A letter before I leave
A Mother's Day gift
It seems strange writing to you when I know that you are downstairs but I wanted to talk to you just one last time before I leave and we all know how that goes. I try to say something, to try, as I always have done to get through to you and you just don't care: you're dismissive or more likely cruel and mocking. Whatever. I'm not sure what you're thinking and as you never share, I can't see it being any different. Who am I kidding? I know it's not going to be any different.
I'm hoping that you'll read this letter but I know that won't happen. I'm not even sure why I'm bothering to write. Perhaps it's for me. Yes, that's it. It is for me because I matter and because I can take control of my life and that's what I'm doing now. Taking control away from you by writing this letter.
You know, I wrote that you don't share but I am wrong. You do. You share all the time. Too much. You shared about that time that you slept with Uncle Matthew and how you'd only done it to get back at Dad for going to that car show instead of taking you to the theatre. About how "he deserved it" and how you cackled "and so did your dad".
You shared about how you'd known how much I'd like to have that Sindy* doll, the one with the pink tailored outfit and the white accessories that we'd seen in the shop window on the way back from the dentist and how you'd seen how delighted I was when you'd told me that that would be the perfect present for a seven year old girl whose birthday was coming up. You shared about how the anticipation for that day was more than mine because you couldn't wait to see the look on my face when I opened the wrapping paper and discovered a set of toy cars. You even shared how you had searched for the same size box as the doll to make the deceit "more juicy". "You should have seen your face!' you said, like it was the best joke in the world and not the most crushing moment of my young life. You shared this later, of course, not at the time and did it with relish.
You shared how much you hated being a mother. But only to me.
What you didn't share was any affection or, at least, not to me. You were also so careful not to touch me. Never physical. Never. Dad would always spring to your defence. Such a good man. I don't think that he had any clue what you were really like, but then you know that, don't you? You did everything that you could to make sure that he only ever saw one version of you. Do you know that one of the last things that he said to me was "Look after your mother, will you?" Ha! Laughable.
I never told him about the doll. I think it was just before my eighth birthday and we were driving somewhere, just me and him, probably to see an old aunty or to go for a walk by the river. The shared interests that Dad and I had beyond family and nature hadn't been introduced quite yet. He asked me what I would like for my birthday. The image of the Sindy doll flashed into my head, I remember, at the time. I still longed for that doll. It was the pinnacle of my wants for years beyond my childhood. She was so pristine, in her box - so pretty, so perfect. Safe.
I was just about to tell him when he said, "I know that your mother went to great lengths last year to get you those cars. I have to say that I was surprised that you wanted those as you'd never shown an interest before. But your mother knows you better than I do and insisted that they would be the just the thing. She said that you'd seen them in a window coming back from the dentist and your face had lit up. She said it was a memory that would live on and on in her heart. Said that it must have been a reminder of all our trips out together." I remember that he turned to look at me, smiling and I shut up.
It's a strange sensation at eight years old to know that your dad is a dimwit. A loving and attentive dimwit but a dimwit all the same.
I'm not sure what spell you wove around him to make him so completely blinkered and compliant. Was it sex? Probably. Even after he caught you and Uncle Matthew long after the theatre incident, he never left, did he? If I didn't dislike you so much, I'd be awed.
I expect you were a victim to Uncle Matthew's attentions, weren't you? I expect that's how you played it so that Dad would be outraged. What did happen to Uncle Matthew? I bet you know. Perhaps Dad did away with him and you helped dispose of the body. Maybe that is why you could keep him on side, because you had a shared dark secret. Were you blackmailing Dad and that is why he was so loyal to you? No, I'm being fanciful. Dad was a lot of things but a murderer he was not and besides, you couldn't let him see your true conniving nature.
I'm rambling here. I've just read through what I've written and it is not so much a confession as a life history. I need to get focused again. Although I have to say that I am quite enjoying writing this all down. It's quite, what's the word, cathartic? Perhaps I should have had therapy. Like anyone would have believed me. People who can switch in an instant are the things of the imagination. Like the Green Goblin or Golem. Fictional, distorted beings.
Anyway, Dad's love for you was a mystery to me and his love for me was a mystery to you so I suppose at least we had that in common. He was loyal to you though. He was always keen to tell me about how difficult things had been for you when I was first born, creating sympathy where none could ever spring; how, after a hellish birth and a labour of three days, I eventually decided to come out and what a screeching red ball I was! I must have known what I was in for with you, even then. He relates this with humour but I can imagine this is where the seeds of your hatred started. How you were exhausted for weeks and how you wanted to hold me but when I was brought near, you were so scared you'd hurt me that you begged for me to be taken away again. I don't know what to make of that - were you really scared of inflicting harm or was this when you had the epiphany that you could really hurt me? That it was possible? Was this the start of that, the constant rejection under the guise of uncertainty?
