Simple enough, right? But what do you do when one toxic person is your mother?
My mother is one of the most negative people I've ever met. But she doesn't know it. It runs in her veins. I remember, growing up, it seemed that her favorite word was "worried". In my 20's I really resented her liberal use of the word. It made me cringe. It made me angry because, surely, if I was living up to her expectations, she wouldn't be constantly worried about me, right?
I know what you're thinking: all mothers worry. Perhaps so. But I'll bet all of them do not manifest their negative thoughts to such an extent and in such a suffocating manner.
In time I understood that she practically worried about everyone and every scenario. All the time.
In time I thought I'd accepted and gotten over it.
Tonight, after three crazy busy weeks, I finally had all my recent photographs catalogued and sorted. Happily, I sent to my parents a bunch of highlights from my trip to TX where I visited my Aunt Lynn, my mother's baby sister. Having been to art school, I am marginally snobbish and take photography very seriously, starting long before the age of point-and-shoot, cell phones, and digital filters. Only the crème de la crème gets posted and shared.
I gleefully and thoughtfully supplied witty and informative caption that passes as delightful anecdote. Maybe Mom will be proud of me now. (I didn't know I was thinking this.)
Aunt Lynn and Uncle Vinton are childless. Aunt Lynn had surgery in her twenties, a known fact to me since I was quite young. They had considered adoption but ultimately decided against it. This was also a known fact to me.
In recent years I've readdressed the mystery procedure that my aunt underwent with my mother in the name of gaining knowledge of my family medical history, but by then my mother couldn't remember what exactly it was.
During my stay with Aunt Lynn, we shared many candid memories which were at times raw and refreshing - a kind of openness I seldom experienced with my own mother. Lynn told stories of people I have never met. The tales often ended with, or were prefaced with "s/he's dead now. Cancer. What kind of cancer?..." as she would reminisce. It was a hoot. I loved that the subject of death was not taboo with her.
One evening, while Lynn was doing the dishes in the kitchen, I approached her mid-conversation, put my arm around her shoulders and asked, "So what exactly was it you had that [rendered you unable to bear children]?"
It is not as callous as it sounds. Only the day before she herself brought up the fact that she'd had a hysterectomy at the behest of her doctor.
Turned out it was only fibroids. "But I was bleeding heavily all the time," Aunt Lynn explained. "It's totally treatable nowadays. But at the time, my doctor ran the scare tactic route. She asked, 'Would you rather bleed to death?'"
We agreed that doctors can be so surgery happy. Then and now.
When I was little, I thought it was weird and sad that someone who was married didn't have children. Look at me now, decidedly childless and having a ton to say about it.
So on this night as I painted an idyllic picture of Lynn's home for my mother, I made a point to mention that she had a good support system - she's surrounded by friends and kind neighbors. During Hurricane Harvey, she opened her home for neighbors to stay the night while their houses risked getting flooded, until danger neared her very spot too and they all had to flee. She rode in a roofless vehicle for hours to safety. Talk about bonding with otherwise relative strangers!
The neighbors have rebuilt and moved back. And my aunt and uncle thankfully suffered only minor damage.
And what did my mother say? "Too hot! Fire ants. And too far from family. I fear for her in her old age. I am extremely worried."
As soon as I read the word "worried", I blew up. A storm that I didn't know had been brewing in me welled up in a fury.
In my culture, you don't challenge your parents. You don't lecture them.
But I had had it with the negativity. I couldn't not say something. Enough is enough!
I wasn't mean about it. That would be throwing stones in a glass house.
I did mention that her comments were negative. What I wanted to say was 99.9% of the time the things coming out of her mouth are negative. But I didn't.
I stressed that life is never perfect, no such thing as a safe haven, and that we could just try our best in living a happy life, cherishing what we have and living in the moment. You know, things that I've probably said to her 80 times.
And I was angry. I was angry and I didn't know why. And I hate when I don't understand my disproportionate emotional reaction since I am always psychoanalyzing myself.
Perhaps in identifying triggers of certain behavior I thought I could have control over my emotions.
Oh, the need for control. My mother has had this savior complex such that she feels responsible for everyone's well-being. Don't you see that none of us has control over life? Life is absurd and random.
She worries about her grandsons who have special needs. I have told her so many times worry doesn't do a thing. It doesn't help. I want to tell her: You'll be dead! Whatever happens, you won't know! I'll be dead. I won't know. It is okay to let go. You don't have to be charge.
