Tuesday, September 23, 2008

A Piece of Her

My mother’s recipe book sits on top of the frig. I don’t use it much; the pages are stained and the book is very close to falling apart. When I flip thru the pages I can see mom’s check mark next to a particularly good recipe. Mom was very picky so the checks are few and far between.
It’s difficult not to cry even as I write this because of the emotions that book holds. I knew I had to have it when dad was getting rid of it yet I only open it occasionally. My mother took such pride in her cooking. It wasn’t just the making of a meal to her. I understand now that it was one of the few tangible ways that she showed she cared. While I may not have cared if she made fancy food or not, to her a difficult recipe that she mastered then shared with us was an offering. It was a statement about her that she would put in the time for dishes most mothers would never touch. I truly believe at this point that to her that effort was meant to convey the effort she thought she had put into loving us.
I always cringed when she took me grocery shopping for a special occasion meal. It was not unusual to have a $400 grocery bill of things we would only use once. Certain Sherries or vinegars, a particular kind of Caesar dressing for her broccoli salad. It all came together when mom took charge. I admit I resented, and still do, the way I was made to be her scullery maid. I don’t have fond memories of cooking with her. In fact, I dreaded the whole miserable experience. While the smell of sauteing onion and celery can make my mouth water with thoughts of foods I will never have again, that same smell triggers noxious fumes of anxiety that have the power to transport me back to my childhood.
Mom’s perfectionism came from her need to control an internal self that was in chaos. I know that now. Back then I only knew that special occasion dinners meant tears, threats, mom and dad fighting (again) about the way mom spent money, and an utter exhaustion that took a few days for my psyche to work thru. I’ve never known anyone since that cooks with the concentration yet artistry that mom does. I know it’s normal for kids to love their parents cooking but…….take my word on this-the woman is an artist. Her food wasn’t just good; you could taste her talent and her soul with every bite you took. She put her all into food not realizing that while the gesture was innocent on the surface beneath it her children were starving for a kind of food we would never get.
Eventually I got to be ok cooking with mom. After so many years I was used to the tenseness of the house as the day approached. Perfect, it had to be perfect. I knew the bombs would go off at some point and trying to prepare for it was just stupid. They always came from nowhere. The best you could do was admit that yes, you never listened, yes, you realized this was important and that you were screwing it all up for EVERYONE, and no, I didn’t think the world revolved around me. Sharp words said in an even sharper tone. Honestly, many times I wished she would just hit me and get it over with. But no, she would never be abusive like her father.
The look on mom’s face when it all came together almost made the tears she produced thru my eyes worth it all. Her smile of contentment, of satisfaction, was seen so rarely we tried to capture it so it would stay a bit longer. It always slipped thru our net and returned infrequently, like a butterfly that only comes out just before the rain. You can stay outside in the rain and try to catch it while getting drenched in the process or make your best effort then hightail it inside to wait for another chance.
More and more family members are asking me for mom’s special way of doing things-the special ingredient, the little known technique and so forth. They ask me. Me. I resisted it at first, lying and saying I didn’t know. Gradually I realized that while mom terrorized me on those occasions she also gave me such a gift. I admit to one thing tho-the techniques I keep just for me. I will make rosettes or other things but I will not share the recipe or how I get them to turn out just so. That is my gift from her that I choose to keep for myself. These small things are a piece of her that I had thought didn’t exist. Yes, she was abusive. Yes, she was an emotional terrorist yet she taught me thru the only means she had to take a chance (she thrived on new recipes, the more difficult the better), to not skimp on important things (spend the extra $$ to get the good cheese), to put your best foot forward (making her tried and true dishes when having people over for the first time), and that anything can be salvaged if you are willing to try (like a fallen dessert soufflĂ© served under ice cream-my own creation!).
The book continues to sit on the frig, collecting dust. I continue on with a life of my own making, keeping in mind to make sure the gestures of love I extend are gestures that are understood and are appropriate for the person/occasion. For the most part I embrace the new recipes of life, although a few have not turned out. They have, however, forced me to creatively salvage them resulting in creations I never dreamed possible in my life.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Daddy's Girl

There are those who tell me that I idolize/idealize my father. To a certain extent that’s true. I acknowledge that my dad made some major mistakes, contributed to the abuse I and my sibs suffered, and was generally an ostrich-like doormat for many years.