I wonder if you were jealous? I think you must have been. Could this have been the root of it all? Simple jealousy? I do a lot of wondering about your motives for things. I can't imagine that you were, jealous that is, as you made it plain that I was an irritant. However, it was difficult, wasn't it to see how he loved being around me? How I made him smile with a carefree abandon, like a little boy with the way his laughter would launch itself out of his mouth at some antic of mine that he found adorable.
One of my earliest memories is of laughing loudly at Daddy - I must have been about four? I have something on my head, not sure what and he is laughing uncontrollably and pointing, and is heading over to me to pick me up, to swing me around. You are not in view at that point. I can hear you, saying sharply, "What? What is it?" And in my memory, the irritation is evident in your tone. And then, as he moves towards me, and I'm embellishing this a little now, I know, but there you are - your line of sight had been blocked by his body as had mine - and the realisation that his joy comes from me sitting with some sort of ridiculous object on my head, is shown on your face. Only yours shows something much darker and more potent than happiness. Even now, it sends a shiver down my spine. If you could have snatched me up then and thrown me out of the window, I think you would have. My face crumpled. I remember feeling scared and I was about to cry. But I was already being scooped up into Daddy's arms and that's the end of the memory for me.
I wish I'd had a stepmother. It had to have been easier. The wicked ones of fairy tales pale in comparison to you, Mother dearest.
I always expected you to slip up at some point but you never did. Dad held his opinion of your goodness to the last. Bravo! What a performance.
There must be more of Dad in me than you, thank God because despite my better nature (or because of it), here I am, in your house, writing this letter. I wanted to try one last time because of him, really. Not because of you.
I haven't spoken to you for years. Today is Mother's Day. I haven't seen you on Mother's Day for years. Why would I? I knew that I was a constant reminder of something that you hated so you were hardly likely to want to celebrate it, were you? In fact, if anything, you were always at your most hateful. There was one time in particular that I remember. Maybe you do too, with a wicked glee or maybe not actually. Maybe indifference. I'm not sure that you'd devote any time to thinking about me unless it was a way to punish me in some way. Your moods were so changeable, veering from vitriolic to ignorant. Never any warmth unless you count anger. Anyway, it was the last time I made an effort, before this one and I'm not sure why I did it really. Why would it be any different to any of the others? But I had been influenced by stories that I had heard from my friends about their plans for Mother's Day. I allowed a small crack of feeling to open in me, and through that chink, one that I hadn't allowed for years, optimism seeped and made me its plaything. What a stupid, stupid thing to do.
Today will be the last Mother's Day, of that I am sure.
I had turned up with some flowers: white freesias and some sort of purple flower. It was a classic combo, serene and fresh. I chose them because I thought you'd appreciate their appearance, not because they were from me. In fact, I knew that the thought would count as nothing more than an inconvenience and that gratitude for it would have been non-existent. I did it because I felt like I ought to and because it was nice and I am nice. As I was standing on your doorstep, waiting for you to open the door, I had this sudden urge to just leave them and run. But despite what you thought of me, I was never weak. Never. And so, I waited.
Eventually, the net curtain at the side of the house twitched and a good minute later, I heard the key turn in the lock. The door opened just a little and you were already walking off to the kitchen, your back to me, shambling in your fur-lined slippers to get away from me.
I followed and waited for you to finish wiping a cloth over the sink before you turned and looked at me with a sigh. Then you looked at the flowers in my hands, your expression still blank. I don't remember much else about that day. I said, "Happy Mother's Day", you replied "Is it?" and that sort of set the tone for the visit. I wasn't sure if you meant is it Mother's Day or is it happy? Both applied.
I was there no longer than 10 minutes, struggling to communicate and being met with stone. I left the flowers on the table and walked away with no promise of further contact. I closed the door on my way out and headed to my car, parked a small distance away but still in view of the house. You always knew how to unsettle me although I was getting better at hiding it. No tears anymore. I remember sitting in my car, having a cigarette before driving off and it was then, with the window down and my arm leaning on the car door that I saw you. You opened the door, flowers in hand and lifted the lid of the bin next to the front door and put the bouquet into it, unceremoniously, not even with determination but with something like nonchalance. Didn't even shove them in with disgust. Just lifted the lid and placed them in. And then emptied some potato peelings on top.
I would have been angry but emotion was always wasted on you.
So, why today? I'm not sure really. It's not that I wanted to see you as such. But I'm going now, far away, different countries, different life and I've found myself drawn here more and more as that day approaches. I think I wanted to make sure that I'm leaving you behind. Yes, that's it.
