MAMA AND HER ARSENAL
To say my family was dysfunctional is a mild use of the word. My father was raised in an orphanage where little affection was demonstrated, so he was tentative with his affections. Mother was Scotch-Irish and full of spit and vinegar. Mama was incapable of disciplining in moderation or controlling her temper. Fear was a required ingredient in punishments meted out, as well as threats of physical contact and verbal abuse.
Memories come floating back often, but remembering her threats of suicide ranks high on the list. When at her angriest, Mama threatened to kill herself if we didn’t comply with her demands.
Measuring up in our world wasn’t to see how much we had grown in height; it was to gauge our responsiveness to Mama’s demands and expectations. A report card with less than all A’s and just one B was never good enough.
“Is this the best you could do? You want to appear stupid? This card could prove that! ”
A sense of being loved because you were her child was never felt. Self-worth was a casualty of her battles to be a mother.
Therefore, not all my decisions were good ones. I married young to escape life with Mama. Unfortunately, I married her counterpart. After five years and a child, life was less than tolerable. I yanked up my courage and left, but went back to my parents’ home allowing Mama to resume her domineering role.
During this time of single parenting, a trusted employer and friend helped me to look forward rather than back. He understood the inner workings of my home life, and often counseled me much like a father would.
The one thing I took away from this friendship was the knowledge that somewhere there was someone who would love me just for me. After years of trying to please and measure up, this sounded impossible.
After eight years of single motherhood and hard work, I met someone. Someone with gentleness much like that of my father. He too had experienced a failed marriage and between us, we had stories to tell.
When we announced plans to marry, we were met with Mama’s rage. Although 34 years old, I still had no more worth than when I was a child.
Mama fought to stop our marriage. Angrily she argued, “How can you possibly think of marrying this man? He’s been married and has two children!”
“Mama, I’ve been married, divorced, and have a child myself. What’s the difference?”
“Don’t sass me! You think you’re smart because you went to college. I have more life experience, and you’re not taking my grandson into the mess you are creating.”
I quickly rebounded. “I suppose you forget that I am a child of a blended marriage. You and daddy were both married before. You had a son; he had two daughters. Show me the difference now!”
My words were like a spark held to a pilot light. Her emerald green eyes blazed, and her jaw locked in determination. I didn’t care this time. I had had enough.
I knew exactly what was coming. Mama pulled out the old and often used “I’ll kill myself if you don’t do as I say” routine. No matter how often used, it was still frightening but by now I should have known it was an idle threat. Still my heart pounded. My palms grew sweaty.
I walked into the kitchen and found her there with a butcher knife in her hand, pointed at her chest. Mama yelled, “You can’t do this to me. If you do, I’ll kill myself!”
Now was the time to let her know I was her equal and my life was mine to live. I took a bold step to show that I was not going to be cowed by her threats.
“Go ahead,” I said calmly.
“You can’t mean that. I’m your mother. You’re supposed to love me enough to stop me.”
Her emerald green eyes flashed with vile anger and a vicious desire to control. Did she not realize loving her wasn’t easy?
“And you’re supposed to love me. But I’m not sure you’ve ever thought about it.”
She inched the knife closer to her body as if ready to end her life. But I could see her fear as I felt my own. I thought to myself, “No more scrabbling for love. No more control like this. Understand? No more!”
Chief among my fears was that my son would climb out of bed and find us in this standoff. I didn’t want him to witness such a scene. Quietly, I took small steps toward her as you’d approach a wild animal.
“Mama, you don’t want to do this. You can’t be willing to give up everything and not see your grandchildren grow up.”
At this Mama began to cry. Slowly, I removed the knife from her hand and breathed a sigh of relief. Her cries turned into sobs.
I felt a power I’d never felt before, but I was afraid it wouldn’t last. I placed my arms around Mama’s shoulders and held her until she calmed enough to turn in for the night.
Foolishly, I thought perhaps there was a change in the wind. But change isn’t easy. There would be more threats, more attempts to forestall our marriage. And as long as she could get a reaction from me, Mama would continue on as life had always been.
Two years after we married a job change took us to Oregon, putting 2200 miles between Mama and me. Distance made it difficult for her to use physical threats. However, her verbal assaults continued over the phone. With time and the compassion of my loving husband, I understood this was her problem and not mine.
I believe that bold step in the kitchen decades ago and seizing my life for my husband, son and me provided the different vision of who I could be as I looked into my soul.
Sherrey Meyer Bio:
A retired legal secretary, Sherrey Meyer grew tired of drafting and revising pleadings and legal documents. She had always dreamed of writing something else, anything else! Once she retired she couldn’t stay away from the computer, and so she began to write. Among her projects is a memoir of her “life with mama,” an intriguing Southern tale of matriarchal power and control displayed in verbal and emotional abuse. Sherrey is married and lives with husband Bob in Milwaukie, OR. They have three grown children, four grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren. Their tuxedo cat, Maggie, rules the roost.
Sonia Marsh Says:
I cannot imagine how you must have felt growing up with the psychological games and threats of suicide by your mother. Did your father try ever try to stop her from this harmful behavior? Thankfully you met a wonderful man and stood up for yourself. How sad that she didn’t change after that one “gutsy” life-changing incident. Thank you Sherrey for opening up and sharing the ugly followed by the good in your life.
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