Monday, December 30, 2013
My Life in Words, Part Eight: Mama was a paradox
It was much later in my life before I realized that my mom was a weapon. She did quite a bit of damage. Some was by her words, some by her actions, and some by simple selfishness. Mama was a paradox. While she often gave lavish gifts, she was just as likely to push others aside to get her own way. It was years before I realized that she used things as anesthesia. She could believe she was good – and she could make you believe she was good – if she gave you a nice gift, or took you somewhere you wanted to go, or did something you wanted to do. As long as it cost her something. And that something was always cash. Sacrifice wasn’t her currency. It’s hard for me to look back and try to understand why I didn’t see things accurately back then. I imagine it was my childish heart. A child always wants to believe in love. Maybe we are even programmed genetically, or instinctively, to believe that our mother is good, that our mother loves us, and that our mother always has our best interest in the forefront. I am not the only child to grow up and learn in hindsight that that wasn’t true. But not knowing protected my heart and it needed protecting in those days. I had been given the heavy obligation of making too many people happy. If people were angry, if people were sad, it had to be my fault. Why did no one try to take that from me? Surely they noticed. Surely to God they noticed. The refrain that I repeated way too often was, “Are you okay? Do you love me? Are you mad at me?” Of course, there was usually a response to that refrain. But it wasn’t from my mother, the one I most wanted it to be from. Her answer was too practical, too annoyed. “I’m not mad. Quit asking me that. You know I love you. I’m okay.” Answers, but not the answers I wanted. I wanted sweetness and caresses, and kisses that said I was the most important thing in her life. But that probably wouldn’t have worked. It is a law of life that for words to be seen as sincere, they have to match the actions of the speaker. And my mother’s actions were far from saying, “You are the most important thing in my life.”
(Evelyn on the left)
I have to remember that my mother had me as the result of an accident. I wasn’t born the lovingly wished for offspring of a fresh young couple. I wasn’t the infant of an older couple who had prayed for a baby for over a decade, perhaps. I was the result of two young kids fumbling around in some furtive encounter when neither of them had any thought that a life would start. Instead of joy at the realization that a baby was coming, I am sure there was anger. If messages cross that placental membrane as easily as nutrients do, then I am sure I was bombarded with hate, rage, but mostly, fear. When I realize that, it is easier to understand how quickly my mother was able to slide her parental responsibilities off to my grandmother. Later in life, she tried to blame my grandmother for “stealing” me. I presume she meant stealing my affection. But anyone with any sense knows that it would be very hard to kidnap a child’s affection from a mother whose love was the most integral part of the child’s life. I couldn’t have been very old before even I realized that I was an afterthought. My mother was a working mother from my earliest memory. She worked as a waitress, then for a caterer, and finally for most of my childhood she was a cashier for Winn-Dixie in our neighborhood.
I am sure that she was a good worker. If my grandfather imparted anything to the three women he raised it was to be a good employee. One of the worse things that could be said of someone was that they were a lazy worker, or that they did not give an honest day’s work for their honest day’s pay. That lesson led each of us to work far beyond what was expected. We would arrive early and we would stay late, as needed. We were a friend to all our co-workers. However, in my mom’s case, she was perhaps too friendly to some of her co-workers. The male ones, that is. I can’t remember a time in my life after memories begin to stick, that my mother did not have a man in her life. And at least one memory remains from a time when most children don’t have memories. We had gone to her boss’s house for a holiday. I loved going there. He lived out near the
River levee, just as we did.
But his house was upriver from us, closer toward LaPlace and
Destrehan. And he had kids – lots of
kids. There is nothing an only child
likes more than visiting families who have lots of children. It’s like going to another country, or maybe
even another planet. Someplace so alien
that it was unimaginable that people lived like that. I wanted to go back, and maybe that is why
I was so excited when I figured out by
my grandmother’s phone conversation that she was talking to Mr. Bud’s
wife. But that same understanding of who was on the phone couldn’t fathom what was happening on the phone. But I knew enough to know my grandmother was
upset and my inner demons kicked in and I began to ask if she was mad at me and
whether she loved me. After her
reassurances, my little girl’s mind kicked back to that phone conversation and
I peppered her with questions, “Are we going to Mr. Bud’s house again? Can some
of his daughters come over to our house?”
The answer was no to all questions.
Had I been a little older, or perhaps a little more sophisticated, I
could have put together the understanding that Mr. Bud’s wife had gotten to the
bottom of my mom’s “friendship” with her boss.
I would have also known that the friendship, and my mom’s employment,
was over. And as surely as fire burns
everything in its path, both good and bad, my friendship with all those
children of one household was over as well.
I was way too little to understand everything about that whole debacle,
but I knew it caused a scream fest in our house when my grandfather got home but
that imaginary fire wasn’t done with its damage yet. My mom took off in the car without permission
and just like what would happen in the plot of a movie, she wrecked the car,
destroying it. When I got old enough to
realize what had really happened, I wondered if that fire of passion had
destroyed Mr. Bud’s marriage as well.
And I prayed it had not. I did
not want to feel that my mother was
responsible for all those little kids having to live apart from their
father. It was too sad for me to contemplate.