"What about me?" I spat at my mother as she sat frail and broken in a
wheelchair, her legs too wasted to carry her emaciated body.
It was Christmas of 1999, and my father, two brothers, and I were at a
family-counseling session during my mother's second — though not her
last — stint in rehab in Florida. My father had found her a few weeks
earlier, lying half-dead on the couch, her once-pristine condo looking
like a homeless person's final filthy squat, splattered with puke and
diarrhea. I guess our tough-love tactic — booting her out of the house
in New Jersey to go "deal with herself" near her sister in Florida,
plus my father's recent visit on their anniversary to announce that he
didn't love her anymore and wanted a separation — was too much for a
woman who had always defined tough.
When my father scooped her off the couch and rushed her to the hospital
that day, the doctor glared at him and asked my mother, "Who did this
What a stupid question, I would have said to the doctor, had I been there. She did this to herself.
So there we sat, on uncomfortable seats under the blinding sun on that
suffocatingly humid day, as the counselor prattled on about what my
mother needed from us to get her healthy. My mother explained that she
was feeling physically better and mentally optimistic — hell, she was
even making jokes. And I just unloaded. I told her that I had always
hated her, that she was a lousy drunk, that she deserved everything she
was getting. I wanted her to feel my pain. I wanted her to cry. I had
never seen her cry, and she didn't that day, either.
Was I being selfish? Maybe. But that's how we are with our mothers,
judging them by how well, or how poorly, they looked out for us and how
they prepared us for life. It's a role that we see strictly from our
point of view, stripped of all backstory, all emotional narrative —
except for how it pertains to us.
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