I'm pretty sure I've got what Mr. Moon has, but it's just in the beginning phase and so I've felt under the weather, as we say, but not horrible and so one of the things I have done is to get out in that poor excuse of a garden in this perfect weather to do some weeding if for no other reason than to create the illusion that the carrots and the greens are larger than the weeds.
And of course while I weed, I have to be listening to something and I've been listening to Barbara Kingsolver's Unsheltered which I am enjoying although not captivated by. But while I was weeding, I decided to listen to the Mormon Stories podcast of two interviews with Tara Westover, the author of Educated which is truly one of the best books I've read in forever. It's a book that makes a strong argument for the incredible resilience and strength of the human spirit under crushing circumstances (and that's a bit of a pun for anyone who has read the book) and it's one of those books that captures you enough so that you really do want more. More of the story, more of the author.
So. The podcast interviews.
And as I was listening, I heard her say something that completely blew away a great many of the clouds which fog my mind about the abuse I suffered as a child and how I still suffer, despite years of therapy and self-examination and way too much thinking and reading and more thinking.
A lot of what fucks with my mind is how I feel about my mother who was not my abuser. At least in the sexual abuse. It is eight days away from the six-year anniversary of her death and I have been thinking of her far more than normal. I have also been having dream after dream of my stepfather and in those dreams, I have been left alone with him and I am terrified and of course this speaks to my feelings about my mother because there is part of me which is never going to get over the fact that she did not protect me, just as she did not protect my brothers from terrible things her husband said and did to them.
In Westover's story, it was her brother who mostly abused her and not sexually, but physically although there was most definitely a sexual element to it which one could argue amounted to sexual abuse, but she was also abused by her father who was probably bi-polar and by her mother, too, who always stuck up for and defended her brother along with her husband. And although Westover does spend many, many words on both her father and her mother, it is her father and his mental illness which she credits with allowing what happened to happen in her childhood.
But I keep wondering why she doesn't ask the question of why her mother, who does not have bi-polar (or so it would seem) was (and still is) so intent on defending and supporting her husband? She did, once, apologize to Westover for not protecting her.
"You were my child," she wrote her. "I should have protected you."
These words gave Westover a great deal of peace and even now, long after her mother has denied that what happened was abuse and gone back to the family story that Westover is possessed or crazy or whatever, those words still comfort her.
My mother never said those words. The closest she got was saying, "I'm sorry this happened to you."
Although in my heart of hearts, I am not sure at all she ever believed me. Not really. And if she did she was completely adament in her position that she had never, ever suspected a thing and therefore, was absolved of any guilt in the situation.
There is a lot more I could say about this and I have and this isn't the time to say more.
But it has certainly contributed to the massive amount of guilt and confusion and anger and hurt that I still feel.
My thoughts about her swing from knowing that she had her own problems which were not being addressed and as such, she truly did the best she could and that yes, she did really love me, to wondering if perhaps she wasn't a classic narcissist and not really able to love me.
And just about everything in between.
These thoughts can be torturous. No one wants to believe that their mother did not love them. Everyone wants to know from the very first moment of birth that their mother is someone who will love them no matter what. Who will always be there for them. Who thinks they are special and wonderful and important and worthy of love and attention. This is just basic human nature.
And so when I feel anger or pain about my mother I feel tremendous guilt because surely, I have made up the behaviors I attribute to her. Right? Of course she loved me. She was my mother.
My brother tells me that our mother was nothing like the woman I remember her as. His anger when I have spoken about these things is towering and frightening. He will defend her unto death and I am quite aware that the mother one child has in a family is not necessarily the same mother another sibling had at all.
This too is human nature.
And Tara Westover went through years and years of doubting herself and feeling guilty about separating herself from her family which she finally had to do but she said something in one of these podcasts that gave me another place to stand upon from which to view all of these things.
What she said was that when she finally took the focus off her father and put it on herself, her feelings of guilt were so eased, her thinking became more clear. No longer did she have to make internal lists of all of the ways her father had mistreated her in order to rationalize her separation from him because it wasn't about him.
It was about her.
And for her own sanity, her own well-being, she simply had to separate from him and the family who supports him and denies her version of events, even though they witnessed most of it themselves. One sister, who was also abused by the same brother who abused Westover and who admitted that to her and confronted her mother and father, later came back and denied it all and accepted her father's blessing in order to be a part of the family again.
So. That's what I'm thinking about right now and I'm also thinking about how much I appreciate the honesty and courage of each and every person who tells his or her own story because even though each of those stories is vastly different in some ways, there are elements which are true to all of them. And sometimes, we can help each other by offering our own stories, not just of the abuse but of the ways we have coped and not coped, of the ways the abuse has affected us or not affected us, how tangled and seemingly endless our thoughts can get and remain even after years and years of trying in so many ways to unpick the knots to get at the very core of it all, the truth of it all.
The fact is, there may be no way. There may come a time when we have unraveled all that we can and it is time to just put that tangled web away. Not to deny it's there or to try and ignore the confusion and pain and problems it has caused. These things are undeniable. But to admit that we cannot know the what's and the why's of another person's actions or thoughts. Not really. Not ever.
And it isn't about them anyway, as Westover said so casually, a cough drop in her mouth as she spoke. It is about us and it has to be about us because we cannot go back and fix things and make it all right and straight and true the way we wish it had been.
And so we have do what we have to do to save ourselves.
And if that means we have to finally admit that a rift was created for whatever reason and that trying to build a bridge across it always has been and always will be fruitless, then so be it.
I think it is natural that as I get older and my children have grown into adults, I often feel horrified at the fact that none of Mother's children wanted to take her into our own homes when she could not take care of herself. That none of us even visited her the way we should have. And if you don't think that makes me feel guilty then you don't know me.
But. It was the way it was for whatever reasons and it is not my job to try and figure it out. There is no reason to anyway. That time has passed.
All I can do is to try to live my life in such a way that my children know that I love them, to know that I respect and cherish them, each as they are in their own unique and beautiful differences. I have tried to do that their entire lives, not because I have been worried about whether or not they'll pick out a good nursing home for me, but because I wanted them, I WANT them, to never have one doubt that they have been the blessings of my life and that for as long as I am able, I am there for them.
Wondering why my relationship with my mother was the way it was serves no purpose in my life anymore. Neither does torturing myself with thoughts of my own responsibility in all of that.
It happened. It is done.
I am still here and so are my children and my grandchildren and my husband and as I get older, I would wish that the flame of love I have inside of me only burns brighter, unhindered by anything at all.
That's what I want to think about and I am grateful for Tara Westover for helping me to define this.
She is an amazing human being and the flame within her burns so true and strong that it can illuminate the most inner heart of other humans.
I wish her well in her journey forward as I wish all of us.