work at it.
It’s not simple, not for anyone. I didn’t know it then, but I do now. That every other person out there is
fighting a battle, and maybe that battle is just to get through the day.
And sometimes the battle is lost. And it’s nobody’s fault, and it was never for lack of trying.
Everyone who knew Michael might not have known he was fighting, but they don’t doubt that he fought,
and that he tried.
Everyone who loved Michael will love him always, and miss him forever.
I was born in Oswego, NY,
"I had always wanted to be a writer, but was impeded by the belief that to be a writer one had to be extraordinary, and I knew I wasn't. By the time I was ready to give up my academic career I had realized that while books are extraordinary, writers themselves are no more or less special than anyone else." The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield