Monday, December 30, 2013

Hussein in the Membrane

A post from a few years back...

Earlier today, I had a nice chat with my mother on the phone.

"Did you see Barack Obama giving his speech in Berlin?" she asked.

"I sure did," I said cheerfully.

My mother is not an Obama supporter.

"It made me really proud to be American," I added.

This was a tad hyperbolic, what I'd said. As I see it, a politician is a politician is a politician and you don’t become President of the United States without making major compromises and backdoor deals I’m sure no Obama supporter (certainly myself included) wants to be privy to.

Let’s face it. If he hadn’t, he’d still be a community outreach worker in Chicago and you and I would’ve never gotten to marvel that amazing night when he was first elected something we never thought we’d see in our lifetimes: a black president.

Next up, a woman but we all know a chick on the rag would fumble the nuclear football because her aide hadn’t arrived quickly enough with her Midol, salt craving for Spicy Ranch Cheetos and that Therma-Care heating patch for her cramps.

Anyway, I enjoyed rubbing a little salt into my mother’s politically offended wounds. After all, the woman had just enjoyed almost eight years of the dumbest fratboy on campus running the free world.

And anyone who'd been abroad since George W stopped being simply hated and instead became loathed to the point that you, as an American, are seen as a direct extension of his utterly un-American, utterly anti-meritocratic windfall of nepotistic luck, no matter what your political inclinations perhaps can understand the feeling.

She snorted.

"See how proud you are to be an American when the whole country turns communist."

I laughed.

"At least he can string a simple declarative sentence together," I countered.

"Oh, sure he can," she sighed. "That's the only reason he's as successful as he is. He's a good speechmaker, that's all. And lazy, snotty, communist-leaning kids like you think that's what makes a good president."

"Okay, Bill O'Reilly," I replied sanguinely.

Who cared what she thought? 

This is a woman who once referred to my friend Mia's family as "illegals." Even though they'd been in the country for more than fifteen years. 

Additionally, she understands the differentiation between "Lace Curtain Irish" and "Shanty Irish."

It's an explicit one, apparently.

"Well," she said. "It doesn't matter anyway. Everyone knows that when it comes down to actually voting and not just talking about it, young people don't vote."

"I vote," I replied irritably.

And I do, once I've put down my bong. Sure, my eyes are red and blood-shot when I hit the booth and the whole time, I'm pretty hungry but still. I do my civic duty.

As a U.S. citizen, if and only if you vote, are you allowed to complain about the state of American politics. Nothing makes me angrier than some verbose fucktard who grudgingly admits, after an hour of political polemic that they didn't, in fact, vote last election.

“Well, maybe you’ll get lucky,” she said bitterly. “Then you can have a communist president. Although I must say. That McCain is no great shakes. He has Stockholm syndrome, I think I read. He'll give the whole country over to the Vietnamese! And to China!”

I groaned.

No one, it seemed, was safe from her shockingly irresponsible, absurd and slanderous aspersions. Not even an old, white establishment Republican. I mean, he was one of her peeps.

Why was I surprised, though?

I'm one of her peeps, biologically speaking, and she has no problem stating loudly and firmly that she thinks most Arabs are sketchy, sneaky and nine times out of ten, at least peripherally related to terrorist networks.

"Think about that name," she mused. "I mean, what does it sound like? It sounds like ‘Osama.’”

"God," I sighed. "You'd think that you of all people would cut the guy some slack about an Arab-sounding name."

“Why on earth would you think that?” she said, nonplussed.

I was silent for a moment, stunned.

“Because your kids have Arab names!” I finally shouted incredulously. “Jesus Christ.”

“Oh, please,” she laughed. “You don't even look Arab.”

“What?” I hissed.

"You don't even look Arab," she repeated. "Your brothers do, of course. Their noses and their skin, that's for sure. But you could easily pass for Greek or Spanish or Italian."

"'Pass,’ huh?" I said, after a moment. "Wow. That's great. You ever read 'The Human Stain?'"

“What?" she said, puzzled.

“Forget it,” I replied dully.

Too many times to count, I've launched into the Why Should I Want To Pass As Anything Than What I Am; This is the United States of America Not Nazi Germany or Pre-Civil Rights Movement Alabama argument.

When I was a kid and our mother used to gleefully remark on how light my skin was compared to my brothers', Ben and Sai took great delight in telling me that she'd once had an affair with the Polish bank teller who'd worked at our local branch and that was why I was so much more vanilla-looking than they were.

