Nothing in this piece is meant to imply that my situation is similar to someone who has lost a mother to death. I fully recognize that that is a much deeper level of loss that simply cannot be compared to any other circumstances.
“After a while, you kind of just get used to not speaking to your mom.”
I said those words, to my own surprise and without the least bit of sarcasm, two nights ago while at dinner with an old colleague. I had never described the radio silence between my mother and I in that way before. Perhaps, without realizing it, I have finally become resigned to being a motherless child.
The relationship that I used to have with my mom is really nothing out of the ordinary. While I considered my circumstances extraordinary during my pre-teen and teen years, I’ve since learned that many women my age had strained relationships with the single women raising them. Black mothers, perhaps having made a poor decision or two in their adolescence and resigned to a life of twice as much work for half as much reward, determined that their daughters would not succumb to a similar fate. To be certain, it’s not easy parenting a vulnerable child, and little black girls, then and now, are just that. But instead of parenting with honesty and openness, sharing their own missteps and preparing their daughters to make better decisions than they did, our mothers parented out of fear, driving away the very lives they were trying so desperately to protect.
The silver lining to that otherwise bleak story was that our relationship did improve — when I left home. In college, 400 miles away, our heads were no longer close enough to butt. My mom couldn’t fear what she didn’t know, and I used that knowledge to my advantage. Over four years we grew closer than we had ever been over the previous 18. It was a truly special time in my life, one that I never imagined would come, one that I don’t imagine will come again.
I doubt it will come again because I am gay. My mom does not accept that I am gay. And when my mom does not accept something or someone, well, there just isn’t any swaying her. Some believe that if I were to just sit her down and say “Mom, I’m gay”, she would accept the news and move on. Ha.
Unacceptable is actually one of my mom’s favorite words. I honestly think she gets a rush from saying it.
“But three years?!” you say. Yeah, three years. (Maybe more. It starts to blur together after a while.) Three years of not answering my phone calls or text messages. Three years of avoiding me at family gatherings, saying only a brisk “hello”, if anything at all. Three years of me avoiding family gatherings so that she can be there comfortably. Three years of missed birthday parties, football games, baseball games, basketball games and track meets. Three years without advice about schools, school districts and gifted classes.
Three years without trips to the thrift store. Three years without dinner at our favorite Chinese buffet. Three years without craft night. Three years without being shown off to her co-workers.
My engagement. My wedding. My job loss. My new career. My first home.
I saw my mom just a few days ago at my sister’s wedding. She did not speak to me the entire day. The one time she looked in my direction, she stared at my wife so severely that my wife wanted to “disappear into the floor”. Even with her overt shunning, I didn’t realize it was possible to miss someone so much while in the same room with them.
I love my mom. I’ve spent many nights crying myself to sleep because I miss her and worry about her and need her. But I also love who I am now – the honest and open way in which I live my life. I love my wife and I love the home we have made together. Some would say that it is for that reason that I have chosen to be motherless. Perhaps. But I cannot be the child that she wants to mother. Like any of us, I can only be the child she created.