I loved the fact that you were shocked when you saw me on the doorstep! I could see it took a moment for you to register who this person was but oh, when the penny dropped, your face was a picture! You've not aged well, you know. You look a proper old hag, wrinkly and wizened and you can see that you are soon going to let loose of your dark soul as it is more visible the thinner your skin gets.
But I'm not here for you. I'm here for my things, the remnants of a life I once had that I am putting, have put, behind me. As I sit here now, in my old bedroom, I can feel my misery in the walls. This is a sad place and I will not stay here longer than I have to. I can see my reflection in the mirror as I write and I am different. I am writing this letter, I think, to clear all of this shit out before I leave, to purge, like a literal colonic irrigation.
And I do feel better. I do feel cleansed.
I can't hear you downstairs. Perhaps you're sleeping. I wish you hadn't laughed. If you hadn't laughed, I would have been civil and just asked to come in and get my things and go. That was all I planned to do really. I just wanted Daddy's cars. Funny, isn't it, that something that you bought to wound actually became a treasure to me? And you hated that too, didn't you? When Daddy and I started playing with the cars and he built me a track to race them and the cars became our thing together, a shared joy between us which you could not infiltrate or assuage with your black looks. And when he took me to those car shows and we spent days away from you, just enjoying our time together. I think he knew deep down I'd leave.
You laughed at me when you saw me. Looking me up and down with disdain apparent all over your terrible face. It made me angry, like I'd never been before. I didn't want to push past you. I only wanted the cars, that's all. When I shoved you into your chair and you gasped, I shocked myself. I didn't know that I had it in me, to be physical. It was like all the emotional cement I had used to keep my feelings in just crumbled away to leave a gap for my resentment to gush. It was weird. My emotions have always been under control, stunted some might say. They had shrunk to nothing, like small black raisins. Or so I thought.
But when you laughed, something rose and expanded with force. No greeting, no "Oh, it's you". Just two comments, framed by a short sharp scornful laugh either end, like barking bookends. "You look ridiculous," and then a widening of eyes as you made a connection:
"You look like that stupid doll!"
I'm looking at myself again now, in the mirror. I am wearing my favourite pink trouser suit with white headband and accessories. My hair is long and blonde and I am the image of the doll, I'll admit. This is no accident. It is not a source of shame for me. It is part of my reinvention. This is who I am.
I am not ridiculous. I am a product of you and Daddy. And I am bold and strong and independent of the past. And I am proud.
You slumped when you landed in the chair. Your head was on your chest and your thin grey hair hid your terrible face. As I looked at your scalp, dry and flaky, I was struck with pity: pity for what you had become; pity for you allowing it to happen; pity for your loss of so much potential life. You were cold.
I stood and stared at you for what seemed like minutes, willing you to move but you were still. Tentatively, I reached out to touch your hand, fearful that you'd move and bat me away. You were cold. Colder than ever. Dead cold. But then you always were. It was your natural state. I wouldn't have been able to tell if you'd lost your warmth because I'd never been near you to feel if it was there.
I should probably check for a pulse on the way out but I think I'll vomit if I have to touch you again. And I look pretty and perfect. Ridiculously so. It could be that you're still alive in which case you have this letter to read. I'm not sure that the soulless can die, can they? Where would they go?
I know where I'm going. Somewhere safe, in the pink, away from you, Mother dearest.
And before I leave you, leave you to your cold existence, whether you are alive or dead - it doesn't matter to me - I want to thank you and confess that you might have thought that your gift all those years ago was a spiteful jibe at a little girl for whom you held no love. The gift of hate wrapped up in the green paper of jealousy. A manifestation of a petty woman's insecurities tied up with a ribbon of meanness. But it wasn't. It was a gift. It was. It was the best birthday present that this little girl ever had. I am sitting here now, with those cars in my hand, that meant nothing to me on the day, I'll admit, and symbolised devastation and despair. I remember those emotions so keenly. But, you know, they became talismans for me, precious irreplaceable things, amulets of affection that sustained me and protected me from the steel of your eyes and the ice of your heart.
I miss him so much.
I'll never miss you.
It's time to go. The black times are truly over. I must fly. Literally. To my life with the motor racing jetset where I have finally found a place to be comfortable. Where I know I belong.
Rest in Peace or otherwise. Hell, probably. Whether you are alive or dead, I will never see you again. I am not sorry for my loss. There was never anything to lose, was there? It has to be given in order for it to be lost.
I'll lay the flowers in your arms that I brought as I depart. Perhaps the heady scent of them will bring you round. You liked them so much last time I bought the same, just for you, white and purple blooms for you to cradle and enjoy.
*Sindy was the British equivalent of Barbie in America.
About the author
Mum, blogger, crafter, reviewer, writer, traveller: I love to write and I am not limited by form. Here, you will find stories, articles, opinion pieces, poems, all of which reflect me: who I am, what I love, what I feel, how I view things.
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