The image, though, that kept flooding my mind on the flight home from Ohio was the time she tried to drown our dog in the swimming pool, laughing maniacally while she held the struggling animal’s head under water. She was drunk at the time, and mad at her boyfriend and hence the world. When she got into one of those moods, it was frequently taken out on those who were smaller and more helpless. My sister was able to push her away and we rescued the dog, but the next morning we took our pet to the animal shelter, hoping it might be adopted but figuring even if not the end would be more humane, as we could not be there all the time to protect it.
Though they knew her as a mercurial and at times stubborn and difficult woman, most people outside our immediate family did not see the very dark side of my mom’s personality. Yes, they knew she drank, but they saw the good-time party girl who bought rounds for the bar and then brought everyone home at 2am to cook them breakfast. They usually didn’t experience the anger and the meanness that came out once she passed a certain level of intoxication, though eventually a few friends were on the receiving end of one of her tirades which ended with being abruptly and inexplicably cut out of her life. She had the capacity to be downright cruel at times. As children, we were often on the receiving end of her anger and frustration which when we were young she expressed with physical abuse, and later verbally. I walked on eggshells around her, never knowing when what seemed to me to be an innocent and neutral remark would set her off.
In my twenties, I went to Adult Children of Alcoholics meetings for several months, which turned out to be one of the best things I ever did for myself. I came away understanding her better, as well as myself. Mostly, I realized that to have a relationship with her that I would have to distance myself emotionally. In the decades since, she’d picked fights and cut off communication with me a few times, sometimes for as long as a few years’ duration. Then out of the blue she’d call, acting as if nothing had happened and we’d just been chatting the week prior. Each time we’d reconnect, the relationship was more at arm’s length, though more cordial and sustainable. To someone who is/was close to their mother, that may sound cold, but it was absolutely necessary for my own sanity and self-preservation. Mom never acknowledged her alcoholism, despite having been put in detox at one point by several of her oldest friends. She continued to drink, sometimes heavily and at other times more moderately. Maintaining a relationship with her required that her drinking was never addressed, that anything which she could possibly construe as negative about her was never broached.
Sometimes I wonder if she had been born in a different time, whether she might have found fulfillment in a career or creative endeavors. She was certainly quite intelligent and energetic, though she had embraced being a housewife and mother until my parents’ divorce eventually forced her to go back to work, where she enjoyed most of the many jobs she held. She was never an introspective person, and acknowledged the old joke that her favorite form of exercise was jumping to conclusions. She could be extremely judgemental and critical, though she often did look for the best in people. She taught us from a very early age the importance of proper grammar, for which I am grateful. I know that she loved us, though I don’t remember her being physically affectionate. Maybe that was the time, maybe that was how she was raised. She told me I was smart, and expected me to get good grades, but also stressed that I should never let “the boys” know how smart I was or I’d end up “an old maid.” She did feel that her children were a reflection on her, and could be harshly critical, especially of appearances and worried about “what people will think.” She was relentless about my weight (I can’t count the number of times I heard, “nobody loves a fat girl,”) but at the same time made sure we had beautiful clothes to wear. She often had fallings out with her siblings, all of whom had passed away before her, but held family in high esteem. Among her things we found hundreds of old pictures, many of her family that I never had seen before, but that she had hung onto though many moves and several very tumultuous decades.
As I told someone recently, this loss is tempered by the fact that I felt like I lost my mom a long time ago to alcohol, and to the rampaging part of her personality. Ultimately, I came to see her as someone with a basically good heart who at times could not control her destructive impulses, or face the devastation they had caused.
I would like to thank everyone who offered condolences in the thread below; they are very much appreciated.
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