Tuesday, August 2, 2011
The Love Lost
When I was a child, there were so many things I wanted Anne to be. In my head she was smart, beautiful, and cool, the mother who would love me like my adoptive mother never had, who would take me out of my father's abusive arms and provide me with a wonderful life in which I wouldn't have to fear.
I don't know if she ever could have been any of that. I don't know if there was ever a glimmer of any kind of substance beneath the shallow pool of absurdity and astounding self-absorption that is my birth-mother. I don't know.
In my younger years it was easy to fantasize. Anne, tellingly, was not around (which by itself should have said everything that needed saying), but being tender and naive I imbued her absence with wonderful dreams about her rather than imputing to it the callousness and neglect it implied.
Since my adolescence I've come to know her better, though, and that process has inevitably involved outrage, a huge amount of disappointment, and, increasingly, disbelief. The disappointment and disbelief kind of feed into each other. I am astounded by the scope and degree of her failures, which in turn begets more disillusionment that further lowers my opinion of her and in due course compels a wave of surrealism.
To the elementary school me, she was a giant. She was everything. But she's nothing.
She's nothing and she's done nothing.
Her visit here one week ago confirmed that and emphasized all the things about her that I find sickening. To begin with, there was a considerable chance that she wouldn't be able to make it up. She is, as she has always been, destitute, and the $100 train ticket from Decaying State was a luxury item for her. The most maddening thing about her poverty is the degree to which it is self-imposed: she won't divorce her husband, who makes six figures a year and still lets her flounder, yet she refuses to buckle down and get a real job. Instead she expends an enormous amount of time and energy scouring yard sales and thrift shops for items to sell on eBay, in search always of the one big find that will pay her bills and fill her coffers.
It's been twenty years and it hasn't happened.
Instead of recognizing defeat, though, instead of putting this away and pursuing an actual career, she pushes on in wretched want. Her refusal to seek conventional success is deeply frustrating, if for no other reason than for the sheer number of opportunities thrown her way, opportunities that are all inevitably disregarded.
In December of 2010 a wealthy friend offered to take her in and give her the assistance her husband withheld. She moved in with him for a week only to sneak out in the dead of night and return home. In the spring of 2009 she was extended a $10,000 grant to go to school in Decaying State. She turned it down because my grandmother was ill and doesn't look back into it now because that money is "probably gone." When she was nineteen years old she was awarded a full scholarship to a prestigious Southern university. She rejected it because there was "a lot going on" in the family.
Time and time again, she's proven the most extensive self-saboteur I've ever seen.
She will then survey her privation, won by the dedicated labor of her own hand, and complain endlessly about what it means to be poor. Complaining is an extreme sport for her, and always brings her conveniently to her favorite topic: herself.
Anne really is the most incredibly self-absorbed person I have ever met. Of course, everyone is prone to self-centeredness from time to time, and, as one reader pointed out in the comments section of my last post, I am no exception. My self-absorption has bounds, though. Anne's doesn't. I have literally never seen her sincerely focused on something other than herself or her own problems, and in the rare moments when she pays attention to something beyond Anne she backslides quickly into familiar territory.
An example of this came in January when I visited her for Little Christmas. I was preparing to return to school after the semester I took off for American Idol and, typically, was panicked about how to get money for tuition as my parents had once again refused to pay. Frightened and unsure, I sought Anne out for maternal reassurance and guidance. I oughtn't have.
The conversation that I continually tried to direct toward my school worries veered like a heat-seeking missile back to eBay, where Anne is convinced other users are plotting against her.
Exasperated and tired of being subtle, I finally broke in, "So, yeah, I'm pretty much scared to death."
Her response was immediate.
"I've always been scared to death," she moaned. "And I've never known what's going to happen."
All I wanted was for her to tell me that everything would be okay, even if she had no way of knowing whether it was true. That's all I wanted. Couldn't she have done that?
It's beyond her, though.
