As you’ve probably noticed, I’m just winding my way around this blog. There’s no real plan or chronology. I’ve just decided this is a place where I can wander aimlessly and so I’m writing about what I’m thinking about in the moment.
I woke up this morning thinking “why have I been in such a funk the last week or so?” and realized, duh, I’ve been out of my bio identical hormones all week and they are ready to be picked up at the pharmacy. It’s rare that I’m in a downslide that I can’t shake pretty quickly anymore. Menopause is not something to be taken lightly. Thankfully, with the miracle of modern (or not so modern) chemistry, I’ll be perked up in just an hour or so when I go pick up my relief from my middle aged self. Whew!
I’m sure it also may have something to do with these paths I’ve been backtracking in to this week. I also had a deep Myofascial Release treatment this week with it’s own excavation. Duh.
I can’t seem to shake these memories of my relationship with Marjorie, my stepmother. I really didn’t want this blog to become all about that. And I promise it won’t. My hormonally unbalanced mind has just been consumed with these reflections this week. So I guess this time is as good as any to finish the story, at least for now.
I will say that I received a note from someone that caused me to erupt in to spontaneous tears this week (at work which was interesting). One of Marj’s niece’s wrote me and told me she’d been reading the blog and said she was sorry all we endured with her and that she’d still like to be friends. I was so relieved she didn’t hate me for saying these things publicly. I’ve held them in for decades now and I really am not trying to hurt anyone by putting them out there. I’ve talked to my Dad and John in person now about this stuff but her family…well, you know. But it is our story and this is the place where I’m telling real events while hopefully offering some perspective and a light at the end of the tunnel. So, that note in itself was a miracle for me this week and I so appreciate it.
As related in this story, that Maine trip was the last time I saw Marj in person. The last time I saw her she was in midstream composing a letter to me as I sat in the same room all the way across the country. And she mailed that letter the day I left. That’s just how impossible it was for her to communicate with me directly. I think of myself generally as pretty approachable but I’m sure all my defenses were up with her much of the time so none of it was easy. But those long venting, analyzing letters…as I told her, they were the kind you write in your journal or to the person that you never send. But she managed to get them in an envelope and stamped and mailed. I can only imagine what she might have felt when she dropped them in the post box after all that effort.
I came home from Maine that year and told my then therapist about the events that had gone on. Her name was Wendy. I told her about the blow up over the memorial service, various other conflicts over the week like when Marj blurted at me “you’re almost 40 years old, isn’t it time you started acting like it?”. No one in our family is mature Marj, including and especially my father, the man you married. That’s part of our Monkman charm. She was just so serious. I have to say, I suffer from the same ailment sometimes.
Wendy said this to me in that session “now you know you are going to receive that letter. I don’t care if she puts $1000 in there or you just get curious. I don’t care if it’s 2 in the morning and you get impulsive and want to open it. You call me and I will talk you off the ledge. You are going to send that letter back ‘return to sender’ as you promised her you would, otherwise your word means nothing here”. I’d told her that Marj had figured out I’d stopped reading the documents in prior years, like when she’d tell me they were going to a wedding or something and I responded “oh so and so is getting married? I didn’t know that” and she sadly replied “well I wrote you about it”. We both knew.
So she’d start writing things on the outside of the envelope to get me to read it. Things like “check enclosed”. And there always was one, she wasn’t lying. She was just buying my readership.
True to form, a week after I’d left Maine, the document arrived. That fat envelope overstuffed with feelings. The venting was palpable. Chubby, soft, bloated in that envelope barely enclosed by the licked seam straining to hold the momentum of all that need.
I did what I’d promised, almost immediately. The same day for sure. I wrote “RETURN TO SENDER” on the outside and a small note. Something like “I’ve told you these letters are destructive to our relationship. If you have something to talk about, you need to pick up the phone and call me”.
And that, was that.
Until, of course two weeks later when I came home from work to her recorded message on my voice mail.
She’d waited until she knew I’d be at work because, again, she wasn’t looking for a conversation, she was just seeking a receptacle.
She started her message out with “Dear Kathy…”. I’m not kidding you. She was reading that letter in to my voice mail. But she’d clearly redacted it and in that stunted, unflowing rhythm of a script, she read that severance package to be recorded.
I don’t even remember much of it. But what I do remember was this “since you refuse to communicate with me, I am cutting off our relationship. I love you. I will always be there for you in an emergency if you need me. But I can no longer tolerate your abuse. So I am severing ties with you. Love, Mom”.