I'd cry when they'd torment me with this but as young as I was, I sensed this couldn't be true because our mother barely believed in marital sex, never mind the extramarital kind.

But it was only when we visited Yemen and I finally met our father's six sisters and saw how very light they were that I became reasonably certain that I was not the love child of the fat, rumpled, very white bank teller at Citizen’s Bank.

“And anyway, Obama’s middle name is Hussein!" she continued, undeterred. “Does that sound like the president of the United States to you?”

"So what?" I retorted. "That's what Pops was gonna name Sai before you eighty-sixed it."

She said nothing.

"It's like 'John' in the Middle East," I said. "You know that, from all those years with Pops. And Obama's not Middle Eastern, anyway."

She let out an irritated sigh.

"And what if Sai's name were Hussein?" I pressed. "That would make him, what? Suspicious, somehow? So if Sai wanted to run for president and he's grown up here and is as American as the next guy but his name just happened to be Hussein, he wouldn’t deserve to hold office?"

As much as the thought of this kind of bald, capricious racial discrimination struck me as absurd, even more so did the idea of Sai being President of the United States.

Never mind dictating global policy. He can't even manage to get Ben, the oldest and me, the youngest, to stop trying to bully him into divorcing his cuntbomb of a new wife.

“Just pack up and move your shit out one night when she’s asleep,” Ben and I keep telling him. “Do it, man. Unless you enjoy slowly watching your dick grow into a twat.”

"Said is better than 'Hussein,'" my mother said simply. "'Hussein' sounds like 'insane.' It screams 'terrorist.' Said is much better."

Even though my brothers and I used to laugh about Sai's would-be name and sing, "Hussein in the Membrane," I bit my lip to keep from screaming.

Maybe I could keep my cool in political debates with her but her forays into racial nomenclature make me crazy.

Especially when it comes to those of the Middle Eastern variety.

"Not to the meatheads who beat the shit out of him right after 9/11," I said through clenched teeth.

"Race had nothing to do with that," she insisted.

"What did it have to do with, then?" I demanded. "What? He'd never been jumped by a gang of rednecks before 9/11."

"Well, you know your brothers," she said weakly. "Always fighting with people. And he was at a bar."

Why my mother denies implications of the fact that her kids are Arab and look Arab, especially her two sons, I've never fully understood.

I assume it has something to do with the fact that she thinks our father is a motherfucker. Which he is. He just happens to be Arab.

His being a motherfucker has nothing to do with him being Arab.

It has everything to do with him being a profligate drunk and an unrepentant womanizer and a man who abandoned his children as soon as their existences began to interfere with his leisurely Sunday Morning buffet brunches ("Legs 'n Eggs") at the Foxy Lady. (“Half off buffet! Full nudity!” read the sign out front.)

And if you think those are inherently Arabic tendencies, I have some nice Muslim literature I can share with you.

"Sai never gets into bar fights," I muttered angrily. "The only bar fights he's ever been in are ones where Ben's there and calls someone a steaming anal pustule or something. And Ben wasn't there that night."

Sweet by nature, gentle and non-confrontational, my brother Sai is the picture of good humor.

It's why he's my favorite. It's why he's Ben's favorite.

It's also why I wish, more than anything, that Ben had been with him that night in Boston, right after 9/11.

Because Ben would've made sure that even if they'd both gotten some bruises neither would have ended up in the hospital with broken bones, like Sai had.

Being Arab was never a huge consideration for me. Until September 11th.

Until it became a huge consideration to other people. The red-faced-with-rage cab driver, for example, who told me a couple weeks after the attacks that he hoped the U.S. nuked the entire Middle East and killed everyone, everyone, because they all hated us and that was the only way we could protect ourselves for sure.

The part of his face that I could see in the rear view mirror, this being his squinted, enraged eyes was frightening. They registered pure, single-minded hatred.

I didn't bother telling him that I was Arab myself and that I'd grown up here and that I had a father whose name was Mohammed and that he loved America so much that he loved George Bush and even though he'd forget my birthday, he'd always remember the Fourth of July and would insist that our family have a cook-out with hot dogs and hamburgers because that's what Americans do.

Faced with his narrowed eyes in the rear view mirror, I just didn't bother.

 Not because I wasn't angry at what he’d said but because I was more afraid than angry.

I was afraid of him. So I said nothing.

It bothered me for a long time, though. Mostly, because the people who'd flown those planes into those buildings were Arab. And I hated them, too.

And as a New Yorker, especially as a New Yorker a small, violent, sick deep-down part of me felt the same way that cab driver had.

Luckily, George W preserved for me my sense of rationale, humanity and basics tenets of moral decency.

Because once we started bombing Iraq and the few networks (mostly foreign) that had balls enough to broadcast footage of children with arms blown off and U.S. soldiers with legs blown off, I came to my senses again.

And maybe my mother did too, today. A little bit, anyway.

Because she called me again a few minutes ago.

"Martha and I just had some delicious Indian food," she told me. "The bread was wonderful. Just wonderful."

"That's good," I replied frostily, still chafed about our previous conversation.

There was a short silence.

"I know you think I’m racist but I’m not,” she said. “I like Indians. Rarely, it seems, do they have drinking problems. And they don’t seem to be sleazy, either."

In spite of my anger, I stifled a laugh and let her continue.

"And if I needed to build something, I’d hire Italians,” she mused. “Now, they know how to build. I mean, look at the aqueducts. Thousands of years old and they’re still here."

“Who else do you like?” I asked, finally letting go and just enjoying myself.

“Well, I’m not saying that I love the Germans,” she offered conspiratorially. “You know, because of the Holocaust. But what about the Poles? Where’s the blame there? They were turning in Jews left and right!”

Much like I do during most of my conversations with my mother, I fought the urge to scream or cry or both.

And as usual, chose to just laugh instead.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Crazy Pigs, Soft Dogs

When it comes to winning arguments of the geo-political sort, liberal concern about a post 9-11 Arab-American backlash is the best thing that's ever happened to me.

Although I get the bulk of my world news from The Daily Show and the news ticker I read in the elevator on my way up to work in the morning, the fact that I know the proper, un-Anglicanized pronunciation of Kabul always tips the scale in my favor.

When attention is turned my way during heated political debates among readers of The Economist and I find myself backed into a corner, woefully misinformed and thinking mostly of where I left my smokes, I know it's time to pull out the trump card.

"My father's from Yemen actually," I'll say softly, as if it's all just too much for me. "He was just a young boy when he left. Yemen's been torn apart by civil war and violence, you know."

My Arabic heritage gives my specious arguments and absurd solutions a legitimacy they would otherwise lack.

She must, you can see them thinking, have the inside track.

They nod vigorously at me, full of empathy for my father's plight and eager to demonstrate their lack of bias against Arab-Americans.

Of course, it's slightly unclear to me whether or not the Yemenese civil war occurred in my father's lifetime. Quite possibly, it's unclear to him too, as he spent the better part of the eighties in a scotch and soda haze.

What I also neglect to tell earnest, impassioned participants in cocktail party political debates is that my father Mohammed was an ardent Bush supporter and despises social welfare programs, leniency towards illegal immigration and "that whole filthy, crazed pig pit," as he calls the Middle East.

"I slaved myself to the bone," he'll scream at the TV during reports of tax cuts for the low-income bracket. "They are lazy, lazy dogs. Soft, lazy dogs. You need the money, you go out. You get the money. You slave the money."

Sometimes when I was younger and angrier and he would be screaming at all the soft, lazy dogs on the six o'clock news, I would remind him that my mother used to accuse him of arms dealing.

He would take the bate every time. Passionately.

"NO dealing of arms! No dealing of arms!" he'd scream wildly, his voice reaching castrato heights in its shrillness and indignation. "I slaved! I slaved like mule! Your mother, she is rass-ist. She is a rass-ist! That whole Colonial family of hers, they are all rass-ist!"

With the zealotry that comes from growing up in a sun-burnt village in Sa'na with eight brothers and six sisters, hungering for the American Dream, my father cherishes a Utopian vision of the good ol' USA that I haven't subscribed to since third grade history class.

Once, in high school, during my de rigeur Che Guevera obsession and seeking some kind of solidarity with a drunk, womanizing "Muslim" father who was the only Arab I knew who referred to Edward Said as "the crazy fool quack," I grilled him about British imperialism in the Middle East.

"Were you in any rebellions?" I asked eagerly, envisioning stories of thirteen-year old-freedom fighters throwing rocks and shouting proud slogans in Arabic.

My father looked at me with disgust.

"You joke. You joke, yes? The British were the best thing that ever happened to that stinking pig pit."

