So I’m on the phone with my buddy. My recent postings regarding notions of relapse had triggered some long-held resentments with me which he had, until now, been reluctant to share. My particular relationship with this friend has been multi-faceted as well as multi-layered and the reasons behind his particular activation are far too extensive to attempt to address in this forum and, in terms of this particular piece, are beside the point. The reason I bring up the conversation is because of a particular metaphor he chose to employ in addressing said resentments.
This is my recollection of what he said:
“Over these past few years, as I have been a regular reader of the blog, I have often found myself frustrated by a certain level of authority which I have experienced as an innate part of your authorship. As I have read the many accounts of your conversations with others (family in particular), I sometimes experience you sort of like a sniper in a nest. You seem to be able to make others wrong and frame it in a manner where it is sort of impossible to crack through your stream of logic.”
“I hear you- and I am particularly struck, if not troubled, by the idea of me as a sniper. I’m not sure that I can successfully navigate a conversation with you about my relationship or interaction with others. I’d prefer we keep it on how you experience me in my relationship with you. Is there any history you are aware of where I actually told you, or inferred to you, that you were wrong about something?”
“No. You have never told me that I was wrong about anything.”
This is but a snippet of what was a profound conversation with someone I come to treasure more with each passing day. And I felt relieved that his direct experience of me was not one of rigidity or stridency. Still, there was something in the writing he experienced quite differently.
He experienced me as something of an agitator.
Now, this was not exactly news. While I make every effort to keep the writing on my side of the street and focus specifically on what it looks to live in my skin- I am well aware that the my choice of tone is often quite provocative- if not antagonistic.
The purpose is never to cause harm or hurt feelings, and I stand by the idea that I am not responsible for the feelings of others- still, it would be awfully naive for me to tell myself that I am always entirely free of responsibility in terms if impact. For those who have been willing to process their experience of my writing (like my friend), it seems that the blog has been, for some, a powerful portal toward reaching greater clarity in their relationship with me.
I mean, I’m not Hemingway. Hell, I’m not even sure I’m Grisham. Therefore, my attempts at clear, concise writing often fall short, and the opportunity to speak with someone (like my buddy) often helps me understand the intense power of interpretation. There have been multiple times where I have experienced myself being extremely careful in my written interpretation of an event only to be accused of being reckless- even maniacal. Considering the type of writing I do, this is, most certainly, a part of the deal. And it is a part which I readily, although sometimes less than comfortably, accept.
And yet, the conversation with my friend got me to thinking about the people who love me, but whose predominant experience of the machinations of Michael have been almost solely limited to my writing.
Which, in turn, got me thinking about my mom.
Mom and I… I don’t know. It’s been complicated. Complicated at best. At worst it’s been excruciating.
Not excruciating because I have a bad mother. I don’t have a bad mother.
I have a wonderful mother.
That’s what, at times, has made it so painful.
I adore my mother.
I suppose there were times I wished I didn’t. Or at least times when I though that it might hurt less if my mom was nothing more than an uncaring, unlikable shrew.
She’s not. Not at all. My mother is a remarkable woman. If you met her, I feel entirely confident you’d like her. At least. You’d at least like her. Chances are, you’d love her. Most do. She is the activities director for a large nursing home and if you went to that place and interviewed the residents and the staff, you’d surely come away with the notion that my mother is well on her way to sainthood.
I’m not exaggerating.
In fact, she has often called my attention to the way others receive her. We have had multiple conversations where she has dictated for me how easy those around her find it to love her; and how easy they find it to allow her to love them.
In many of those same conversations I have retorted with much the same. That is, I have told my mom how many people love and respect me and how effortless it seems to be for them to do so.
I suspect that both of us are both failing at trying to relay the same undercurrent message:
“Everybody else is crazy about me… why aren’t you?!”
We struggle with each other. I’m not sure either us really understands exactly why that is. I have my theories. She has hers.
One key difference, though, is that she has never detailed any of hers in a public forum.
I write in memoir form. I write about my life. I write about my experiences, my feelings, my struggles.
And some of my struggles have been with mom.
So I have written about mom.
Not often. But I have. If you have read those posts, fine. If you haven’t, fine too. But I have written about mom. Mom was not happy about it. Actually, that’s a vast understatement. Mom was incredibly hurt and angered by it. What’s more, I suspect she believed me entirely unmoved by her hurt and anger.
Mom, and not just mom, believes that I threw her under the bus.
I don’t think that. Not at all. I believed then, as I do now, that I wrote about my experience and about my feelings. I believed then, as I do now, that the writing was honest without ever veering into the cruel or slanderous.
And yet, I am brought back to this conversation with my buddy. And I am brought back to the question of impact.
I am aware, have always been aware, that I have a rather intense impact on others. I tend to leave my mark (no pun intended). And with the impact, whether I like or not (and often I don’t) comes responsibility.