It went on for 5 solid minutes, at least. Every bit of it read from a script. Not one word of spontaneity.
I felt just sick and relieved at the same time. She’d thrown down a serious gauntlet. You see our family was already dealing with several fractures, Cindy’s murder a decade before, John’s struggling and disenfranchisement from the family, my Grandma’s death and now this. But this one was on purpose. Could I actually be a participant in yet another trauma to my family?
I saw Wendy that week and took the message to her. I dialed my number and the code for remote listening and sat across from her on the couch as she sat quietly in front of me at her desk, listening intently for the entire five minutes.
I’ll never forget what came next.
Wendy very slowly and calmly placed the receiver in the cradle and looked at me and paused.
Deliberately and carefully she chose her words.
“Kathy, there are three things I want you to know right now. The first is, I am physically nauseous after listening to that message. I am sitting here literally feeling sick to my stomach right now after listening to that. The second thing is, that is not love. Don’t get confused. I am a mother and that is not how a loving mother speaks to their child. That is manipulation and control. That is not a person who deeply loves you. And the third is, let her go. It’s time. Don’t go chasing after her. Just let her go“.
Well you can imagine the mixed emotions I felt but I knew she was right. We talked a lot about manipulation, abuse, psychological warfare. But the end result was just that, she’d set me free and I needed to keep moving. So that’s what I set about doing. I never talked to my Dad about it, I just kept moving forward. I never replied to that voice mail in any form.
My 40th birthday came just a couple of months after that. I invited my Dad to come out and help me celebrate this milestone. I knew that was going to be hard. He hemmed and hawed about coming by himself but clearly I didn’t invite her, just him. Right up to the last minute, he called and said something about “we” coming and I had to deal with it. I had to say that this invitation was extended to him alone and I hoped he would come. He ultimately did but I know what kind of torture that was for him on some level. I’m sure she didn’t make it easy for him. I just know she didn’t.
I can’t say it was easy for me either and was kind of bittersweet having him out but by the same token, I wanted to be with my Dad for this milestone. It was just such a visible sign of that chasm in the family.
Later that year I suffered a set back in the anxiety disorder I’d been battling for over a decade by that point. I’d gone to get on a plane headed for a family reunion in Florida. Finally a family trip where Marj would not be as she was sick and just out of the hospital. My cousins and aunts and uncles (we don’t have many) would all be there. It was a big birthday party for our Aunt Natalie–maybe 90. I was so excited to see everyone!
I got on the plane and was stricken with a massive anxiety attack, got to Las Vegas and just couldn’t get on the connecting flight. I had to abort the entire trip in the middle of the night and beg them to fly me back to Phoenix on their last trip of the day. It was devastating and humiliating to me. I’d been dealing with this anxiety recovery for a long time but the plane phobia wouldn’t release it’s death grip on me. It was the first to come and the last to go.
I really fell in to a very dark hole after that episode. I got an emergency appointment with Wendy that next day as she could hear the desperation in my voice. I remember her putting me to bed in her guest room and making me sleep there for awhile (she had a home office) as she was afraid to send me home after the appointment. It was the one and only time she ever did anything like that. She was afraid for me to even drive. I had been up all night, literally, trying to get back home. It did end up being a turning point though. Sometimes, as a good Scorpio, I’ve had to crash and burn then rise from the ashes. And rise, I did. More on that in another entry. Suffice to say I fly everywhere I want to go now, totally anxiety free.
Now, Wendy’s unusual rescue that day is what I would call mothering and something I eat up with a spoon when ever it’s offered to me like that. Still to this day I crave that kind of nurturing and soak it up like a dry sponge when it’s offered.
Marj though managed from her sick bed, to get someone to go out and purchase a “Get Well” card to send me after she’d heard I’d fallen like that. Now mind you, she didn’t send me a card or gift for my 40th birthday but managed to get that card to me for my personal crisis-one I was barely discussing with anyone outside of my therapy. Naturally though my father would have mentioned it as my absence at the reunion was obvious. I’d tried to blame my breakdown on a bad reaction to a Tylenol PM that I took before I got on the plane to help me sleep on the red eye. I asked him to tell the family that as I was just so disappointed and embarrassed by my weakness. I’m sure he told Marj the truth though, that the phobia had won, once again. Which was the truth.
She wrote something inside like “I heard about your difficulties, I hope you get well soon and get the help you need”. Now on the outside, the purchaser of that card, I imagine the person she asked to write my address on the envelope, would naturally think “how considerate” for her to do that. But I knew what it was all about. More of her need to point out my failings. It was as if she delighted in celebrating them. So she bought a card! I never acknowledged it. It was nothing more than salt in the wound for me. Again, she just couldn’t help herself.
