Melodramatic is what my mother called me when I was a teenager and I told her I felt suicidal, and begged her for therapy. She eventually relented, but not before refusing on the grounds that “they just blame everything on the mother.” For the past 20 years of therapy I have carefully blamed nothing on my mother because of these words. It has held me back more than I can know.
Most of my early childhood memories of my mother are of the back of her head as she bent over her desk, or the top of her head over a book. She was a full time graduate and then doctoral student, and I don’t really remember her well before her graduation. She has always insisted this is unfair and I was previously willing to take her at her word. I am less certain now.
The summer before she got her PhD she took an internship in New Jersey. My brother had already moved away to live with our father in California and my sister was staying behind with our grandma in Florida. It was my one golden chance to be my mother’s only child and I reveled in it. We went to historic Philadelphia, saw great art at the Met, watched 4th of July fireworks off the coast of Maine. For once she seemed to be enjoying my existence.
Things with my babysitters during the days weren’t so amazing. I had loved my first sitter, a cool older girl with a three legged dog and a house with a secret tunnel that had been part of the Underground Railroad. She made me a friendship bracelet that I still count among my most treasured possessions, a gift from someone who was enjoying my presence in the moments they had with me.
But she had gone away to college and been replaced by a middle aged woman who watched The Young and The Restless all day and whose husband scared me, and who reminded me of the abuser I tried to put out of my mind who was back home in Florida. I started having nightmares. My mom decided I was homesick, and sent me back.