Friday, December 30, 2011

Red Ink

83. The felt tip red ink the number is written in is bold and screams disappointment, so much so that the marks bleed through to the reverse side of the paper. She had underlined it with dramatic force. I can sense her frustration without even reading the additional yellow post it attached to my test. I know I have let her down. 

In blue ball point pen she had written, "What happened??? Is everything OK?" I want to cry. I hate feeling like I have let my teacher down. She had just suggested I be moved up to accelerated history. How do I show appreciation for that recognition? I barely hit a low B.

It would be one of the only three times I could ever remember someone asking me in my life if there was something wrong. She never confronted me again about it. She never stopped me after class. I would never have to answer her. Even if she had asked, I would never have had the courage to say, "No. Everything is not OK. Can you help me?"

I've heard women carry on about the abuse they have suffered from men they knew. I'm ashamed to say I am always skeptical. I find it unusual to almost brag about being mistreated. In my experiences, one holds it in as a secret they keep close with a great fear someone could find out. What if people knew? What would they whisper behind my back? Would I be an outcast? Would I be a headline in our small local paper? Would I be removed from my home?

Out of that fear I will never answer Mrs. Boehning. I am not sure how serious her inquiry really was or if she wanted to stress her disappointment. I don't make the same mistake twice, and my next paper has the familiar triple digits of which I am accustom in her class. She always makes the zeros have dots for eyes and the enforcing line underneath the grade curves and smiles upward so that the 100 has a friendly and approving grin. When I have a goofey smiley face celebrating a perfect score I don't cause suspicion. Nothing can be wrong if my grades are good. No questions asked. But, Mrs. Boehning, everything is not OK. I am too timid and fearful to tell anyone the truth, and no one has taken the time or responsibility to notice.


5:00 pm. My mom gets off work at 5:00 pm. My stomach turns a little as I realize she is about to come to our neighbor's home to pick us up and take us home. 

From about 3:30 pm to 5:15 pm, our neighbor Debbie watches us. She picks each of us up from school and somehow manages to get to each of three schools on time. She has two children of her own, as well. After school we act out our favorite video game, Mario Brothers, with her kids in Debbie's back yard. We pretend to smash bricks with our heads and run the outermost boundaries of her fenced yard. We follow the trail her dogs have already beaten down for us. I always get to be the princess. This is one of the few areas I tend to get my way. My younger sister always is stuck being King Koopa. Luckily for me, the boys seem annoyed with her, so they gladly equate her with the villain of the video game. In real life, I always considered her to be the princess. I am not sure if it is because she is the youngest or if my mother truly resents me, but Jessica always has had better favor with Mom. But before 5:15 pm, I am the Princess.

One day many years later, when I am 18 years old, my mother will have a moment where she is unable to control her anger. She will tell me why she hates me. She will tell me she could have aborted me when she got knocked up with me in the back seat of my Dad's car. She will tell me how she tried to make him stay by having two more children with him, but Dad wouldn't stay. She will look at me so coldly I will realize she blames me for the life she did not have and for the bad decisions she will not hold herself accountable for. I will begin to understand.

But for now, I am Princess Peach, a sixth-grader playing in the backyard of the house next door to the one that stole my joy.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Last Straw

"Bye!" she says aggressively as she hangs up on me. Somehow she manages to turn a one syllable word into two syllables with a heavy accent on the latter half. I wait a couple of seconds to let it register that she has actually hung up, but it is silent on the other end. I burst into tears hysterically, half shocked that I still react this way to her dramatic exits.

I am no longer a child but a 33 year old woman still haunted by that old house and its secrets. I am a woman who is still intimidated by her mother's anger and easily manipulated by her mother's extreme emotions. My four year old stands quietly outside of my bedroom door, shyly questioning what he should do to console me. "Mommy? Is your mommy being mean?" He is anxious with his fingers in his mouth as he whispers. It is a nervous habit of his I have been trying to address as I myself look down at my bitten cuticles and short nails. I'm sure he's watched and picked up my bad trait.

I had a fear the call would end badly before I even had made it. My hope was that it wouldn't. I had a plan to be calm and careful with my request. I had a pressing need to see her, but I knew before dialing the phone that I would be rejected. I thought I was ready for it, but somehow it still stung so deeply. I was startled at my pain and tears. I knew better, but I still had asked.

Ten minutes ago I sat on my bed next to laundry I had just folded and held my cell phone in my hand. I had already dialed her number but waited to hit the word "call" and tried to build the courage to ask. It was never easy to ask to visit. I had already asked two weeks ago.

"We'll just have to see how it goes," was what she left me with.

Yesterday was Christmas, and I had already talked to her on the phone today for 45 minutes. She calls several times a week and talks to me about her job and the ladies she works with. She rarely asks me questions, but at least she calls. Sometimes I try to share something personal, but I can hear her typing on her keyboard, and shortly after she will ask, "I'm sorry, what did you just say?"

