I am not emotionally connected to most of my relations, which should be apparent, given the ease I had with the idea of getting the hell out of the Midwest, where all the main branches are located. I feel that many members of my surviving blood are unreliable or would betray me for their own interests, and I do not feel like I am a cohesive piece in the much larger structure that I became part of when both my parents remarried. I was in college and thus geographically distant to begin with, and all of my step-siblings are older than I am and were out of "the house" on their own before I ever moved into it. We are strangers connected by law and someone else's love.
There are only three people in the family I feel I can trust, and those are my mother, my stepfather and my maternal grandmother. They are the only ones I love without hesitation or reservation, and I can take comfort in knowing they have seen me at my very worst and still wish for the best for me. Is it so strange or weak to want their support in major life decisions? They have not made my mind up for me, but their approval still has meaning to me, and I cannot bring myself to give up seeking it.
I have a memory, though when the non-event precisely takes place I cannot say. It was a gray December prior to the divorce, and MawMaw, my maternal grandmother, was with my mother, my father and me. The four of us could not have been farther from the Christmas spirit. We sat in a Chinese restaurant in the Town & Country Shopping Center, but there was no cheerful banter. No word could be spoken, for the tension had a physical weight that stifled all.
This negatively intense emotional situation characterized much of way things were before the divorce took place. The stress of moving and dealing with my father on a daily basis had taken its toll on my mother, and she no longer took care of her needs, for trying to keep the "family" together while bringing me up was all she could manage. The three of us argued frequently. There were precious few smiles. At that time, she terrified me, and I often painted her as the villain in the family. I idolized my father, though he was frequently away from home and when he was present, he was often a mean drunk or asleep with his beer cans about him. It was all too easy to see my mother as a monster who stood in the way of the easy path. It was she who insisted that I practice piano regularly, that I face math head-on, that I do well scholastically. I interpreted these from the point of view of a child engaged in a power struggle, and I never saw or really understood all the money, time, and energy she poured into me.
We moved for the first time when I was in middle school. I knew that house was home the moment I stepped into it, and my mother, who liked it too, made the move happen. I will spare you the details of our introduction and acquisition of 1433 Longfellow, but you must understand that it was like the house had a spirit which spoke to us and welcomed us. This meant nothing to my father. To not only cause my father to spend money but to also uproot him from where he was quite lazily content was a task of titanic proportions, of which she hid much from me.
Things began to fall apart in those final years. I had grown old enough to see through the happy nuclear family charade, and as my father became increasingly difficult to deal with, she could no longer keep all the fragments from reaching me. When my parents divorced during my sophomore year in high school, I was not yet of legal age but was recognized by the judge as a thoughtful and aware individual, and thus permitted to choose who got custody of me. I chose my mother. Life would have been less rigorous with my father, but to go with him felt wrong.
The changes were immediate and dramatic. The arguments became few and far between, the tension lifted and my mother lost weight. Even the food was better, for my father had put his bitterness into every thing he cooked. We should have sold the green house on the corner, but as I mentioned, it was home to both of us, no matter how expensive it was for a single mother who worked at not-for-profit organizations. We kept it. We worked so hard for it. When she would be outside mowing the lawn, I would be inside chipping off five layers of old wallpaper or doing chores. In the wintertime when lake effect snow made our driveway impossible to access, I would go outside each day to shovel it so that she could pull the car in. Our snowblower was broken, so I cleared our sidewalks and our paths with muscle power. It was a delicate financial balance, but we never wanted for anything.
Though we no longer live there, that house remains emotionally significant because as we worked together, I began to understand my mother more than I ever had before. We became friends. We developed a bond that is the only way I know what family is. People would sometimes ask me if I regretted the divorce or wished it hadn't happened, or if I felt disadvantaged or emotionally scarred because now I came from a "broken" family. Not in a million years would I ever feel that way. She is my family, no matter how far apart we are. I would truly be adrift without her. To be honest, I envy her, and I feel that physical similarities aside, I can never match up to what she's accomplished in her life. I admire her immense inner strength, her people skills, her passion and her drive. She has overcome personal losses and troubles that I cannot even imagine enduring. Because of these qualities, she is an inspiration to me.
I cannot say where or even who I would be today if I had chosen my father.
Because of all this, it is hard to shake the feeling that I owe her something ... and not just in that simplistic "she gave birth to me" way.
I owe her not only for giving me life, but for giving me everything that she possibly could. I was an odd child from the very start, and she encouraged that creativity with all methods at her disposal. While I was no troublemaker, I was intelligent enough to be quite difficult, especially when I became withdrawn and depressed.
I don't just owe her for my life, I owe her for my life, or for the capability to feel it and understand what it is. I had forgotten enjoyment until we rediscovered it.
I owe her for her 19 years of suffering. She stayed in that marriage for my sake.
I owe her for awareness of things outside myself. She was unfailing in her efforts to "expand my horizon." I used to quip that I was so well-rounded, I could roll.
I owe her for my very education. Her charisma and leadership enabled the local parents to unite and force the school corporation to keep my high school open. Her drive helped me get to and through college when I was too depressed to move on my own.
I owe her for always telling me the truth when it matters. She was not a blind follower, nor did she believe in me just because she was my mother. If I was being stupid, or my ideas needed more work, she would tell me without fail.
I want to prove to her that her efforts were not in vain, that I have become an adult worth knowing.