Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Mama Pop

Boundaries...My moms ain't got them.

That is what I am discovering in therapy, well, one of the big things. And of course, figuring out how to set my own since I was not raised around them. Awesome fun I tell you, paying a near stranger $120 an hour to tell you that you need to not let your mother run her emotional battlement tank all over you. Sometimes the obvious isn't obvious to everyone(ie. me). Though it is helping and I am learning all sorts of fun techniques to move me forward and help me stop my brain from taking a kernel of anger and turning it into an three-day rumination on why my mom sucks(that list is a post in itself)when I should be sleeping.

In fact I have come up with my own mental device to disengage when I start fixating on thoughts about her. I picture her face stretched across a balloon, and then I take a long sharp needle, all glinty and menacing looking, and I pop her. It's just violent enough to satisfy me in some small way but kind of funny and shuts off the train of thought. Anyhow, a story...

I was a virgin until I was twenty-one. I wasn't the girl with the perfect, bouncy blonde ponytail with my 10-carat gold chastity ring and pristine white-knee highs. I was what is now called goth but then was just theatre chick, smoking, swearing, furiously masturbating, curious, slutty, kiss a new boy at a different party every weekend kind of girl. I was the girl who found the Joy of Sex book on our bookshelf at ten and then secreted it away for me to peruse at my leisure. I would sit on the concrete curbs of my street, far enough away from the windows and ears of our parents and I would entertain and educate my friends with descriptions of things like premature ejaculation and cunnilingus.

I made the choice early on not to have sex in high school for a handful of well-reasoned reasons. First, because I had moved schools after my first year of high school, the group of friends I landed with were mostly a year ahead of me. They did everything first from driving to fucking. I saw my best friends get their seventeen year old hearts broken in the wake of teenage intercourse. What do you mean you are breaking up with me, I thought we were going to be together forever kind of stuff. Second, my mom had birthed me at the tender age of seventeen and I saw that this was not in fact the easy path so many needy teenagers seem to imagine it is. I was resolute not to put myself even remotely near to the path of teenage motherhood. Third, I was keenly interested in sex and boys but I had enough information to understand that a sixteen or seventeen year old boy was unlikely to have the know how to make sex nice for me. So I decided pretty early on that I would save myself for college and a smarter set of boys or maybe even later. Until then I could play the ballgame to third base with no regret.

Being a kids who was, in hindsight, remarkable comfortable with certain parts of herself, I was not secretive about my decision not to have sex. I didn't wear it like a badge of superiority or some pledge to my future self, I was just open and comfortable with not being ready. My mother, probably in some part shamed by her Catholic upbringing and own unwed pregnancy, took my virginity as a sign of her successful parenting and my obvious(to her) virtue. It also became, sadly, a selling point.

Thankfully she waited until I was a freshman in college to dangle me in front of guys like a shiny new piece of unkinked tinsel. My mom met most of these would-be suitors at a dive bar a block from our house that she frequented after an arrest and DUI made it more important for a short drive home after a night of knocking them back.

"He was real nice and I gave him your number."

"You what?" I said.

"I said I gave him your number," she repeated through a mouthful of lasagna she had brought home with her, lasagna I was pretty sure she was going to be throwing up in an hour or so.

"Eew, why would I want to date some guy hanging out drinking at that shithole?"

"He was really nice, I showed him your picture, played pool with him."

"Even better." I said, sorry that my sarcasm didn't register with her when she was loaded.

"I told him you were in college and that you were, you know, you were a virgin."

This is when I would usually walk out of the room, afraid I was going to punch her in the face. How about blonde? How about interested in law or likes to read or has a cat or swims real fast or sings pretty or wants to learn how to drive stick or likes movies or listens to Peter Gabriel or anything besides whether some guy had poked my hymen like a hungry chimp shoving a stick into a busy ant hole.

I never, ever invited my mom in any way to find me a boyfriend or was ever remotely receptive to her thinly veiled attempts to pimp me out to some guy sharing the stool next to her. What did she get out of this, attention? The idea of dating some stooge my mom liked through a really solid pair of rum and coke goggles was revolting. That my mom would even say this or do this was proof to me that she didn't understand me at all. She didn't understand that I hated that she drank. She didn't understand that I would never regard her or an idea openly or warmly when she was drunk, that it would never be funny or silly or anything other than sad for me. She didn't understand that bringing one gross, inappropriate man into our house had been one more than I had ever needed. She didn't understand that although I hadn't had sex, I would never be with anyone who thought it was important that his girlfriend or wife be a virgin. These were not guys that had saved themselves for marriage, these were guys that made judgments about women and probably wanted a virgin so she wouldn't know how hard they sucked in the sack. My mom didn't understand that being a virgin wasn't part of my identity, it was just a choice and mostly a choice born out of not wanting to be like her.

