In 2003, I was in Blairstown, New Jersey; the job market was poor, and I was hired to relocate from Lousiana to care for a 94 year old parent of a middle-aged man. It was room, board, and meals, which was a windfall as I was arriving broke, with only the remainder of the funding that was wired to make the move possible (terms of “employment”)in my pocket.
Once I settled in, as sub-optimal as the circumstances, I had a landing pad from which to reunite with my daughter (there was an extra room for her), begin scouring the region for the jump to our own place, and of course, get back on the consulting wagon until I could land permanent work.
None of that optimistic outlook lived beyond its first contact with reality. No sooner had I arrived than I was contacted by a detective with the Dekalb County police department. It seemed my daughter had run away again (this, being the third time). No one knew where she was, or even how to begin looking for her.
Given previous insight from her last runaway episodes, I was able to coordinate from New Jersey and put the detective in contact with a family friend and local law enforcement professional. Together, they tracked her down and got her on the phone with me.
I explained to her that I wanted her come to me and we could rebuild from here. I explained that it was her choice, and if she really wanted to stay with her father, I would accept it.
She decided that she and her father would drive up and assess matters. I knew the moment they pulled into the driveway that it was not happening. They actually hesitated to even pull IN to the driveway… and I knew they were considering just driving off. It wouldn’t be the first time either of them had done such a thing.
But, eventually, they pulled in and parked. Thus began the most awkward “family” meeting the three of us ever had. I don’t think they ever really made it past the reality of where I was. I know my “first world” daughter was horrified by the look on her face.
Even so, the pretense played excrutiatingly on. I think they spent a total of two hours with me. She was supposed to be coming for the week and deciding afterward.
This was the first time I really understood that she had already decided I wasn’t trustworthy. It didn’t matter than she and I had talked extensively about how terrible Houston and Monroe were as environments (she doesn’t know to this day how bad it really was), it didn’t matter that where I was – dinghy house and depressed economic area aside – was liveable until I could get us on a budget and back into the world.
It wasn’t up to either of their consumerist, conservative standards. They didn’t understand the realities of survival, they didn’t even understand that I was struggling and in desparate need of help. I prefer to think they didn’t understand than that they didn’t care… though in hindsight, I realize now that both were true.
That was 2003. I was there until 2005. Neither of them as much as tried to keep in touch and were (whether deliberately or not) never available to my call, email, or open to the notion of visting again.
When I returned to Georgia in 2005, I tried with my daughter again. By now, whatever conclusions she reached were cemented and, for all intents and purposes, immovable.
And so it went every year, until 2013. When at last, I thought she was interested in being family again. Boy, was I wrong. She used me as a landing pad to get to a new boyfriend, rapidly transitioning to a fiance’, then a husband, and the both of them parents within the first year.
Since then, it was recurrent bouts of ultimatum games; in which she would proclaim I didn’t care about her, demand I accept confinement to email and phone. So I would. Until I got tired of that. Then I would complain and she would get angry, and turn on the passive-aggressive/cold shoulder/silence until I relented. Lather, rinse, and repeat over seventeen years and here we are, in 2020, still doing it.
This last round of things was different. Suddenly, thankfully, she was in therapy. This time, the approach was smoother, but the message was far less positive. Somewhere between 2013 and today, I went from being “Mother, estranged” to “Abusive, neglectful parent, and emotional traumatizer.”
As usual when presented with any of the fabricated facts over the years, I resigned from participation in willfully revisionst history. The tantrums follow, as ever they do.
Only this time, finally, I choose differently. If my daughter requires this effigy to serve her happiness, she’s welcome to it. It can sit in whatever corner she’s allocated for me and rot.
I suppose I should be thankful she’s finally managed therapy long enough to even recognize the anger and resentment she’s always denied when I’ve tried to talk to her. But I’m just not going to accept fabrications that diminish and blame me for things beyond my (or any human’s) control.
And, at last, I am tired of trying this hard to just demonstrate my devotion by remaining at this ridiculous, locked gate. It’s cold, I’m old, the lock is clearly rusted into solidity, and I don’t see anyone but me stupid enough to keep sitting here.
So I turned my back on the image of that ugly effigy in corner, somehow helping my daughter keep a smile on her face. It takes what it takes, I suppose.
I’m going to remain where the people around me actually want to remember the good of me rather than constantly try to blame me for all the good I was unable to do due to circumstances outside my control.
I just wish she could have stopped blaming me long enough to realize I’ve been standing here taking it all, but since she cannot, I will instead help her realize that I never had to do so.
Lessons all around, I suppose.