Within six months of her severance of our relationship, Marj developed, what I was told, three…three concurrent autoimmune disorders going on simultaneously in her body. It didn’t hit me right away, but as a body/mind therapist, the light bulb did go on eventually. An autoimmune disorder, by definition, is the body attacking itself. That’s exactly what killed her two years later. Her intestines were literally disintegrating from the internal war going on. I couldn’t help but wonder if that’s where that venom went when it no longer had an external outlet. For some reason, she didn’t seem as satisfied taking it out on males. My brother didn’t get the brunt of it. The worst always were Cindy and Buddha. I was pretty shielded when Cindy was around (note she beat me that last time when Cindy was far away in college in Florida). Once Cindy and Buddha were gone, it all became directed my way and once that source of relief was cut off then…..
It makes me wonder.
I did receive some correspondence from one of her sisters during those two years wondering where I was, why was I abandoning my Dad and Marj during these medical crises. She was in and out of the hospital that entire two years in various levels of acuity. I had asked my Dad directly if he felt he needed me there and he said no every time, that he was handling it ok. It was beyond awkward. I can’t say I handled it well. I just kind of checked out.
I never directly talked with the family about her severing ties with me I don’t think. If I told anyone, it was my cousins Leslie and Katy. But I’ll tell you this. I saved that message on my recorder for five years. Those entire two years and then three years after she died. I was afraid to erase it. It was some kind of insurance policy against something. I was afraid she’d try to blame the entire thing on me abandoning her and I needed that evidence. That it was her decision. And I just didn’t protest. One day, I went to re-save it and it was just gone. Poof! Done.
I didn’t go to Marj’s funeral and honestly that was legit. I had grounded myself from trying to fly again after that Las Vegas debacle for two years. I didn’t travel. I just set about healing myself (and I did). This was during that time and her funeral was in rural Mississippi and would have required two planes each way (at least) and driving after that. It wasn’t an easy trip. I also didn’t want to show no presence so I wrote a tribute and sent it for my Aunt Carolyn to read , she’s an amazing speaker. I dug deep and told the truth about good memories and positive things about Marjorie and I was 100% sincere. She wasn’t all bad and I wasn’t not sad about her death. As you can imagine my feelings were very conflicted. But relief was right up there toward the top. I hope it’s the only time in my life I feel relief at someone’s death. Well, I guess there is one more and you can just guess who that is and it involves an execution but that’s not even in the same stratosphere. I’d never compare Marj to him. Not in a million years.
I found out the following year that she’d cut John and I out of her Will. Honestly I probably would have felt ambivalent about inheriting from her seeing we’d been in that place of severance there at the end. But not my mentally ill brother. What was up with that? As he said to me recently, as in this week, “she always thought we were so fucked up and that her family was so perfect”. So maybe when all was said and done, she was celebrating that reality, her reality, in that way. All I can say is once I saw that, I was really glad I’d not made the effort to attend her funeral, deal with the flying torture only to land in a church somewhere having to listen to people talking about what a wonderful mother she’d been. Just the thought of that…
In hindsight though I could have considered the tens of thousands her nieces and nephews got, had I received even a fraction of that, as payback of some sort for all the money I shelled out in therapy all those years undoing the damage inflicted on me by her. But I can at least hold my dignity in that I owned my recovery in every way, shape and form.
Needless to say I doubt any of her family ever knew the Will issue until I started writing about it. Which is ok with me, both parts of that sentence. I don’t even think she told her sisters that we’d been severed. That is so foreign to me as I told my sister everything.
Maybe through writing all of this out, getting it off my chest, I will come to some true forgiveness and ultimate letting go with Marjorie. She was in my life for thirty years. She was a huge part of my father’s life. He sincerely loved her and that should mean something to me. I will spread his ashes over her grave one day, at least part of them, per his request. And maybe then, maybe by then, I’ll be able to remember sincerely the positive aspects she brought in to my life, even if they were lessons. And maybe I’ll be able to tell her directly or as directly as I can now.
One thing she did teach me is to never, for any reason, under any circumstances, disrespect someone in death as you memorialize them. So, that’s the legacy I will live and the karma I will choose. Now that I’m writing this, I’ve decided I will even bring her flowers and I will be sincere placing those on her grave with my heart open as wide as it can be.
Now that feels right. That feels like me.
Better late than never.