I listened to two of her starred voicemails the other day for the first time in at least five years. I'm not entirely sure why, though I have wanted to post them here for a long time. I've run across them before in my email, but I have avoided them until recently because I anticipated they would make me feel bad or start shaking like I used to whenever I heard her voice. It was the first time I've heard her voice in at least five years. I didn't start shaking, so that was good. I didn't cry either, which is also good. They were a lot meaner than I remembered. Pretty much every time I run across an old email or story about her, I'm surprised again by how much worse it was than I remembered.
In both the voicemails I listened to, she said something along the lines of, "Answer me this one question and I'll leave you alone forever. What did I ever do to deserve the way you treat me?" That might not be verbatim, but I don't want to listen to them again to check. Take my word for it that it's close enough. And the answer to her question is that she did very little to deserve the way I treated her. I was kind to her. I tried to help her and make her happy. Bear in mind that these voicemails were before I ever cut ties with her, when I tripped over myself trying to save both my parents at the expense of most other things in my life. Most people would have considered me a good daughter, or at least that's what they say out loud. She didn't deserve the way I treated her. She didn't have to because she was my mother and I loved her and felt responsible for her.
After I got married and my mother stopped contacting me again and my dad made his threat to let himself die of infection rather than live in a nursing home, my husband I moved. That was when we bought our house so that my dad could move in with us. My mother hadn't reached out to me in the ten months following my wedding, and I didn't reach out to tell her I was moving.
I didn't hear from her again for three years, when she finally found me on Facebook. She sent me this message:
I miss you, I love you. I sent you an anniversary card but it came back. Just wanted you to know I am getting the help I need and would love to be in contact with you again. I am living in a group home called Butterfly Glen and it helps. My address is 12986 Appleton St Cincinnati, OH and my phone number is 513-555-9876. I would love to hear from you. I was diagnosed with bi-polar disorder and am being treated for it. I feel much better. Love forever and always, Mom
My first reaction was shock. Not at the content so much as the fact that it was her. Sort of like how I used to start shaking whenever the phone rang. Flushed face, pounding heart. I'm not sure if it was more fear or excitement. I find them hard to tell apart.
I didn't know what to say. I wanted to tell her good job. I wanted to praise her for getting help, even if the help she was getting was not by choice. I knew from my dad that she had only ended up at Butterfly Glen because of another "suicide attempt" after both her parents died and she was going to have to find someone new to take her in and take care of her. No one retrieved her from the hospital's psych ward, so she had been released to Butterfly Glen, an assisted living home I presume she selected from a short list based on its name. She has always loved butterflies. Butterfly everything. Also, it's a shithole -- I've looked online.
The problem with responding to her was that I didn't want to renew contact. It felt like an abusive ex with a drug abuse problem was reaching out to say she'd gotten clean and was ready to be together again. Why? I'm fine now and it was so hard to break up -- why would I ever walk back into that? I want her to be happy and healthy, but what I don't want her to be is my problem. I reached out to my best friend, Jerry. I explained that I didn't want to have to deal to my mother again but that I felt I owed it to her until the next time she went off the deep end. "Don't respond for three weeks, and I bet she'll comply," Jerry said. Jerry knows my mom.
The fact of the matter is that I don't know if my mother was still abusing prescription drugs at Butterfly Glen. I have no idea how much of what she was on or how diligent her doctors were. I thought back to how she'd been before the muscle relaxants and the sleeping pills and god knows what else. Back when I was thirteen and younger. Her behavior wouldn't have been mistaken for bipolar disorder back then, before the drugs. And that's when I started remembering some of the stories I've told here, and I realized I still wouldn't want her in my life. No version of the mother I've ever known would be someone I would choose to have in my life. Life is easier without her.
I explained to my therapist, "The more I think about my childhood, the more the good memories are colored by the things I know now. It seems like the love I felt for my mother was mostly Stockholm Syndrome."
She replied, "Maybe it was." I didn't expect that response.
I didn't reply to my mother's Facebook message. She sent me another a few months later on my birthday, but I didn't see it until even later because it was in my "other" inbox, where unsolicited messages from strangers go. She wrote:
Happy Happy Birthday!!! I can't believe that 30 years ago today you came into my life and changed it forever. I wanted to update you on family events. I'm sure that Dad told you that Grandma Wilkes died in May after your wedding. Uncle Jim died last November and Grandpa Wilkes died on August 4th this year. All I have left is Dante and you and Michael. I'm living in a great group home called Butterfly Glen I am being treated with medication and group therapy for Bipolar disorder. I am doing great and the only thing that could be better would be to hear from you. I don't want anything from you just to hear from you and to know where you are and what you're doing and how you are doing. Love Forever and Always, MOM
I was pregnant with Eliza at the time. I never replied.