“Don’t use words too big for the subject. Don’t say infinitely when you mean very; otherwise you’ll have no word left when you want to talk about something really infinite.”
― C.S. Lewis
Love Letters From Mom: Learning The Truth (Part 1)
If I never learned how to read the written word, I wouldn’t know my mom. Not the way I know her today. I don’t remember the first exact moment I realized my mother was crazy. The thought seems to have no beginning to me. It’s as though I’ve always perceived her the same way that I do at this very moment: eloquent, vindictive, incredulous, hateful, passive-aggressive, resourceful. But before I hit middle school, she was kind enough to leave me with some rather fond memories of the mom I long for today: the mom who surprised me with playing hookie from school; the mom that playfully danced around the house in her lingerie; the mom that cloaked our apartment in the suburbs of Detroit, Michigan, with green tinsel and lights when we returned from Dad’s. Beautiful, witty, and strong. That’s the kind of woman people see when they meet my mom, before they get to know her. But the Michele that I know cannot been seen. She can only be read.
My mom, the wordsmith. I truly believe I have her to thank for my ability to craft words. (With proper motivation, that is.) She loves to write. The folder in my Yahoo email, marked Love Letters from Mom, remains a poignant reminder of her innate-self, and my way of making light of it. I don’t open the folder. But I add to it. If I opened the folder, the emails would date back to 2002—the year I left home and moved to New Jersey. They would reveal a steady pattern of her volatile nature. But the physical folder, an envelope, actually, before email was a thing to me, dates back much further.
The letters in the envelope come in a variety of shapes and sizes, some missing a section where tape once attached it to my bedroom door; others are small, just a corner of her scratch paper ripped off probably in a hurry. I don’t want to open the envelope. I imagine I will one day after she dies. But that’s jumping too far ahead. My first significant encounter with the written word might be the catalyst of the tumultuous relationship I have with the written word. That goes back when we all lived together, my two sisters, myself, and Mom.
As far back as I can remember, the written word, to me, was the form in which my mom used to communicate the things she did not have the courage to say to our face. If she said them to our face, she would essentially have to come face-to-face with the part of her that we presume to be unknown to her. She seemed to leave her letters—always in a white business envelope and addressed to the proper child—at the worst time. She knew it. It was on purpose, to add the pain waiting inside. I was probably about 11 years-old when I received my first correspondence. I can’t recall all of the words, but I can still feel the way they stabbed through my core taking a piece of my heart with it as I read her valediction, “Love, Mom.”
Inside that lost piece of my heart was complete love for my mother, the love that comes built inside all babies. It encompasses the safety, the trust, the unwavering love that a child has for its mother before they’re even born and that can be taken away anytime after that. Love, Mom…a trick. A facade of the mom I lost that day, if she ever existed in the first place. A betrayal in my backpack. I could pronounce “I-N-G-R-A-T-E,” but I wasn’t sure what it meant to be one. I waved down the lunchroom attendant and he seemed happy to help me out, until I pointed to the word. He didn’t even have to say a thing. The pale shade his face became was all I needed; and my heart sank. That would be just one of the many times I had to suffer through the rest of the day pretending I was “normal” underneath my hovering little black cloud that nobody could see but me. She could have said something to me in the morning or on the way to school, I remember thinking, jaw-dropped, in awe, Did she really need to leave a letter in my lunch? Yes. And the more she taught me about her, the more I understood why she did.
She liked to tell us stories about her childhood. Wonderful bedtime stories about the way my grandma abused her. Mom wasn’t physically abusive to us all the time; she prefers to write letters. The beatings were few and far between, about every three months or so, but always by surprise. Like the time I entered the hallway fresh out the shower; Mom came out of her room, phone tight between her ear and shoulder chatting away as she beelined toward me. I knew to brace myself, though unsure of why she was coming at me. Then everything went black.
Each thump on my head came accompanied by a spectacle of lights flashing on a black canvas. I squeezed my eyes shut tighter and tighter, as if it would help in some way. I guess she stopped when she felt satisfied. Even after what she had just done, it was her diction—calm and graceful—that terrified me. She is a master of disguise, I thought to myself, still managing to hold my towel somewhat closed, hair matted and damp. Not only did she decide to beat me on my head for no apparent reason, she stayed in character, offering a swift reply to the person on the other end at every chance as she strolled back to her room like she never left.
Every year I grew older, the more numb to her ways became. The daggers she left in flawless cursive were still just as sharp, if not more, but experiencing my mother in real life, off paper, had undoubtedly helped warm me up to the letters I would get as an adult.
(to be continued…..)