My mother recently went to her father's grave as a semiannual/annual ritual to pay respects, pull weeds and clean up. It is very labor intensive in her culture (I won't say "our" culture because I think it's fucking ridiculous, this "tradition".) To bury a dead loved one in an elaborate grave with delicate marble that requires waxing and polishing that is more than the size of a king size bed - sorry, that is excessive and pointless. Cremation and an urn - much more practical. Why would you want to burden generations to come?
My parents were both exhausted after this trip, both physically and emotionally, my mother more so with the latter.
"Who is going to take care of my father's grave when we are no longer able?" She laments.
While I appreciate that she has every right as a filially pious daughter to be concerned, what a loaded question. Well, probably nobody is going to. I am not going to lie. What do you want me to say?
RJ and I have been planning a trip to see his grandkids. Some people have kids in their 20's. Go figure. We are 3,000 miles apart, 4 states amongst us. So logistically it can feel impossible.
I feel very adamant that RJ should be involved in his grandchildren's lives from early on. He's already missed out on so much. It pains me that he is not more proactive about making it happen.
"I didn't have either grandpa growing up," I have explained. "You have a choice."
With weeks turning into months (if you don't count the past two years or so of inertia) I grow more restless. His sons don't seem to be making much of an effort.
Normally I am plenty laid back. I don't want to stick my nose. It's his kids, his grandkids. Why am I so upset?
When I am upset and I don't know why I am upset, it bothers me.
Just when I thought Memorial Day weekend was going to be it - and it would be harrowing for me somewhat as I cannot take too much time off work, it was starting to sound like it wasn't all coming together.
"That's it," I said to RJ. "I give up."
RJ makes a sad face. "Don't give up," he said.
My voice catching, I said, "I already have."
I spent a long time in the shower wondering why I felt like my feelings had been hurt, why I felt like a fool.
Can't tell ya but I bet it has to do with wanting to be in control and failing. Maybe I thought if I could "fix" this RJ situation with the offsprings (his youngest would not feel he's missed anything if he never saw RJ again, IMHO), my own life would be less broken.
Maybe when I was "yelling" at my mother this evening I was really yelling at myself and my stupid futile effort to be... what? Free? Complete? Free of what? Pain? And guilt?
Is it still about trying to make my mother happy? Good God. Of course I am never going to make her happy. She's never happy. Not in the true sense of having peace and self-awareness and the objectivity and logic and spirituality that it takes. Never.
She's replied since. The LED is blinking on my phone. I don't want to read it. Toxic. Avoid toxic.
Earlier, RJ noted that I was not in a happy place. He peeked in the study a couple of times to check on me. I assured him that I'd be better. Blogging always helps.
When the braciole he made was ready, he presented it in a way that he always does as he'd invite me to partake.
And so I did. And it was wonderful. RJ's cooking is magic. It is so much more than food. It can be transformative. (RJ has a calming effect on me anyhow. The opposite of my family.)
The demons are still there. Nothing has gotten resolved. Yet I am okay. In that moment, I was happy. Happy to be sharing a bite with my man, happy to just be. Simple as that. And pure. And I didn't care about the rest of the world, or tomorrow, or earlier.
Live in the moment. Not much more we can do beyond.
I was in Houston this past weekend, my first time in Texas. I don't usually use real names on my blog in the name of anonymity, but I believe in giving credit where credit is due.
The people of Houston really struck me as friendly. Friendly is an understatement. It's more than that. There's a genuine quality to when someone greets you, or smiles at you, that is not found just anywhere. There is a warm, human energy that one cannot fake-give or fake-reciprocate.
My uncle Vinton* and I were at his bank in the waiting area. Most of the comfy chairs were taken. He was the odd man out.
In a little while, my aunt Lynn** spotted an available seat and urged Vinton to take it. They were both a little hesitant and timid (immigrant mentality - always unsure if we're entitled in the country we call home), uncertain if the man who had left was going to return.
"What man?" I asked.
"The man with the long legs," said Lynn. I hadn't noticed.
Vinton took the chair. More people eventually left the waiting area. Now we were all by ourselves, just the three of us, with plenty of chairs.
Just then, the man with long legs returned. Might I add: the white man with long legs.
Uncle Vinton jumped to his feet then, almost as if he'd been shocked by an unexpectedly violent current. Mr. Long Legs gestured Uncle Vinton to sit back down, assuring him it was fine, gesturing that he himself would take the adjacent seat.
"You and I," Mr. Long Legs said with an easy smile, gesturing between his chest and Vinton's. "We're the same."