I gaped at him.

"But they tried to decimate your culture, your pride, your way of life," I protested.

He snorted.

"You watch young man get hand chopped off for stealing transistor radio and you see how much you care about pride of culture. The British made a stop to the chopping of the hand."

Still, I continued to hound him.

"But you're the one who always says that the Middle East gave the world algebra and geometry and astronomy and everything and to have these Western imperialists just come in and subjugate you. Didn't it bother you?"

My father flicked an ash from his cigarette into a marble tray and looked at me, annoyed.

"What bother me? What bother me was shitting into small hole in ground. The British gave to us the toilets. And no chopping of the hand. What do you know of these things? I give you everything and all now you can do is make it seem nice that people are left alone to live such a way."

He inhaled on his Camel.

"Everything I have I give you kids. And now Ben-Mohammed, my first born, smash car."

He sighed deeply.

"And Said, he make himself vandal of White Hen Pantry. That boy, he is a psycho."

Wearily, he stubbed out his cigarette.

"We should send Said to Yemen, yes?" said my father. "See how much of vandal he make of himself there, in the crazy pig pit."

He looked at me, grinning.

"He would come home with no hands!" he exclaimed.

We both threw back our heads and laughed.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 License.

A Little Sad

When I was home for Thanksgiving, my mother and I spent a lot of time in the living room watching TV.

It was a little sad.

Both of my brothers were no-shows this year.

Ben was in St. Lucia with Ariel. Since his wedding, Sai is no longer on speaking terms with our mother. For these reasons, I'd considered skipping out myself but that was the most momentary of considerations.

Really, if I weren't there, who else would our mother have to complain to about how awful her children are?

"But I'm here, Mom," I kept protesting.

To which she'd snap impatiently, "I know that. But do you think Sai could bother with even a phone call? No. Of course not. That would require some class. Speaking of which. I hope he's enjoying that instant potato casserole Trashbot's serving up right about now."

"One of these holidays, I won't be here," I sighed. "I really won't. Then you'll see."

Even to me, it sounded laughable. Of course I would be. I always was and sometimes I fear, I always will be.

Even though I was back together, sort of, with an ex-boyfriend and he was only ten miles away in Brookline with his family and had begged me Please, baby. Please don't do it to yourself; just spend the holiday with me and my family, I'd declined.

After all, Thanksgiving wouldn't be Thanksgiving without a wild-eyed woman hacking angrily into the turkey at the center of the table all the while bitterly cursing the men in our family, of both the immediate and extended variety.

Luckily, AMC's Hitchcock marathon was running so my mother was able to cover a few of her other favorite topics: Why movies aren't as well-made as they used to be, why there are so many commercials for yeast infection creams and why women dress like such cheap whores now.

"Look at Grace Kelly's dress," she breathed as we were watching Rear Window. "It's so...stately. So...timeless."

She turned to me.

“Why don’t you dress like that?” she queried. “It’s so elegant. And ladylike.”

I stared at her.

“Because that shit’s from like the fifties, Mom. Jesus.”

“You and your swearing,” she sighed. “My God. Talk about un-ladylike. Right there, you make yourself sound like a low-class tart. Where did you learn that, anyway?”

From YOU, I always want to retort, when she chastises me about my penchant for profanity and Where on God’s Green Earth Did You Learn That; Not From Me. Back when Pops was banging whores and not giving us any money and you were off your nut and screaming at me and Ben and Sai and anyone who had the audacity to go within fifty feet of you.

But it wasn't worth it with her. It never is.

She's conveniently managed to forget this part of our family history, anyway. Lucky her.

So I just shrugged instead.

"Edith Head designed all of these dresses," she informed me.

I bit back a blowjob joke.

“Yeah?” I said.

“And whose wedding gown do you think she designed?”

“Whose?” I asked disinterestedly.

“Grace Kelly's!”

My mother’s obsession with Grace Kelly’s Perfect Wedding Dress and Perfect Wedding Day has always puzzled me, much like her obsession with Princess Diana’s Perfect Wedding Dress and Perfect Wedding Day.

This from a woman who used to drive by ongoing weddings and hiss, "Suckers! He'll be cheating on her in six months, mark my words!" to me and my brothers.

In the end, I chalked it up to an incidental appreciation. After all, her rabidly inappropriate appreciation for two ultimately doomed women’s wedding attire was the least worrisome of her problems.

I rose with the book I'd been reading during commercials and started into the other room.