The honest truth is that my dad is the thread I refuse to pull. Even for an emotional excavator like me that is one emotional gamble I can not and will not take. My dad, in all his peace making mess, was all I had for a long, long time. I could depend on dad to turn his back when my mom was at her worst. He would explain away her nastiness and encourage me to try to get along.

As much as he tuned out he subconsciously knew the score. I don’t know when I realized that he had given up and was just biding his time. Maybe it was when I was a little girl and would kiss him 4, 5, or 6 times before he left for work. I would hug him tight and try not to cry as he drove away. The thought that my dad might one day not come back terrified me. I could sense weariness in him that hadn’t been there before. His eyes were heavy lidded with stress and exhaustion in every form. If I as a child could dream of nothing more than leaving, then what about my dad, who had the real means to leave?

Or maybe it was when I was hospitalized as a child and he would minimize the harshness of my mother’s parenting. I was falling apart and he gave in again and again to her declarations of my inherent wrongness. I saw relief on his face when I stopped fighting the shrinks and social workers. I accepted the ruling of Judge Luna C and was adjudicated with no chance for appeal, no settlement, and made to pay damages in the form of accepting the mark of being the "bad child."

For all this, I love my dad far more than I can tell you. He screwed up, yes. People ask me why I cut my mom out of my life when my dad is also responsible for what I suffered. Believe me, we’ve had it out. Screaming, crying, and nasty words have all been said by me. He’s had some not so kind words for me, too. But you know what? He took that….he took the anger, the rage I had at being the scapegoat for so long. He started doing this when he and my mom divorced. It was almost like he came out of a fog. Things that he had previously not noticed he now questioned. Abuse my sister suffered. Physical altercations between mom and I. Things that we knew not to tell him because he would look the other way.

My mom can give you a very eloquent verbal apology. She can even act the part with tears at the right moment. She’ll spin you and weave you in a tapestry of all the words you want to hear. What she can’t do is follow through with actions. As sorry as mom might be at that exact moment, and she will tell she is, she can’t comprehend why you are angry with her when she turns around and does the exact same things hurtful things again and again, hurting you in the same manner she just apologized for. To her, an apology means a free pass. It never happened, the slate is clean. She can say the words; it’s the meaning that forever eludes her.

My dad sucks at words. He has a hard time just saying “I’m sorry.” He gives reasons for what he did; partially, I think, to make himself feel better for having screwed up and also to try and show that he understands why you are angry. More than the words though, my dad backs it up. He will go out of his way for his kids so we know that he hears us after burying his head for so long.

Someone reading this who hasn’t dealt with BPD may wonder I am so in awe of my dad making sure that I know he is sorry for what happened. It’s something you have to live thru to fully comprehend. The Land of Oz (where children of Borderlines reside) is the land of smoke and mirrors where illusion is reality and reality is illusion. A child such as myself and my siblings straddle the worlds of illusion and reality. We know we live in the illusion. We know we exist outside of reality, too. But what can a kid do except go with the flow and live the illusion, hoping to some day live in the land of reality?

My dad gives me that reality. Faults and all, he is a part of my reality. He gave me that reality when he took my calls in the middle of night when I wasn’t sure I could do this whole life thing any longer. He’s there for a ride when my car breaks down. He tells me to shut the hell up when my ego gets the best of me, and he puts me back on track I am scared that I won’t be able to handle the wonderful opportunities life is now throwing at me. He’s there for me in all the glory of his faults and the shadow of the abuse that hangs over our family. He’s the knot that held me together when I couldn’t see the yarn for the rug. I don’t like how he did it yet he did it when no one else would, and for that I will always be grateful.