I don't think I could've been more touched in that moment. In this political climate, there was nothing a white man could have said to an Asian immigrant who obviously looked very different and acted quite out of place that would have meant more to the entire immigrant community. The true spirit of inclusivity. Who could ask for more in their wildest dream?!?
This man, tall and tanned and dressed in a way sort of reminiscent of Guy Fieri, complete with colorful sunglasses, might have been mistaken by someone like me to fit that white nationalist profile. I felt ashamed then, to have formed judgment based on zero facts.
In the afternoon that same day, we came upon an event known as the blessing of the fleet. Apparently it is an annual waterfront affair where a priest blesses the yachts and boats to kick off warm weather season, and they sail around the harbor blasting music and throwing beads ashore to celebrate.
Clueless outsiders that we were, we piled up to try to take a peek. I was behind a couple of white ladies who had gotten there first, and I dared not encroach on their territory.
One of the ladies noticed me with the eye on the back of her head, and invited me to get closer to the edge of the lookout. I politely declined first, feeling undeserving, even though there was clearly enough room for three spectators. It struck me as silly then, and I inched forward.
We got to chatting about the event. The lady mentioned that they "made their way down" and were glad that they did.
"Oh, where were you coming down from?" I asked, expecting something like Tennessee or Georgia or some exotic state (geography is not my forte).
"Oh, just Houston." The lady replied. And laughed quietly.
I laughed along, somehow feeling stupid and like I had invaded her privacy. I didn't stay much longer after that.
A few minutes later, when we were getting ready to leave the restaurant, I heard a voice asking me a question I couldn't quite process because it seemed out of nowhere because I didn't see a face associated with the voice.
Then I heard it. "Where are you from?" But not in a way like "So... what are you?" or "Where are you really from?"
It was the lady I was chatting with earlier. I understood immediately that she was simply inquiring from where I had traveled to this spot on this day, since I had asked her. She made a point to continue the interchange. She made a choice because it was a moment of honest human interaction and connection, albeit brief and, in the large scheme of things, arguably insignificant.
"California," I responded.
She nodded and smiled, satisfied. I was, in turn, satisfied by her satisfaction.
On the drive home today, Have It All by Jason Mraz came on the radio. It's got that signature Mraz style to it lyrically and melodically. I recognized that it was his work right away.
As I listened to the words, I got choked up. That sentiment of wishing someone well long after they've been gone, because you loved them once. Oh, I'm a sucker.
I got to thinking how Taylor must've wished me well. And engulfed by that emotion and magnanimity, I wished him well, too.
And poof, that black cloud that'd been hanging over my head was gone. Finally. Gone. And it felt so good. To let go. My spirit was lighter, free of dead weight.
Jason Mraz's Life Is Beautiful was one of the gateway drugs to both Mraz and to falling in love with Taylor 11 years ago. To this day I can't listen to it without getting chills, the sweet agony of sadness, and its surrender. Such is the mesmerizing power of Mraz.
Earlier this evening, after much ado, I realized that I hadn't posted any Snippet since 2012. So long that I had forgotten what I called these series.
I used to have my titles all mapped out. They are slipping now, along with pseudonyms. Someday publishing a memoir based on this blog is gonna be that much more challenging! (Ha, ha.)
See, I made the grave mistake of starting to semi-migrate to social media (in this case, Facebook). There is more response there, quicker feedback, more instant gratification. But that's just it. After that instance, good luck searching your page for a fond memory.
I should have known better. Blogging is the path to immortalizing! "You fool!" I scream, as I kick myself. I can do that, you know. I'm plenty flexible.
I love stumbling upon fond memories, too, by the way. Moments long forgotten, if not having been put in words on virtual paper. (RJ and I are so clever! Dyanmics don't get better than this.)
My diaries are gone. My early drawings and writing (good writing, I might add,) gone. My stamp collection. My beloved books. Tremendous sadness descends upon me when I recall these losses.
But there is this blog. It's all I've got. It is not a complete portrait of me. But it's the closest semblance of a hopefully evolving mind. And isn't that much, much more gratifying for a narcissist than some stinking site that, as my (also lost) friend [insert pseudonym - I don't know what I used to call her - if she's been featured here] describes, is "neither social, nor a medium"?
I have been labeled many things: Depressed, Bipolar, Borderline... Lately I welcome INFJ and HSP. Apparently I feel deeply and am drawn to intelligent minds. Here I shall remain true to me in an absurd world, resolving to relate to my fellow humans and find bliss in life.