Wednesday, October 11, 2006

A Tale of Two Mothers, Part 2.

So, who is this other mother? Well, if you want to be technical, she's a first cousin of my birth mother, on her maternal side. When my mother grew up, in the environs of San Diego, she was surrounded by the families of her mother's three sisters, and her grandparents. There were 10 children total, and they basically ran in and out of each other's homes as though they all lived in each and every one. There are 5 years difference between my Mother (elder) and my Mama (younger).
But I didn't grow up with any of these people (or anyone from my father's family either, for that matter). When I was about 2, my parents moved from Los Angeles to this very small town in Iowa, due to a job. I vaguely knew there was a large family in California that my mother came from, but the only people I ever saw were my mother's sister (and family), and occasionally, my grandmother. Due to various arrogances, misunderstandings, and intentional insults, my mother and her cousin C (my Mama) were not close. Not even really speaking, at the time of the move. C is a bit of a feisty one. Opinionated, not afraid of anyone, or afraid to speak her mind. My mother is much more of a conflict avoider; at least the conflict she generates isn't direct. So I knew very little about my mother's family. Over time, the family rumor mill and gossip network communicated bits and pieces I overheard while growing up. C and her mother were not on the best terms, C and her brother were not on the best of terms. C and several other family members weren't on good terms either. She had three daughters, the eldest one slightly younger than I, the other two in close proximity to each other. They lived in Denver, and eventually when C and her husband divorced, she and the girls moved to Washington (State).
Fast forward again, to about my 18th year. My maternal grandmother, who I had started at age 15 to develop an actual relationship with via the telephone, was hit by a car and died. At her memorial service, her sister, C's mother, was in attendance. She and I became fast friends. She was quirky, tall and thin, attractive, and spunky. And she took on the role of my Auntie Grandmother, being like a grandmother to me that I didn't really have. We'll call her NB. I visited her many times, and vice versa, and we communicated a lot in my early 20's. I heard all sorts of stories about how horrible her daughter was, how she kicked NB out of her life, how there were problems always of C's causing. How she'd callously mistreated her mother for years. Much of what was echoed throughout the rest of my family was similar, and I never came in contact with her to validate/verify any of this.
Until NB was diagnosed with untreatable liver and stomach cancer, likely metastasized from somewhere but unclear where, in the summer of 2001. C basically took complete care of her, much to her own detriment. C has the most aggressive case of rheumatoid arthritis I have ever heard of, and has suffered with it since age 37. So she's not in the best physical shape herself, and taking care of an ailing mother was not easy. When I found out about the cancer, I called C to see if there was anything I could do. I scheduled a long weekend visit to Washington to see NB, and the plan was for me to take care of her that weekend, giving C a much needed break. I called about every 3 days to see how things were going. Due to either dementia or the pain medications or both, NB was oftentimes delusional and erratic, making little sense. But she knew I was coming and was looking forward to seeing me.
When I arrived in Washington, I had no idea what I was going to find. Here was a woman I had heard little good about, yet I knew none of this from my own experiences. I knew that two of her daughters also no longer were in contact with her, and yet there was one who steadfastly remained by her side. There had to be another side to this story. So I went with an entirely open mind. C picked me up at the airport, and I knew her instantly. She resembled her mother enough for me to know which one she was. She took me to her house, and we were up until well after 1:30 in the morning, talking and getting to know each other. The next day, she drove me to where her mother was, at her apartment 45 minutes away, and left me there, to spend the weekend with her. Her estranged brother was to pick me up and take me to the airport on Sunday. What followed was a nightmare. The first 5 minutes with NB were fine, and then she went off on a tangent of illogical talk that I couldn't follow. Eventually she became paranoid that I was going to fill her apartment with people to host a party for her son, whose birthday it was that night. I had to stop her once from getting her keys and going to the car (she could no longer drive), and she went off on me as though I were the devil. I called her son, Mike, and he eventually came over that evening. He took me out to dinner, and when we returned to the apartment, NB went ballistic, screaming at Mike that she did not want me in her home, to get the hell out, and flew at me. He stopped her, and told to me to get my things, I could come home with him. I called C, she was not home. He called C's daughter, to let her know that this was happening, and she came to take care of the situation and calm NB down. I spent the rest of the weekend at Mike's house. That was the last I saw of NB. We did speak on the phone and she apologized profusely, but it was a traumatic experience to say the least. She died in November. I maintained close contact with C, talking for hours and hours at a time, throughout the ordeal, and afterwards. We had formed a fast friendship, and continued it.
