Trauma is relative and yet serendipitous, both in and out of the blue

Sort of.

My mother called yesterday evening, and with the caller ID on our new handsets (my mother-in-law’s old phone, helping me screen calls) I saw it was her.  I took the call.

This is a big thing for me, caller ID.  When I’m especially crazy (as opposed to my baseline functional crazy), I hate the phone.  I panic when it rings.  I don’t want the confrontation (see prior post, we Scorpios hate interference, much less confrontation we didn’t provoke on our own initiative, and oh, yeah, those ACOA control freak things, too, note to self, find new therapist if your shrink won’t do meds plus therapy) of having to not know who it is and then deal.  Part of me would deal with the world by email and mail forever– you have the ability to see who it’s from AND not open the letter, unlike the phone, which means you have to check voice mail or call *69, both affirmative acts in the aftermath.

Scary shit, when you’re still waiting for Fairy Godmother Julia Child to leave a big sack of twenties on the doorstep.

So– my mother called.  And I took the call.

I last saw my mother at my brother’s wedding.  (Yeah.  Busy, busy summer.)  We (my brother, his lovely wife, my husband, my aunt) and I were all worried how she would do.  She doesn’t travel well– it makes her regress and as a child I didn’t understand why she was so stupid. With the benefit of hindsight and personal experience of panic attacks about highly complex things like phones and work, I’m still hardly as sympathetic as I ought to be.  And she’s unpredictable in large groups– either passive and weepy or inappropriately attention-seeking, telling revisionist/narcissist stories of past glory and beauty that are warped, if outright untrue.  Since my Dad was obviously going to be at the wedding, we were Extremely Worried (use of Pooh Capitalization intentional) that she would be on the inappropriate/attention-seeking side of the coin.

It turned out she was fine.  I think she’s probably over-sedated by whatever meds regimen she’s on, but really– she was calm the whole weekend, if tired and lamed up by her weight and her knee problems.  We actually had a strained if nevertheless basically enjoyable time, and I didn’t get angry with her the whole time for things that I know full well she can’t help.  I was less amazed than sad.  Sad that I’m still so angry.  Sad that she seemed so sedated and old.  Sad that she’s still very much the same about castle-in-the-sky cures for monetary and medical woes.  Sad that she will always be that way for however much longer she lives.  But she seemed content at the wedding, not anxious, and though I didn’t like how much she had to drink (she does love her Manhattans) she was never inappropriate– she actually was smiley and calm and pleased with my brother and his new wife, and people (especially our lovely new in-laws) were kind and chatty with her despite the low-level but ever-present level of gaga-ness she displays most of the time.

And I haven’t spoken to her since then, though I really have been meaning (even if out of guilt) to call.

When we talk, it’s strained.  And I know on some level that she’s aware of it.  But I ask her about her life, commiserate about the things that are bothering her, try to offer decent advice, and just listen.  I offer not-too-meaningful details about mine.  Sometimes she asks questions, sometimes she doesn’t.  She means well, even when she doesn’t do well.

Yesterday’s call wasn’t much different, except at the end it very much was.  She was trying to ask about me, how I was doing, and holding herself back since I’ve told her in the past that she’s hardly one to give me advice.  We were talking about Julie and Julia, since she’d also seen it and loved it in her way.

(Have I mentioned here that my first real food memory is Julia’s Boeuf Bournignon, made by my mother and served over egg noodles, or that my all-time favorite dish is Saute du Boeuf a la Parisienne with homemade pommes frites, cooked every year on my birthday by my father?  That BB was delicious (and I can still taste the Lobster Thermidor she made for my 16th birthday), and when she’s well, she can be an excellent cook.  I learned to love food in part because of the recipes she and my father cooked from MAFC as I grew up.  I find it inexplicably telling that despite all their differences, the disposition of vols. 1 & 2 of MAFC (autographed copies, no less) in the divorce remained almost as much of a sore point as their actual reasons for divorcing.  There was a tense “I need to borrow vol. X” back and forth, communicated to the respective parents by myself and my brother, that now seems not so much weird as proof of my point that trauma is relative, even when it’s just by marital contract.  My mother still only has her one volume, and it took my Dad years to buy a replacement for the one that my mom had, despite the fact that he bought plenty of books in the meantime.)