When I get to the Selected Entries section for June of 2004 you are literally not going to believe some of what you read. I spent a month of that summer with her and left when a collapsed lung put my grandfather in the hospital and within weeks of death. I can still remember, with the same astonishment I had then, what she said to me when I told her that I wanted to cut my time with in Decaying State short to be at my ailing grandfather's side.
"You're supposed to come help me at the flea market this week," she responded after listening with an irritated expression to my request for transport to Native State. The flea markets were how she made her pitiful income even then, and she dragged me to them whenever she could despite knowing full and well that I hated going.
"I know that, Mom," I said. "But Grand Pa is in the hospital and it doesn't look good. Grand Ma's taking it really hard. I want to be there for her."
Anne huffed, her irateness increasing.
"You sure seem to care a lot about helping her," she said. "But not so much about helping me."
I can remember staring at her for a good five seconds straight and not knowing how to respond. Even at sixteen I was blown away by the level of apathy and selfishness in that statement.
"Well," I said slowly. "Her sick husband situation is a little different from your flea market situation."
That was Anne's cue to raise her hands in the air and begin screaming "I don't care! I don't care!" over and over as loudly as she could.
It would like to say that time has moderated her behavior. It has not. And if the previous anecdote sounds unbelievable, that's because it is unbelievable; her pathological egocentrism is matched only by a level of melodrama that is baffling, angering, and at times quite scary.
The last time Powell and I spent Thanksgiving with her, in 2008, we awoke one morning to animalistic shrieks from the first floor.
"WHAT DON'T YOU UNDERSTAND!?!" came the ear-splitting wails at seven o'clock. "I'M NOT YOUR FATHER! I HAVE NO FUCKING MONEY! I HAVE NOTHING!!!"
She'd forgotten a quart of milk behind the orange juice and assumed that my brother or I had drunk it.
I don't know why her visit here brought all of this into such sharp focus.
Maybe it was the frustration of trying to have a normal conversation with her and being unable to. Maybe it was her indignant response when I asked her if we could avoid discussing eBay during our dinner outing.
"Okay, then," she said, her self-righteousness prickling. "Let's make a list of all the things we're not allowed to talk about! How about we don't talk about your internship, or your job, or what you're doing with music! How about that!"
I don't see why she can't understand her role with me. She is my parent, and therefore when we interact the focus is on me, in the same way that when I'm home I allow the focus to fall on Thomas and Pie. The discourse I have with my younger siblings is not wholly one-sided, of course, but their interests and endeavors take priority over mine. That's as it should be.
Her failure to comprehend such a simple aspect of interpersonal dynamics is really frustrating.
Like I said, many things are possibly to blame for why I found my latest encounter with Anne particularly cringeworthy. It might have been just looking at her. In her blotched, sagging, lined brown visage there is barely a shadow of the woman whose phenomenal beauty lasted well into her thirties despite her alcoholism and heroin addiction. A healthy and stable Anne likely would have endured in stunning gorgeousness for a very long time.
Of course, a healthy and stable Anne also likely would have spotted the telltale signs of what was going on in our childhood home and moved to stop it. Instead, what happened happened, and every time I gaze upon her ruined face I see a hideous living emblem of drug abuse and poverty.
It was with relief that I deposited her on the train at the end of last week, and as we parted ways I realized I did not love the woman whom I'd just kissed goodbye. I did not, and do not, love the human being who carried me for nine months and then brought me into the world. Beyond that, I don't even particularly like her. It would be safe to say that I in fact actively dislike her. Her fate, unless I should stand to benefit from it (as would be my due), is inconsequential to me. I just don't care.
Now that I've acknowledged this to myself, I'm not really sure how to handle it. I feel it would be cruel to tell her the truth (not that I wouldn't be justified) and yet it seems inauthentic to go on pretending as if things are fine between us. I will never be able to accept or love her. Would it not then be fairer to cut her out of my life, inform her of my reasons, and be on with it? I don't know why I'm holding back from that. It's certainly not because of affection. Could it be fear of the confrontation?
It's all a bit confusing.