Wednesday, July 16, 2008

testing the waters

Mom left home at 13. She moved from Northern Ontario to southern parts, to work and support her family.

She worked in a nursing home and lived in residence until she got married at the age of 19.

My great grandmother committed suicide when my grandmother was in her early 20's.

There is a history of mental illness in my maternal grandmother's family. See above. As a consequence, there is a history of mental illness among my extended family members.

I was inappropriately touched by a family member.

I didn't tell anybody. Why? Because, I reasoned to myself, that I didn't want t hurt people. And it would.

My mom is emotionally hard to reach. She's spent most of her life working in geriatrics. Until I spent a day with her in her workplace, more than fifteen years ago, I never would have guessed how caring and affectionate she could be with other people. I mean, I know she loves me. She would do anything for anyone. I can talk to her about a lot of things. But she doesn't hug me. I don't remember being told that she loves me except when she's been drinking.

There are topics that she doesn't like to discuss. And when you happen to stray onto one of those topics, it's like a window shade coming down. Her expression grows vague, she looks somewhere other than at you, and she changes the subject as soon as humanly possible. She does not like to discuss my weight loss surgery.

Why? It's not like anything tragic happened. I lost 100 pounds. I'm out there celebrating my success and when I mention my weight loss, my mom looks the other way.

We can talk about issues, like gay marriage, or sex education. We don't talk about abortion because we will be forever divided on that topic. But it doesn't ever get personal.

And when it does, the window shade comes down. She is her guarded self, the person who cannot speak of these things.

Too many secrets.

Unless, as sometimes happens, she has had a drink or three. Then she tells me she loves me and I get supremely embarrassed. Why can't you say it when you're sober?

I tell my kids that I love them every day. I want them to know my affection for them.

And yet in many ways I am too much like my mother. I am a keeper of secrets. Or I have been, until recently.

On Monday, I went to visit my parents. They've just come home from a well-deserved vacation, three weeks away from the demands of work (my mom is near retirement, my dad is retired) and family - grandkids and an aging grandmother who needs a lot of care. The look better than they have in a long time.

I thought I would try easing my mom gently into my newly discovered sense of self. Like I said, I'm not going to hide any more. N says that there's really no reason to tell anyone at this point, unless I want to, especially if the telling of these things might cause me pain. He has a point. But I get sick of the pretending that everything happens to everyone else.

So I mentioned my surgery, and a friend's interest in the procedure. I told my mom that I wanted to meet this friend in person (really haven't seen her since high school) and talk to her about the unexpected emotional impact of losing your crutch. I was forced to deal with things. I think I'm doing a pretty good job, considering how explosive the revelations have been for me personally.

Click. The shade went down.

N thinks that it's because she feels a lot of guilt. She knows part of my story, the story about the withdrawn kid who was bullied, who was shamed into having no voice until she left the small town that she ambivalently loves and hates. She likely blames herself for some of those things - they moved us there from a larger city, she didn't see the signs of my depression. Et cetera. But really, from my perspective, she's just another parent who made mistakes. As I was. As I continue to be. So why can't we talk about it? Why can't I get past the window shade so that I can reassure her, let her know that my experiences, all of them, shaped who I am. And since I really like who I am, it all worked out in the end.

Of course, I would also like to tell her that I'm gay. Someday. When I need to, when the time is right. Whatever. I just want it out there, want it known. I'm proud of who I am. I am sick and tired of carrying around this basket of things that we don't discuss.

It starts with me, and the decisions I've made about how I'm going to live my life. It started with coming out to N and my older daughter. I can't stop now.

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