In the late-1980s, when my whole family was caught up in the self-help movement, it was easy to stand arm’s-distance away from my parents and acknowledge all that they had done wrong, the sins committed, the hurts inflicted. On the day Jacob was born, his dad, Robert, held him and asked me, “Do you think our parents felt this way about us?”
They did. Of course they did; they were enchanted, just like we were. They were smitten, resolved to do everything right. To love them and hold them close and protect them from the sharp edges in the world. Just like us.
They way I love Jacob, I could cut that love with a knife and fork and eat it. It’s as real to me as my body, as large as a planet. When I divorced his dad, I swallowed my ego, let all the old arguments float away because they didn’t matter anymore. I thought they didn’t matter anymore.
For a long time, they didn’t matter.
Something changed. All those resentments were uneasy in the closets and drawers and old boxes to which we’d banished them. I dealt with mine the best way I could; talked through them, healed them. I thought I healed them.
For almost two years, I was hurt and angry. Less and less as time went by, thankfully.
Then, suddenly, I recalled the day we brought Jacob home from the hospital, how Robert stood over the bassinet and said, “I’m so proud! I can’t stand it; I’m so proud!”
I smiled at that happy memory, and that smile told me that I had turned a corner, had become more healed than broken.
For the better part of a decade, we sat together at the basketball games and band concerts; talked about homework and negotiated weekend schedules. I went to his wedding reception; he brought a gift when Carter was born. We were careful, always so careful; we talked about the kids and little else. We were friendly, but never friends.
Then, the catalyst, Carter’s illness, split us wide open. Split me wide open, and brought our fragile truce to an end.
It brought everything about us that was fragile to an end. Some crises are so big, so greedy, they sweep everything into themselves.
Add this: a monstrous resentment at me because I abandoned him in favor of his little brother. (This is only untrue in the minds of adults, adept at justification and familiar with the vagaries of life, not across days or weeks but across years and decades and entire lifetimes.)
Add this: two parents, not just divorced but with nothing at all in common; who married far, far too young and who, in spite of some efforts at communication, are now strangers to each other.
Add this: my history of depression is significant and severe and I had a major relapse about 6 years ago, after many years of relative stability.
Add this: the responsibility borne by Robert, which is not mine to expose but which is nevertheless real.
Add this: the responsibility borne by my extended family, which is not mine to expose but which is nevertheless real.
Add this: Brian and I had no idea how to blend two families and we botched the job.
Add this: more, and more, and more.
I understand how the political climate in our nation has become so completely polarized; that is our nature. We want to choose: this one is right, completely, and that one is wrong, entirely.
I vacillate; sometimes, I blame everyone for Jacob’s absence, for the distance between us. I am caught in a web of blind red rage at the people who stole my son – my heart and soul – from me.
Sometimes, I hate myself so much for all that I have done wrong, all my failings and weaknesses, all the ways that I am selfish and incapable, that I can barely move. I can’t breathe under the weight of the guilt and shame.
My dad answered, “Good. It’s part of my job to make sure you know that life isn’t fair.”
No, it’s not. Life is not fair. My brain whirs with the scenarios…if we had never had Carter; if Brian and I had met sooner, before we had children with other people; if Carter was our only child; if we’d found good help sooner; if we’d never moved; if Brian and I had learned to work together – to be partners the way children with disabilities need their parents to be partners – sooner; if I’d chosen college, career, and a series of poetically doomed affairs instead of trying, always, to build family; if if if…
Start putting wishes in one hand and shit in the other. Which one fills up faster?
Jacob called me last night because he wanted me to do something for him. I did it, but not in the way or at the time he would have liked. He let me know this afternoon that he was not pleased.
Such a normal teenager complaint. Such an ordinary mom frustration.
For him? More evidence that I don’t care, that I can’t be bothered. Again, I have proved my vast inadequacies as a parent and a human being.
For me? Something new to tie to my whip, the tool of my self-flagellation. A shard of glass, perhaps, or a rusty nail. Again, I have proved my vast inadequacies as a parent and a human being.
He is still, for me, what he always was: enchanting, fascinating, magical. He made me a mother. His first night home from the hospital, when he grunted and snurfled because he wanted to nurse, I looked into the bassinet and was surprised. “Oh!” I thought, “you’re still here! You’re real!”
When he holds his first child in his arms, he will probably wonder, “Did my mom feel this way about me?”
I did, Jacob. And I do. I always, always will.
To the moon flew a Tooter Fish.