I promised I would take care of her forever, watch over, protect, and never leave her. I made that promise to my mom when I was 5. I broke it 40 years later.
She was a teenager when she married my dad; hastened by an unexpected pregnancy. I was born soon after. I remember her as beautiful, funny, kind and affectionate.
My father left us when I was 5. I vividly remember the day, the weather and the smell of the room. Mostly I remember the panic in my mom’s tears as she clutched at me tightly and sobbed into my shoulder asking “who would take care of her now?”.
I volunteered with a promise only a 5-year-old could give. It was a pledge I felt deep in my core.
In my youngest years there were custody battles, court appearances, a stint in juvenile hall because the judge didn’t want to place me with either parent until matters were settled. It wasn’t the easiest of times, but by the time I was in 4th grade, I lived with mom in a little apartment deep in Los Angeles.
It was a tiny place; 420 square feet and rent rate of $75 a month. We shared a bedroom (and a bed) until I moved out at 18. As poor as we were, we were happy.
She worked as a telex operator and was home each night by 6. I got myself up for school every day, made myself breakfast, walked to the bus and got to school and back. The key around my neck was a constant reminder that I was a latchkey kid. The routine continued until I graduated high school.
I stayed close to home in my teenage years, dating rarely. On those occasions I would often bring my date back to the apartment to play board games so mom wouldn’t be alone.
When I was 18, my boyfriend of two years asked me to marry him. I thought I loved him but the idea of marriage scared me.
When your mom sits you down, holds your hands in hers and gazes steadfastly into your eyes as she tells you that you are not smart enough for college and not pretty enough to do better, you believe her. My boyfriend had promised mom he would take care of her if I married him. And so I did. The marriage lasted less than a year.
A few years later I embarked on what would be a 30 year marriage. Soon we went on to start the first of many businesses. As money was made, we bought mom a new car, 2 homes, new furniture, clothes, vacations, facelifts, boob lifts, all kinds of stuff. I remember going grocery shopping and filling her refrigerator and freezer with food. Always trying to live up to my promise.
Mom went on to marry 5 times in her lifetime. All short lived. She never collected spousal support from any of them. I’m not sure what she was looking for, but it still saddens me to know that whatever it was, she never found it.
She was quite the zealot when it came to her faith. Continually preaching, citing the bible by verse, always wanting to save someone. I never embraced her staunch biblical ways, but she never stopped trying to show me the way.
Ten years into my marriage, we had a baby girl. That is when my relationship with mom was forever changed.
She became territorial of my time, my money and my attention. She felt like she had to compete, and in the years to come, she would refuse to attend our daughter’s birthday parties and her high school graduation.
I came to realize that my mother’s love came with conditions. Big ones.
There are no words when your mom asks you to choose between her and your little girl. In the end she chose for me.
She distanced herself from me until such time “I came to my senses”. She stopped taking my calls completely. We haven’t spoken since. That was almost 15 years ago. I’m not at all convinced she ever looked back.
For years I waited for the call to come; for mom to agree to put the madness behind us. Instead, I received a call advising me that she had passed away. It came the morning of my wedding, this past February.
You may have noticed that I’ve pulled back a bit since that day. Confused how the loss could still be so deeply felt.
I will never understand what really happened. For a time, there was a lot of anger and a lot of pain. I couldn’t find my way to forgive it.
But I have always been grateful for the time I had with my mom, the fond memories of growing up loved. I choose to believe that she did the best she could with what she had. But in my heart I wish she had done more, loved better, been stronger. I wish that her love for me had been boundless and unconditional. Mine was … for her.
It no longer matters. In the end I’m just a kid who loved her mom and forgives what went wrong between us. Because without that, I’d be utterly lost.
When love fails you it’s best not to expect an explanation. It’s unlikely you’ll find one. Acceptance is the only way forward. That, and being careful not to blame yourself for something you could not control.
You move on, do better, love fully, and be everything to your child that you needed your mother to be for you. I have little doubt that that too, comes with its own mistakes.
Not one of us is perfect, but I’ve always believed that love should be pure and forever more.
With all my heart I hope mom found peace on the other side.
I’m still searching for a bit of it myself.