“Where are you going?” she called after me.

There was a note of accusation in her voice that’s always there when I leave the room during the holidays for what she surmises will be an extended period of time.

I’m there for her, goddammit. Not to be Internet texting googling in the next room or whatever it is I’m doing.

“To see if I can find any online stores that carry Edith Head knock-offs,” I replied.

I read a little and came back a while later when my mother called me. I'd told her to let me know when Psycho was on.

As Mrs. Bates stridently berated Norman for being susceptible to the charms of cheap, wanton whores, I looked over at my mother.

“Hey,” I remarked cheerfully. “This reminds me of something.”

“What?” she said distractedly, eyes on the screen.

“It sounds a lot like the speech you gave to Sai right before his junior prom, when he was about to go pick up his date.”

“That’s not true!” she screamed, not removing her eyes from the screen. “I only told him that that girl was Bad News and was looking to get herself pregnant!”

Every girl was Bad News to you,” I laughed. “And how, exactly, does one get herself pregnant? I mean, you weren’t much on sex education but I’m pretty sure it takes a man and a woman to do that.”

She grumbled but said nothing.

"Mother's not quite herself today," Norman trilled.

I burst out laughing.

As I did, the soda I was drinking caught in my throat and I began choking.

My mother looked at me alarmed, and began rising in her seat.  To perform a hearty Heimlich maneuver, I presume.

I waved her away, managed to clear my throat and then laughed some more.

She shot me a sour look.

“I suppose you think that's funny, don't you? Go ahead, laugh. Blame me for everything. You do anyway. You and your brothers.”

This made me laugh even harder.

Ignoring me, she placed a piece of cheese on a cracker, took a delicate bite and grimaced.

“This tastes awful,” she said incredulously, staring at it. “My God, I think your aunt’s been buying Cracker Barrel.”

She said “Cracker Barrel” like she’d just bitten into one of Wayne Newton’s sweaty hemorrhoids and I told her so.

“Oh my God! That’s dis-gusing. What is wrong with you?”

I laughed, got up and went to the bathroom.

When I returned to the living room, she looked up.

“You were in there a long time,” she said suspiciously.

"Yeah," I agreed. "I drank a lot of Diet Pepsi tonight."

She didn't look satisfied with my answer.

“Were you having a bowel movement?”

“No,” I groaned. “Jesus.”

“Well, if you weren’t having a bowel movement," she persisted. "Then what were you doing in there?”

In truth, I had been surveying my aunt’s medicine cabinet, trying to surmise how much Vicodin from her recent foot surgery I could pilfer without arousing suspicion.

“I was shooting up,” I said flatly. “I’m a junkie now. I like it. It's really fun.”

“Were you throwing up?” she pressed. “I certainly hope you weren’t. Your poor aunt cleans enough as it is, with all of her nervousness. Do you really want her to have to clean up your vomit from the toilet? Besides, we spent hours on that meal. Hours.”

I groaned again but said nothing.

"Well, anyway," she said brightly, changing the subject. "Your aunt says she wants to see that independent film about the mentally retarded oyster farmer who thinks he can see God. You said you wanted to see that too, didn’t you? I have absolutely no desire to see it. It looks about as interesting as watching paint dry. So you can both go together tomorrow while I write my thank you cards."

"It's just us, Mom," I protested. “You don’t need to send cards.”

This is what I say every year.

"It's the polite thing to do," she replied crisply.

This is what she says every year.

"Fine," I muttered.

The next day, my aunt and I arrived at the movie theater an hour early. That's right. An hour early. Even though the theater was less than five miles from the house, we left an hour and fifteen minutes beforehand.

My aunt’s average driving speed was, if possible, slower than my mother’s. Also, she lived in terror that there would be no more parking available if we didn't arrive in "ample time," as she put it.

Once in the vast, deserted parking lot, we drove around in circles slowly. Hesitantly. Pointlessly.

"Well, look at this," she said brightly. "People must be starting late because of the holiday."

I fiddled with the heater settings, trying to conceal my irritation.

“I can’t imagine why it’s so empty,” she mused. “Even if it is a little early.”

"We're an hour early," I replied miserably. "What are we going to do before the movie? There's nothing around here."

"Let's go to the stationary store," she suggested. "It's right across the street."

I looked around.

"Why are we parking so far away?" I asked.

It was sub-zero degrees and there were no cars in the lot.

