So, Sunday is Mother’s Day. Despite the fact it is an overhyped corporate invention, Mother’s Day never meant much to me for reasons that will become obvious.
I never knew my mother.
I know her history and I know her heritage and I know she was an aspect of my life from the moment of my birth until her death in 1992, when I was 49-years-old and she was 72. But I didn’t know her.
I’m not seeking absolution in writing this, primarily because I don’t think I’ll find it. But maybe it will help me understand why I never found it in myself to grieve her death. That ‘it’ remains hidden from me more than twenty years later.
Recently I found telling the comment by a longtime female friend in reference to some of the traits of my second wife, in which she said: “So, that time you married your mother.” Not entirely the case, but surprisingly apt, nonetheless.
Any Freudian considerations aside, my second wife was, like my mother, a good looking lady of similar height and coloration, and she sported the same voluptuousness of figure. OK, some physical similarities. Both were unpredictably moody. Oh, and they both had an affection for ‘the grape’ and a good party. In my mother’s case this was ultimately and sadly problematic.
My ‘not knowing’ of my mother began when I was first aware of her presence in my days. It was at the tail end of World War Two. My father was off in Halifax with the Canadian Navy doing his part to help make the world safe for democracy. I don’t recall being aware of his existence and surely I must have been nonplused when this man in a uniform arrived at our home. This meant that for the first two-and-a-half years of my life I had no father.
Such a scenario should have led to a preternatural bonding between mother and son, you might think. But that didn’t happen. If there was a bond with a family female, it was with my maternal grandmother, with whom I had a profound connection until her untimely death when I was fourteen. That connection came about because shortly after my birth my mother came down with scarlet fever and was quarantined for however long she was quarantined. My nurturer was my grandmother. That bond never wavered.
So, I suppose if primal imprinting never took place with me, maybe it didn’t with my mother towards me. Perhaps I was just ‘there’ in her life. I’ll never really know about that or what her ‘feelings’ were towards me at that time – or at any time.
I do have reminiscences of my mother from when I was very young, however. And I am sad to say that one of the strongest recollections from a very early stage of our interactions was that I didn’t trust her.
It all began with the nursery school episode. Sometime before my fourth birthday Mother decided that I might go to nursery school. I have no idea why. She didn’t work and I fail to see why her life was so demanding that having me underfoot impeded her. All I remember about that time is being plucked from my home and sent across Vancouver from our home in Kitsilano to somewhere miles away to spend a few hours with alien adults and unfamiliar kids.
After a brief attendance I became filled with a palpable fear of returning to the school. So great was this detachment distress that I (the memory remains vivid) remember being dragged by my ankle out from under a bed and henceforth being forced, in hysterics all the while, to go downstairs to a waiting vehicle that was to carry me far from home. I hated my mother for that rejection and for leaving me feeling alone and unsafe in a harsh world.
The nursery school episode left me feeling I could no longer trust her. This mistrust manifested initially in fears that arose when I traveled anyplace away from home with her. I became terrified of getting lost in public venues like department stores or crowded streets where I might get lost in the crowd of passersby. If I’d ended up getting separated from her I ‘knew’ she wouldn’t take the pains to find me and I’d be lost forever in some kind of an ‘out there’ limbo, whatever that might look like.
The primal insecurity didn’t leave with maturity. The abandonment fear and threats of love loss was to impinge on my relationships with the women in my life, as in wives and lovers. No matter how demonstably loving they might be, somehow I ‘knew’ they would someday leave. I ‘knew’ they would abandon me. And, as a self-fulfilling prophecy, and in two cases, they did. Not so surprising, really.. Yet for years it was challenging for me to see that I — this fount of unresolved childhood emotional poverty — played any part in driving them away.
By the time I finished high school and had gone on to university I increasingly shucked any emotional shackles that remained in place with my mother. She’d lost her power – or so I thought. I honestly recall little about interacting with her or holding any strong feelings at that time. Maybe I was a bit jaded, or at least self-protective by this point. I think, as she had disregarded me, I came to essentially render her an insignificant person in my day-to-day life. It was easier that way.
The jadedness was made clear in an incident that sticks in my mind. At the end of the wedding reception when I married my first wife. It was at the moment we were about to take our leave and head off on our honeymoon. As we made our goodbyes, my new bride asked me, with certain astonishment, if I wasn’t going to kiss my mother goodbye. I replied that no such thought had entered my head. New bride was slightly aghast. But, I took her point and geared myself up to do so. The discomfort around an action that should have been normal behavior between a mother and son was almost palpable. Best just to get the deed over with. I do not recall ever kissing her again in my life.
My first wife was the polar opposite to my mother. I fell for her for that reason. She would be safe, I thought, for she seemed to represent the female love and support I had been unable to find.
. Unfortunately ‘seemed’ was the operative word. Though she and Mother were opposite polarities, and there was little doubt they disliked each other, there was a similarity in my relationships with them. That lay in my inability to find a means to tap into ongoing affection and support. Consequently, and probably in retaliation, I did my best to drive my wife away, perhaps just to prove that again another woman in my life was emotionally unreliable. It worked. She went away. She should have.
As I began keeping company with wife number two, Mother slipped away from the world. Cirrhosis was the official cause, but loss of will to live was the actual cause. She’d lost that will a long time before, much as she had never gained an ability to show genuine love to her three sons, and probably to her husband.
And when she died I felt no grief. I honestly did not miss her. I still don’t miss her very much even if I should.
It’s difficult to miss somebody you never really knew.