These are the thoughts that keep me up at night. These are the memories(and they seem infinite) that make me so angry that I think I will crack my teeth from clenching my jaw. These are the reasons it took me almost fifteen, adult years to figure out how to trust and love someone, certain that they would not hurt me in ways that would make me lose all faith in them. These are things I think of that make me think of my own daughters that then make me furiously add up all the ways I am not like her until I can see it like a hand in front of my face. These are the things that clog my brain at two in the morning until I remember my balloon trick and that imaginary menacing needle.


  1. Oh Ruby baby, how I wish they made a pair of goggles for the sober, for the innocent, for the children of alcoholics. If you could have worn your goggles of reason, you would have realized your mom was checked out and addiction was in control of her shell. Not only did she not understand how much you hated all she represented, she was too high to notice or even care.

    Then the irony of pushing men upon you, advertising you as a virgin, it was her way of trying to fix you, for you surely must have been broken in the eyes of a woman full of Catholic shame, unwed pregnancy and DUI. Try to imagine the shards that remained in her life as she attempted to pick up the pieces of guilt that would never quite fit together again.

    I am not sympathizing with the woman who bore you. Instead, I want to applaud you for discovering your sexuality and owning it, for protecting it and for marrying in spite of the demons that haunt you and for centering on the lessons you were given to pass along to your girls.

    Brava Ms. Tuesday! You don't need a pin to prick the balloon representing your mom's face. You survived a childhood of addiction and now you must draw the perilous lines that will forever define your boundaries.

    Don't take three days to determine why your mom sucks. She just does because her disease made it so. It is what it is. These were your lessons, you are a smart, tough cookie, so implement, overcome and most importantly, don't allow anymore shit to interfere with your truth.

    Only you know what that truth was, is and will continue to be. Own it. If your mom holds but one string over you - cut it. No need to cut her out of your life, but cut any cords of control, then set your foot firmly down, snap a z, and don't let her get all up in your business ever again.

    Let it go. She was damaged, diseased and not the mom you needed her to be. Mourn for that, then open your heart to the good that came from your anti-rebellious, I will not be like you, spirit.

    Pass it on to your girls and then sit back and watch generation after generation heal and know that you have done well.

  2. Sorry so long. Got a little preachy there. You must have touched a nerve.

  3. Well Rubes, I sure am glad for that menacing balloon popping needle.
    I also totally get what I call "Living in the Anti". Meaning, I've made some pretty great decisions about how I want to live by saying, "As long as I'm not living like THAT, I should be OK."
    It's effective, this thing about "Living in the Anti".
    "I'll be honest so I'm not a lying, cheating, stealing mother fucker like my dad."
    "I'll speak my mind so I'm not a shrinking, trembling, constantly afraid doormat like my mom."
    "I'll be engaging and encouraging so I'm not a seething, threatening ragefest like my brother."

    And, then again, "Living in the Anti" has its limits.
    Essentially, it gets seriously fucking exciting when I get in the mode of asking myself, "Insteading of working on what I want to run AWAY from, what do I want to run toward."

    I'm going to read your post again and again. I feel sure of that. It's so strong and beautiful. You are to, I'm positive. Sending love and thanks for the inspiration.

  4. I'm impressed, so impressed by the brilliant degree of competence this post gives off. It's just poised and on fire.

    You are not your mother.

  5. My mother isn't perfect, but the more I read about yours, the more grateful I am.

  6. I just discovered your blog and will be back soon to spend more time. Sounds like your mom liked/likes to project herself onto you. You should take a look at "Will I ever be Good Enough" by Karen McBride. These kinds of moms/or dads don't do well in therapy--never seek it out for themselves, because they would never think there is anything wrong with them.
    Thanks for your words.

  7. It sounds to me like your mom was trying to make a best friend out of you and someone to hang out and party with as opposed to accepting you as her daughter, the one she was responsible for protecting. I'm sorry Ruby. You are world's away from her and I realize that in itself is hard too.