"I don't want anyone nicking the car," she said. "Also, I don't want to get blocked in."

By the time we made it into the movie, I spent the first half hour rubbing the circulation back into my chilled, bluish hands and stewing. I felt for her OCD but good God. It bled the joy out of everything.

While waiting for her to use the restroom after the movie had ended, I dug through my bag for a Xanax. I knew I’d have plenty of time to retrieve it. She takes a good fifteen minutes to apply various antibacterial products to her hands after using the facilities.

Since I’d neglected to spit out my Altoid before dry-swallowing the Xanax, when she came upon me, I was hacking like a cat with a fur ball stuck in its throat.

She didn't seem to notice.

"Let's get to the car," she said urgently. "Before people nick it."

Once inside the un-nicked, unblocked-in car my aunt relaxed a little.

“It was a very good movie,” she offered.

“Yeah,” I agreed. "The ending was great."

"Yes," she said absentmindedly, looking worriedly at the clock on the dash. "We need to get home to de-frost the pearl onions I'm putting into the turkey soup."

These conversations always made me a little sad.

When I was a little kid, my aunt was my hero. Unlike my mother, her voice was dulcet-toned and low. She didn’t scream. She didn’t throw things. She didn’t hit.

We’d talk about which books I was reading and who my favorite Dickens characters were and she always told me how smart I was and how I’d be an English professor one day.

Of course, once her OCD really kicked in and she began counting the number of peas going into the serving bowl, she became a little too distracted to engage in any kind of meaningful conversation, beyond which Tupperware containers hold exactly twelve spears of broccoli.

But really, it wasn’t all her fault. Because around the time she began counting peas, I began rooting around in her medicine cabinet and stealing the Klonipin and Ativan that were prescribed for her many surgeries.

It was neither of our faults, I guess. Life just caught up with both of us.

"I’m starving," I said, after a long silence.

"I’m hungry too," she agreed. "Although I did have some eggs for breakfast."

I gritted my teeth and was thankful that I had dry-swallowed that Xanax in the movie theater lobby. I knew what was coming: A detailed account of everything and anything she’d eaten the entire day.

“Later, I had a yogurt which I like to have mid-afternoon,” she mused, as she slowed for a red light. “Then, I warmed up some left-over squash. It’s very high in vitamin C and has plenty of fiber.”


“A handful of raisins also has a lot of fiber,” she continued, hitting the gas as the light turned green. “So what I’ll do is, sprinkle some over my mid-morning yogurt.”

She turned to look at me.

“I did that this morning, to my yogurt. It tasted good, with the raisins.”

I stared out the window helplessly and said nothing.

“It was blueberry yogurt,” she offered, after a protracted silence.

I gripped the door handle and willed myself not to fling it open and leap from the moving vehicle.

When we got home, she defrosted the pearl onions. She made the soup.

We ate, me and my mother and my aunt. It was a little sad.

None of us mentioned Sai’s wedding. Or Ben's pointed absence. 

There was no anger just then, it seemed. Just a lot of silence. 

That made it even sadder, at least to me. And lonely.

Without my mother yelling and blustering, I realized how much I missed my brothers being there.

So I texted Karen a lot. I made sure my mother didn't see this.

The next night, I called a cab to take me to South Station so I wouldn't have to endure my aunt's, or worse, my mother's driving.

When the cab was outside, my mother clung to me, crying softly. 

Just like she always does when I’m leaving, about to go back to the semi-sane life I had to build for myself.

“You’re all I have left,” she whispered close to my ear. “You really are.”

My heart sank.

I felt the old umbilical cord tightening.

I wanted to wrench away from her ever-clinging embrace and run from the stifling, overheated house into the cold, crisp night air and never look back. 

Why couldn’t I just do that?

Didn’t I deserve, after all these years, to just live my own life and not stay up nights worrying about a mother whose own shitty life choices had left her a bitter, enraged shrieking harridan who had almost broken her own three children?

And the answer was, I couldn't.

Because she was broken herself.

So instead of running out of the house, I rubbed her back like the wild, capricious, sometimes cruel child she was when I was a little kid and the lonely, scared child she’s become in my adult life.

And even though I’ve read Toxic Parents and Will I Ever Be Good Enough: Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers and Where Were You When I Needed You, Dad and many, many other self-help tomes I hide in the back of my closet, I rubbed her back.

And I thought, I’ll never be free. Not really.

“I know,” I said finally. “I know.”