Having just spoken with her hours earlier, I encouraged myself to call. I reflected on the last several times I had tried to ask for an invitation. (My mom's "policy" is that you are to be invited to her home. Never do a drop by. She won't answer the door. It's quite rude to just show up, you know.)

I have not been to her home since my son was six months old, and my plumber husband had worked on her hot water heater. She lives only an hour away, and I have requested to visit several times. Always, I am denied. I began getting suspicious about her home. It had been several years since she had surrounded herself in filth, but I was getting more concerned that she was doing it again. My son is four and a half. He does not ever remember visiting his "Nana." A couple of years ago she told me she was working on Christmas gifts and didn't want the kids to get into needles and supplies. Somehow that shifted into a top secret project she was working on that had things scattered around her home... in every room... Of course, that project was absolutely none of my business, she said. For several months we couldn't visit because it was election time, and she was unsure of her work schedule. She swore the city would use her on weekends, even Sundays, and they would not give her any notice of what days she was expected to work. One excuse was Jason use to have ear infections, and she thought it best he stop coming for a while. Angrily she told me one day things were the way they were because she claimed I always chose my Granny over her. The best, by far, was when she said her chihuahua had a cough, and she didn't feel like it would be good for my son or her dog to be around each other while he was sick. My sister said Mom told her no one could visit because once I had requested that she visit us instead of the three families (my brother, sister and myself) loading our four small children under two years of age to travel to her house. She said I had said it would be easier for her to drive to visit us. I cannot remember making that statement, and I'm pretty sure I didn't. Regardless, I don't see it as all that offensive of a request. My sister, however, was given this excuse as to why no one is allowed to visit. Mom huffed, "I would have never said something like that to my mother."

All of her "reasoning" seems to hold no actual logic and only creates suspicion. I know that I can't do anything about her hoarding. I know she won't be honest about the real reason no one can visit. I'm not sure why she insists on lying about it since we grew up with her for so many years knowing the truth.

Mom answers the phone. After a few moments of small talk I get the courage to ask, "So, I was calling to see if you had given anymore thought to us visiting you in a couple of weeks."

She says, "Well, I told you a while back about that project? I'm still working on it."

I am heartbroken. Really? Does she think she is fooling me? I delicately try to respond. "Mom... you've been working on that project for two years."

She immediately becomes defensive. "Ammmmaaannnnddaaaa..." she drags out raising her voice in a scolding manner which automatically annoys and angers me. "DO NOT PUSH ME."

"Don't, Mom. Don't yell at me like I'm a child. I'm just asking if we could visit. You could put everything in another room and we would stay in only one room."

"I can't. There are... things... for the project... all through the house."

I am exhausted with this game. "Can I know what the project is?"

She becomes even more angry."No!"

"Well, can you give me a deadline of when the project might be over?"

Again she yells over my voice, scolding me for asking too many questions and "pushing her."

"Mom, I'm seeing a counselor because of all of this. I'm trying to handle it the right way. It's been two years since you last said you were working on a project, and I haven't asked you since. I just want to see you and want Jason to know you better. He is already four and a half. Time is fleeting, and I think you'll regret this. I'm not sure how healthy this is for me anymore"

"Are you THREATENING me? Are you giving me an ultimatum?"

I roll my eyes and rub my forehead. I try not to lose my temper and choose my words carefully, but she is already emotional and angry.

"I'm not giving you an ultimatum, Mom. I just would like my son to see you. I would like to visit. I'm just unsure of whether or not you even want to see me. It seems like this 'project' is getting in the way of spending time with your family."

"DON'T you do that, Amanda. Don't you tell me that ANYTHING is more important than my grandchildren or children."

At this point I am lost for words, fighting tears and realizing what a total mistake this was. It is so hard to reason with someone who works so hard to be offended at every corner.

"This project is NOT about you, Amanda."

"Mom, I realize that. I'm just saying, it does affect me. It affects my family. I don't think it's fair for me to try to explain this to my son... why he can't go to his grandmother's house. You've given me so many reasons, from your schedule, to your dog's cough, to some alleged statement you think I made..."

The word "alleged" threw her into a frenzy. I should have refrained from saying it. I had done so well at remaining calm.

"I don't have to talk to you about this. I'm saying goodbye."

"Mom, please don't hang up on me," I plead. I'm ashamed at myself for begging her not to hang up on me and in an instant where I actually had a backbone I say, "If you hang up now, you hang up forever. Please don't hang up."

Then the one word transformed into two syllables broke my heart. "BYE!" she says with force and a bit of sarcasm. Then silence.

I am so broken with all of this nonsense. I am annoyed that I have allowed myself to be treated so badly for so many years. I'm not sure why I ever chased a relationship with her when she has made it so obvious she doesn't need or want it. I burst into uncontrollable tears, and I try to rush into the bathroom to hide my sadness from my son. This is it... the last straw.

My face pressed against the cold tile floor and having just failed to get my mom to allow me in her home, I yell out to no one... "I'm pregnant, Mom! I just wanted to tell you in person."