So, no, I don’t believe I am responsible for mom’s feelings or mom’s experience- but if I have any interest in having any relationship with mom (and I am), I need to be accountable for the impact my words have.
My buddy experienced me as something of an agitator; a provocateur.
I have no intention of figuring out a way to write where I will never be perceived that way by anyone. That would entirely neuter my creative process and that is, in no way, acceptable.
But that does not mean that my words need only detail the painful parts of my life or my relationships.
My buddy asked me that as well.
“Why are you always writing about the pain and the hardships?”
Another good question.
I guess the dark side is more fascinating to me. I mean, the easy parts of life are… well… easy. They don’t tend to inspire a whole lot of art. Art is about struggle. The Beatles were boring as snot when they were writing about holding hands. They were awesome when they wrote about guitars weeping.
So I’m not here to take back anything I’ve written in regard to mom. But I am here to provide a more complete picture.
I want to tell you other things about my experience of my mom. The reasons I love her. Why she is special. The ways in which I am blessed to have had her.
And this is not a difficult task. What is easy about mom far outweighs what is difficult. It’s not even a contest. Clearly, at times, for me, what is difficult has been so difficult, that it has clouded out what is easy. I’m working on that. I’d like to have this not be the case. I’d like to always feel so safe and loved within the easy stuff that the difficult stuff bounces off me like Teflon.
I’m not there yet.
Still, I want to do this. And I want to do it here. In this forum.
And, yes, perhaps it is the continuation of a cowardly, passive-aggressive form of communication.
I don’t think so. I’ve never written anything that I would be unwilling to say to someone’s face. These things I wish to tell you here are not things that I have never said to mom or things I wouldn’t say again.
I’m simply aware that I have written about the difficult parts here and I feel inspired to give voice to some of the easy parts. I have no idea if mom will find this any more appealing than the latter. I’m going to do it anyway.
So here are some things you ought to know.
My mom is strong. I don’t mean physically strong, although she is that.
My mother is resilient. Incredibly so. My mother has an otherworldly level of tenacity. She is, essentially, the heir to the Lithuanian bull who was my grandfather Simon- the patriarch of the clan. She’s not the eldest. That’s my Aunt Enid. My Uncle Bob is the only son. But mom got the strength.
I’m not strong like mom.
I’m a pussy.
I’m not crapping on myself. I just am. I’m a soft, emotional boy. I always was. My grandfather used to say I had no starch. It’s true.
Let’s say you invited my mother and I to sleep over at your house. If you didn’t give me my own room with a clean, comfortable bed and a television with cable- I’m not going to be comfortable. My mom, you could put in the bathtub.
I admire my mom’s strength. Her toughness. Her capacity to overcome. She’s a second generation Holocaust survivor and in 1986 she endured a holocaust all her own.
Her life imploded.
Her junkie husband left her for his mistress.
Left her with two kids and not much money.
That was bad. But then…
Then the Pandora’s Box popped open.
All the secrets being kept in the hidden corners of Wayne N.J., the secrets that everyone in town except my mother, my sister and I seemed to know, began to spill over.
It wasn’t just dad’s mistress. It was others. And not just strangers. It was some of mom’s closest friends.
And I’m not trying to rag on dad here. Dad was an addict. Much like I would eventually do, Dad hit his bottom and found recovery. Dad is a good man. But it doesn’t change what happened.
Mom was decimated. I didn’t know that then. I was fourteen. My life had also been turned upside down and I did not have anywhere near the emotional tools that I needed to navigate such a foundation shift.
But I didn’t have any kids to raise. I didn’t have a mortgage to pay. And I hadn’t been utterly humiliated in the eyes of a town in which I had spent a decade and a half digging roots.
And she made it through. Without drugs, no less. She made it through. She came out the other side. She came the other side like a phoenix.
Mom had nothing but an Associate degree and no discernible skill to draw on in terms of building a career. She had spent four decades set up to be a homemaker and now had to rejigger the whole system. And she did.
Today she has a powerful job, running a critical department of a large corporation. She makes a very comfortable living and lives in a magnificent condo.
She made it through. Some of the tactics she employed to make it through felt less than ideal to me. Some of them have comprised the core of my difficulties with mom. But she made it thorough.
And the thing is…
The thing is that I am quite sure that I could not do the same thing.
I hope I’m wrong. More importantly, I hope that I never have to find out.
I imagine myself in a similar scenario…
Lorri, unbeknownst to me, is sleeping with, and then falls in love with, another man and decides that he is the man she is meant to be with. And she leaves. She goes to be with the man she betrayed me with. The girls stay with me, but on the weekends they go stay over with Lorri… and him. And let’s say he is a good guy. They get to know him. They like him. Maybe they love him.
Even as I wrote that, all I could imagine was me in the corner of my bathroom with a crack pipe. That’s the only scenario I can picture that doesn’t have my body splashed across a sidewalk at the foot of a very large building.