Mom talked about how she loved the Julia part, and we talked about how I did see episodes of The French Chef on channels 2 and 44 (in re-run by then) when I was a kid on Saturday mornings at my Dad’s house (it was an exception to the not-too-much-TV rule, because if Julia Child isn’t exceptional, then who is?) and then she asked me straight out if I had a hard time watching the part of the movie about Julie Powell.

Mom knows I blog.  I told her the name of the site.  I don’t know if she reads this (I don’t think I’ve mentioned the dot net from dot com migration, and she’s weird in how she accesses the internet, though she knows how)– if she does, we’ve never discussed it.  My Dad knows I blog, too, and the same can be said of him as my Mom– if he reads this, we don’t discuss it.  Maybe they’re being respectful and letting me have my say on our past, the one I hope I’m not being revisionist about.  And I don’t know if Mom read my post from Monday– but the serendipity of the call and the topics of discussion weren’t lost on me despite the attempt to mentally hide with commonplace, banal conversational subjects.

Maybe my ripples in the sea of our Jungian subconscious (God knows if I believe in God, given the negative impact of my mother’s occasional psychotic delusions, but I sometimes believe in Jung, that’s for sure) prompted her call.  But it was timely and painful and though I didn’t want to talk too much about it, I did something more than I did the weekend of the wedding and admitted I didn’t think I’d go back to practicing law and that I just didn’t know what came next with my “mental health status.”

She’s been doing some REM/Trauma visioning therapy thing that she feels has helped her– and she did seem much calmer at the wedding.  Maybe it has, my own opinions on the occurrence/existence of those traumas notwithstanding.  After all, trauma is relative– if she thinks it happened, then she needs to work through it.  She asked– not told, another indication she’s better in some ways– if I might look into it.  I was non-committal (I may have grunted instead of saying mm-hmm)– and then she knocked me on my ass.  Metaphorically.  I was glad I was already sitting, you see.

“It might help you forgive me for the things that I’ve done to you.”

Talk about thrumming like a gong from a hit with a drumstick whose head is the size of my heart.  I’m still reverberating with– the shock isn’t quite the right word– the impact of that one statement.

She’s never actually admitted, unprovoked, that her actions (and inactions, the greater harm in it all, but here I am, inactive, so really, I’m one to talk) have hurt me.  And while I’ve never doubted that in her way, she wants the best for me– while I’ve never doubted (and here I am lucky, because so many others have) that she loves me in the best way that she can (everything being relative)– it’s the first time in a while that I’ve felt it, rather than told my heart that it’s something I already know.  There’s a self-serving bit in that statement.  She wants and needs to be forgiven.  But for the first time, I felt it was outweighed by her wanting me to feel the lack of anger and angst and so-much-goddamned-drama that comes with doing the forgiving.

The impact of that statement?  Well– out of the blue, and with the coincidence of a blog post about a movie and my mother in law and the mess of my life and a phone call from my mother about a movie and the mess of my life, serendipity in its own way or a Jungian ripple (or maybe her God telling her it was time to call me, delusion or not)– I actually want to forgive her.

I want to forgive her.

Yes, I do.


At the end of the call, I told her I was glad that she called.

And I was.

It’s another start.


7 thoughts on “Trauma is relative and yet serendipitous, both in and out of the blue

  1. Su

    I haven’t looked at this blog in a little while. Just check in from time to time. I do have to say I was amazed by this post and thought it was amazing. It’s so hard to think about how our parents have impaceted us and sometimes I wonder if they even realize it. Your post was touching and I am so glad you shared your story here. It was really touching.

  2. Robert Modean

    Call it serendipity, or synchronicity, or maybe it was actually causality, it was certainly a most fortuitous set of circumstances. You know I don’t necessarily believe in Jung, but I do have faith Erika. Seeking forgiveness, granting it, these are powerful gifts. We grant forgiveness to ameliorate guilt, but in the act of forgiving do we not also shed the burdens we carry with us? Your mother is seeking forgiveness, you want to forgive her, it is indeed a start. My most fervent wish is that it is the start of something wonderful for you, you deserve no less.


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