color key — yellow: relationships. contrast of light and dark correlates with bright and somber tones of voice.
I love you, mom, but you’re not my best friend anymore
My mother used to be my best friend. I emphasize the used to be while fully aware of the natural ebb and flow of mother-daughter relationships. But this feels different. This feels like the deep ebb that occurs before a tidal wave the height of Everest wipes us out completely.
I write this exactly one week after Mother’s Day, so let’s timeline this.
Two weeks ago: I spent roughly 10 minutes on Felt, scrolling through the designs, trying to pick the right card. Funny is good, avoid anything too sentimental. She doesn’t drink coffee or wine, if the words ‘perfect’ or ‘best mom ever’ or ‘you were right’ appear, it’s a no-go. I decide on an old joke. Remember that scene in Family Guy where Stewie is trying to get Lois’s attention and he just keeps repeating “Mom, mom, mommy, Lois…” until she responds. My sister and I used to do it to our mom all the time.
So, now that the front design is selected, I get to personalize the back. I use this service frequently, but I still haven’t got the hang of writing with my finger on my phone screen. It takes a few tries, but I finally get my message scrawled semi-legibly — basically the same joke from the front of the card, but now with a semblance of my handwriting and with an added “I love you.” I throw a gift card in the cart and check out.
One week ago: It’s Mother’s Day and I’m on a hiking trip with my husband. We’re staying in the cutest little cabin in the woods — with no amenities. No toilet, no heat, no phone service, no Wi-Fi. My mother-in-law’s only wish is to get all of her children on a Zoom call, so we head to town early and park outside a Starbucks to borrow their Wi-Fi and make her wish come true. I need to call my mom, but decide I can do it after our planned hike for the day. When we get to the peak, I’m awestruck by the view and decide to FaceTime my mom there at the top. We have a nice conversation; she says she’s had a nice day. She doesn’t mention the card and I feel weird asking about it. We hang up and I feel my daughter’s duty has been fulfilled.
Tuesday, five days ago: I get a text message from my mom. It’s a group message including all of my first cousins on her side — she has two sisters. It reads along the lines of us being told we did not reach out and do our part this Mother’s Day, that we’re adults and it isn’t that hard.
I message her separately, though I don’t know why because it’s obvious that she’s been drinking.
She says she didn’t get my card.
I stopped replying after a bit of back and forth. It was turning into one of those text message fights that included the phrase “I don’t want to fight with you…” a lot. It’s been five days and we haven’t ‘made up’ or ‘apologized’ yet. I don’t know if her card made it to her yet. I just keep thinking; how many times does my mom have to disappoint me before I stop caring about disappointing her so much?
It’s hard because she used to be my best friend. I’ve grown out of so many friendships, but when I grew out of those, I just stopped talking to those people. I didn’t see them all the time anymore. There wasn’t any societal expectation that I continue to be close to them.
My mom was eighteen when I was born. She and my bio-dad had broken up before the birth, and he had completely bailed before my second birthday. For the most part, it was just the two of us. The way she tells it, there were a lot of naysayers. The way she tells it, she had to be strict, make sure my nose was wiped, my feet were covered, and that I was not a brat. The way she tells it almost feels like an apology. Almost.
So yeah, she was strict. Corporal punishment was definitely a thing, but it never crossed the line to physical abuse. I mean, plenty of kids ate soap when they cursed. Plenty of kids got a spankin’ when they were naughty. Plenty of kids got a flick in the mouth when they back-sassed. Right? That’s definitely not where or why our friendship ended. Because even when I got too old for spankings, I still told her everything. We were still very close.
I have vague memories of my mom drinking and smoking when I was young. She was young, it wasn’t out of control or out of the ordinary. I have less vague memories that she abstained for a long time. She quit smoking when my sister was very small and a doctor scared her straight. Something like “You’re killing your daughter.” I only know it was something like that because that phrase became the fuel my mom would launch into the fire against my step-dad for years. She criminalized his smoking and drinking, which admittedly went a bit overboard most weekends — but only weekends. She propped herself up on a pedestal of sobriety, as if that would convince him to quit too. I think the only person who actually saw her on that pedestal was me, and whenever she and my dad got into one of their screaming matches, I was always on my best friend’s side, ready to pack a bag when she decided we needed to leave for the night.
Early in my school years, my family moved to a different state. It was at this time that I started to understand my mom’s mental illness. She had terrible anxiety and she was deeply depressed. The only thing I knew to do was to be there, to be a best friend.
By high school, she was drinking again. A little at first — only weekends, never to drunkenness. But what I hadn’t noticed all those years was her addictive personality. As soon as she started, she was hooked. Two nights a week became three, became five, became every day. And this isn’t just a glass of wine (she doesn’t drink coffee or wine, remember?), this is six- twelve- eighteen-packs of beer. This is puking, black-out, calling-into-work-tomorrow-hungover drunk. And when she’s drunk, she’s mean. Not just to my dad, not just to my sister, but to me, too — her best friend.
All that time criminalizing my dad for drinking was now working against her. I try to confront her only to get the reply, “Oh, I’m such a terrible mom.” The problem was that she wasn’t, hadn’t been, and that’s why this new side of her was so confusing and hurt so badly. But I still told her everything. We were still so close. The ocean was just starting to get choppy.
The first big ebb and flow of our relationship happened when it came out that I hadn’t actually been sharing everything with my mom for all those years. We were having a lot of family and friends over — t was late and there were some stragglers. I was called out to the kitchen, where they had been telling everyone about the ‘games’ we used to play when we were younger. To me, this was years of sexual abuse coming to light, but I quickly realized that to everyone else, this was a funny story of ‘normal’ sexual experimentation. I was devastated, sobbing. Everyone else was laughing, light-hearted. I felt crazy. Later, after everyone was gone, my mom came into my room to talk about it. I think I’ve blocked out most of the conversation, because I’m almost positive it started with an apology. I don’t really remember that though. I do remember vividly one thing she said, which referred to what must have happened to one of the others for them to have known to show me.” In other words, “She was truly abused, so think of yourself as lucky.” I haven’t talked about what happened to me since. Not to my mom, not to anybody.
Still, when I was in college and did the worst thing I’ve ever done (another story for another time), my mom was the one I wanted to talk to about it. She’s the first — and only — person I called. As I was dealing with the aftermath, in the deepest depression of my life, I started receiving calls and messages from family members, deeply concerned. My mother had completely betrayed my trust and told my most shameful secret to several people. It has been years and I haven’t forgiven her, not that she’s asked me to.
So, with all the little jab sprinkles and these huge disappointment cherries on top of our relationship sundae, what do we have? We have an Everest-height tidal wave of emotion pouring out anonymously on a website you don’t even read, all over a stupid text message.
I love you, mom, but you’re not my best friend anymore.