Mom is strong in a way I could not imagine being.
And that’s just the first quality that pops for me. The one I most admire. The one I most envy.
Mom is stylish. She’s got an incredible wardrobe. From the jeans to the furs, she is always immaculate. And without trying to be weird, she is, hands down, the hottest sixty year old woman you’ve ever seen. Mom is the one who taught me it’s better to buy one really good shirt than three cheap ones.
Mom is smart. Really smart. My brain didn’t come from nowhere, you know. Neither did my skills as a counselor. Mom is the go-to person for everyone she knows. Mom will always lend an ear and always has practical advice. Mom is warm and empathic. Most people feel better just by being in her presence.
Mom is funny. We don’t necessarily have the same sense of humor, but mom has a sharp wit. She digs on sarcasm and when she’s in a light mood, she can get going with a cackle that I have always loved the sound of and have always been desirous of drawing out of her. I’ve not heard much of it in the last few years.
Mom is generous. She’s not a spendthrift. She’s not loaded and I sense she lives in a lot of fear of not having enough. Still, when it comes to her family, she is quick with the checkbook. Though she doesn’t get to see them nearly as much as she would like, she spoils the crap out of my children. Every birthday, every holiday, and often for no reason at all, we come home to big packages on our doorstep with the return address post marked “Bubbe.”
She cooks well and loves fine cuisine. She revels in crappy television and sees nearly every film released in the theater. She’s a beast of a Scrabble player. She’s fiercely competent in her work. She’s not religious but loves being a Jew. She drives a bitchin’ BMW. She’s cool. She’s loyal. She’s tender. She’s savvy. She’s handy. She’s brash. She’s creative. She’s worldly. She’s affectionate.
The ways in which my life is better for having come from inside of her are endless.
After reading what I had previously written regarding my difficulties in the relationship, mom had made it clear that until I saw my way clear to apologizing, I would not have a mother. I genuinely did not understand that I had wronged her or done anything harmful. I understood that she felt hurt and angry and was very willing to have a conversation with her about that- but she made it pretty clear that there was no room for such a conversation. I couldn’t see how my saying sorry about something for which I did not feel sorry or saying sorry because I had been threatened with consequences could possibly be healthy for me or for our relationship.
So I chose not to.
And she chose not to make herself available to me. And I accepted that.
Then Lorri asked if we could road trip out to New Jersey for Channukah. The girls hadn’t seen her in about a year and they missed her. They love her dearly. And with good reason. She is a dynamite grandmother. I asked Lorri if mom was okay with my being there and she assured me that she was. I acquiesced. I was a bit nervous. A bit curious how we would handle being around each other for four days after months of silence.
It was fine. A little chilly, but perfectly civil.
It was the last day. We had the car warming in the garage, fully packed for the ride home. Lorri and the girls said their goodbyes and mom and I headed toward each other for a hug. There was a time where the physicality came easily for both of us, but it had been a while. We hugged and, as we did, mom whispered something in my ear. I’m still not sure what she said, but I think it was, “You be well.” I don’t know why, but in that moment I felt something that I had not felt from her in a long, long time.
I felt warmth.
It was powerful. Powerful in that it felt good. But more so because it amplified how much fear had long festered in the relationship. I am scared of my mother. And, in some ways, I believe that she is scared of me. We had long approached each other with the kind of caution you might utilize with the neighborhood pit bull.
For a moment, for me, the fear was gone.
Me and my beautiful ladies got in the elevator, waved one more time, and descended down to the first floor. Lorri got Sydney into her car seat and I snapped in Ryan. Lorri put on her belt and as I stepped up into the SUV I was overcome with the certainty that there was something that I needed to do. I told Lorri that I would be a second and raced back to the elevator. I was on my way back up not even sure of what I was doing or why. But I knew that it had to happen.
Mom opened the door and asked if I had forgotten something.
“No mom,” I said, “there’s just something that I need to tell you. You know, I process the way I process. My intention is never to hurt anyone, least of all you. I’m aware that some of my writing a ways back… that you felt deeply hurt. And I want you to know that I am sorry that you were hurt.”
And I was. I was sorry that she was hurt. I didn’t regret the writing. But I don’t want my mom to be hurt. I love my mom.
I had no idea if that would suffice for her. it didn’t matter. I didn’t do it for her. I did it because I knew it was the next right action. It felt organic. It felt real. It felt right.
She cried. I cried. We embraced.
I went back down to the garage.
Lorri, surprisingly, didn’t ask questions about why I had gone back up.
I pulled the car into drive and we headed west.
Now me and mom are…
I guess we’ re better. It’s better.
I don’t really know what we are.
But we are talking. And that is nice.
I don’t know where we go from here. I certainly don’t experience this piece as meant to drive us in a particular direction. I don’t even know if she will ever read it or be aware that it exists.
I just sensed that you folks should know a little bit more about her.
So there you have it.