Early the next year, C had to have spine surgery, due to a failed lumbar fusion. She was terrified, as this was a recurring problem she faced with this part of her body. I flew to Washington again, to be with her and spend a few days. I came back up later in the month and helped her with her recovery, and continued to visit many many times that year. In fact, I think I spent about 140 days out of the year with her. Yes, I still had a job at this time! I managed to work remotely for a good chunk of the time I was there, and kept the job. And, my loving husband refrained from either killing me or divorcing me, for which I am eternally grateful. 140 days is a long amount of time in a year to go without one's spouse. But, it was critical personal development, such that I feel I wouldn't be as good a person as I am today (though always a work in progress) without having gone through that and gotten my mothering needs fulfilled. I also got to know Mom's daughter, and we became as thick as thieves too. To the point that we're now better sisters than her original sisters have been to her.
Throughout the course of spending so much time together, Mama and I discovered how much we have in common. My eye color is exactly like hers, which is different from anyone else in my family. We just clicked and became so close, I felt more like she was the mother I was always destined to have, but somehow fate worked out differently. She felt this bond as strongly as I did, as though I were as much her child as any other she had borne, so eventually I started calling her Mama, and she started telling everyone she had four daughters. Her close friends got to know me too, and their initial skepticism subsided, and they now all welcome me as family. My sister and I couldn't be closer if were were born sisters, and many people say we look as though we were actual sisters. I love the two of them with all my heart, and feel as though I was meant to be a part of their family. And to explain my theory on how I ended up with my actual parents instead of this woman, is that my mama's womb was just busy at the time I was meant to be born, and my mother's was available; the closest genetic match to my Mama. And even though they didn't plan on getting pregnant, an opportunity arose, antibiotics, and God stepped in. Later in life, God brought Mama and my sister and me to each other to heal parts of us that were broken without the others. For Mom and my sister, losing contact and/or closeness with two daughters/sisters is a scar that never heals, and I hope I help with the pain of that. For me, having a mother who never provided me with the loving, nurturing, supportive environment I needed growing up caused a lot of emotional issues it has taken me the better part of my adulthood to unravel and rework to a point of health. And never having siblings - well, I think that this can work out positively or negatively, depending on the environment the parents create. And the nature of the siblings. I can't say that if I had any blood siblings, I would be any closer to them than my folks. But I wouldn't trade my sister for the world. Mom and my sister have helped tremendously with healing my brokenness, and I credit Mom with changing my view that if I had children, I would just fuck them up the way I was haplessly fucked up. I would pass all this garbage on, and I didn't want to do that. Now I am so grateful, that I listened to her, and I have my beautiful Hootie. Mama is a true grandma to her, is there for her and loves her unconditionally. They are my family, the one I always needed, and had to spend 31 years without.
So when I write about my Mama or Mom in Washington, that is her. When I write about my parents, in Nevada, that's who they are. They don't talk to each other, and my actual mother has felt extremely hurt and wounded at times by me having taken on a second mother. I tell her that I'm only getting things that I need in my life, things she isn't capable of giving me herself, and one isn't to the exclusion of the other. My lack of closeness to my actual mother has nothing to do with the existence of my Mama. And has everything to do with her own ability to be the other half of a nurturing, giving, supportive relationship.
So that's the story.

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