“My mother’s funeral was filled with hopelessly fake, lost shells of adult children who had loved basking in her extroversion and laughter and personalized attention on their lives while watching her self destruct and also abuse her children with nary a protest.
“I’m so sorry about your mother…..I…”, they’d say to me, eyes welling.
There was Rhonda who had once stood by watching dumbly while my mother took my painfully thin brown wrist and used my hand to hit my little brother while I remained determinedly stone faced, tears rolling down my cheeks and my brother cowered, frozen.
Martin who had let her constant flirtations with him run the gamut of his multiple marriages, rewarding his friend the broke, pretty single mother with twenty dollar bills he’d sneak under the butter dish while visiting with his disapproving wife until the evening my eight year old self once came into the living room with a handful of cash chiming, “Look what I found!” to a room full of silent adults.
His wife stormed out of the house.
There was Erika who was the only person who called me by an endearing term when I was a kid. She constantly pressured my mother to go to dancehall parties with her. Burdened, they’d have to bring me along and I’d sit in the corner with my knees up resting my head there with my hands on my head or hiding under the tables.
“Why is your daughter such a grouch? Come dance Adelle, sweetie!”, she’d sing out, laughing joyfully over her rum and pineapple like I was an old friend from college and not a tired and overwhelmed four year old.
It was Erika who introduced her to jailbird men and the idea of raising multiple fatherless children on welfare.
Look at them crying now.
I’d glance back at them, dry eyed, pull the corners of my mouth slightly tighter in acknowledgement, turn and leave them staring numbly at the space I’d been standing in.
What did they expect? This is what happens to women like my mother.
And later we’ll see what happens to the children of women like my mother.
Ten years ago, I lived through this.
My brother had just started his last year of high school. I had to call my other brother in the middle of the night, where it was two hours ahead in Toronto.
I still remembered how he didn’t say hi right away. When he picked up, his laugh trailed off first and I could hear other people in the background. It sounded like a night market, or a festival of some kind.
That was the single, last time I ever heard my brother’s voice with that level of lightness and youth.
I couldn’t……. say …………..anything.
In the silence I could hear his winning smile melt from his face. “It’s mom?”
My voice cracked, in small fractures at first.
“Yeah. It’s…..I…. you should probably come home”.
Small fractures radiated out into a final, irreversible, glacial crack! and my words fell through the ice and pulled us down into the cold, dark water of a truth we’d both known would come one day.
You don’t feel only grief when an abusive parent dies. You feel relief wash over you.
Maybe I am finally safe now, a voice inside of you that is still 4 years old says, shamefully and you’ll feel guilt for that.
You grieve the realization that you always did have hope you were not aware of until this day.
Hope that one day she’d wake up and realize what she’d done and not done. How it hurt and fucked up everyone, especially the ones she should have been actually caring for and protecting and she’d call you all up and you’d meet back at the old townhouse, everyone after work with the mysterious air of their strange and separate lives still clinging to them and the sky would be dark velvet blue outside standing barefoot on the sidewalk like you used to in a neighborhood where no one had to lock their doors, and you’d feel the heat and warmth off their bodies beside you in the cool night air and she’d say it with a gravity like the space between the image of lightning and the sound of thunder taking the air from everyone’s chest in one rush like a gasp that had been held for a decade “I’m so sorry”.
That will never happen.
And you don’t realize you ever believed it until the mortician is explaining why one of her dresses is more fit for cremation than the other.”