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A letter to my mother

by Louise Ortega 2 months ago in family · updated 2 months ago
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The narcissist in my life

I visited you recently, along with my twenty year old daughter. We haven’t seen each other in over three years, due to COVID and distance. My brother also visited. We had not seen one another in ten years.

Within minutes of arriving you started being unpleasant to me. My daughter and I were sharing a small room, and I asked if you could remove a chair that was in the room to give us more space, a reasonable request. This infuriated you, and you snapped at me. Your need to always be in control, and right at all times was immediately in jeopardy.

My brother and I sat together, chatting, catching up with small talk and big announcements. He has had no relationship to speak off with my daughter, and they spent some time talking about their similar music tastes. A normal family meeting after a long separation. You rushed from one room to the next, gasping in your frenzied rush to put the meal you had organized three weeks in advance on the table. Stepping from the kitchen into the sunroom we were seated in, you interrupted us repeatedly mid-sentence, hands on hips like a petulant toddler. If we tried to continue our conversation you shouted over us in annoyance. We were interfering with your agenda!

Your agenda is control. Food, for you, equals control.

We spent seven nights in your house. I received up to twenty messages a day before we arrived with lists and questions regarding our food preferences. I asked for two or three things, you refused to get any of them.

All you talked about the entire week was food. What you eat, what you expected us to eat three days in advance, and trying to force us to eat any leftovers. My daughter ordered Indian food on the second night. She eats until she is full, and saves leftovers. I have never expected her to clear her plate, and have never once forced food on her, a frequent cause of tears and angst during my childhood. Every day you demanded that she finish the leftover rice. The rice offended you. You could not stand that there was food in your fridge that you had no control over. My daughter did not eat it, partly to see how you would react. I had warned her in advance of your obsession with control. You got angrier and angrier as the week went on, over a little foil box of rice sitting on the shelf in your fridge. You mentioned it every time you opened the refrigerator door.

The irony is, you maintain your weight religiously. I am overweight, which you love to point out to whoever will listen.

You also sent me a list of demands by text before this visit of how you expected me, your fifty four year old daughter, to behave in your home. Nothing like making us feel welcome. These instructions included not running water or leaving lights on, things that will send you into a rage.

Everything sends you into a rage, you see.

I had one caveat in return…do not body shame me or my daughter. I was amazed you had the self control to not comment during our entire stay, a record for you. I am usually greeted with a cry of look at the size of you! before you even say hello.

Your need to control extended to the room we were staying in, and our belongings. Because it is your house, which you make sure to point out several times a day. You were horrified that we removed things from our suitcase, and spread them out on the limited surfaces available. You, as usual, refused to clear any closet space for us, and expected us to keep all our clothing in our suitcases, or hang them awkwardly on the outside of the closet door. You claimed that no one sees any of your belongings if you are a house guest. I commented that this is not normal. You sneered, as you consider your behavior as a guest far superior to mine.

Every move I made you criticized me, and crowed how you do things better than me. Properly. According to you I am incapable of running water in the sink correctly, applying hand lotion, making a bed, taking a shower, or eating. Properly is a frequent word in your vocabulary. Every choice I made you said I was wrong, a knee jerk reaction of yours that irritates me intensely. Your manic anxiety creates scenarios that prove to you I am incapable of making any informed decision.

My older brother is your Golden Child. His intellect is astonishing. He is a mathematical genius, with a photographic memory. Brag worthy, in your eyes. And boy, did you brag.

He is also a recovering alcoholic, who has started to drink again. This worries me, and my heart hurts for him. We have a similar history of depression. He also has a history of long periods of unemployment.

I was compared and found wanting my entire childhood.

We both grasp that the disparity in how we are treated is not his fault, and I harbor no resentment towards him. Several times we looked at each other during one of your rants, and shook our heads in commiseration. I cringed as you forced the last few inches of an open bottle of wine on him, intent on throwing the bottle away before the evening ended.

Each time we lined up to take family photos, you stepped to the end of the line and leant into my brother, leaving me on the opposite side of him, instead of standing between your two children. My friend jokingly suggested it was so you could cut me out of the photo later. You left your granddaughter on the far end of the line. I eventually pointed this out, and you appeared completely unaware you were acting in a hurtful manner.

One evening we were sitting in the sun room as the evening light faded. The sun was hitting both my brother and I straight in the eyes. You got up to adjust the curtains. To the left, I suggested. You snarled at me in pure rage to wait a fucking minute. Your reaction was completely out of proportion to the minor issue. I commented mildly to my brother about how you speak to me, you verbally attacked me shouting I speak in a worse manner to you.

The thing is, I don’t.

I left the room and stayed upstairs until the next morning, furious, yet strangely detached. Ten years ago, I would have been packing my suitcase with bitter tears streaming down my face, muttering curses under my breath while hunting for the next flight. I read extensively before I arrived about narcissistic behaviors, and was far more able to rise above the situation, and observe.

When I opened my bedroom door the next morning, you were standing in the hallway with your hands on your hips, glaring at me, ready to argue again. I refused to engage.

A week that should have involved languid conversations about family, memories of childhood, and catching up became the usual nightmarish week of verbal attacks, harsh criticism and avoidance. My daughter begged to escape every day to get away from you, which I found terribly sad. She saw what I had alluded to throughout her childhood. As an adult she was able to see how far I have come, and why I fled at nineteen, never to return. I hope she sees I made a valiant effort to not pass toxic behaviors down.

The morning we were getting ready to leave you rushed around washing dishes and stripping sheets from beds, trying to remove all trace of us from your home before we had even left. You could have spent a final quiet hour with your granddaughter that you barely see. Tidying up was far more important to you. Things hold far more weight in your mind than loved ones.

On the train back to London you sent both my daughter and I photos of the room we had stayed in, delighted with yourself that it looked like we had never been there. My beautiful peaceful girl looked at me in confusion, asking what message she was supposed to take from this.

I wondered over the course of our stay whether you noticed what a healthy relationship I have with her. We did not exchange harsh words once. My only annoyance was the length of time it took her to get ready each day, but my annoyance stemmed from you expecting us to eat on your timeline, something that is completely unheard of in our home. We eat when we are hungry, not when it is ‘mealtime.’ She was on vacation, and I wanted her to relax and do things at her own pace. This is unacceptable to you.

You used the word placid to describe my daughter. I know your code. You consider her easy to manipulate, a pushover, unthreatening. I am a threat to your equilibrium. You hate me because you cannot push me around. What you have not taken the time to see, is that my daughters are made from the same steel that helped me to survive your years of verbal abuse. That gave me the strength to leave and never return, to forge a new life for myself not once but twice, in two foreign countries without a relative to turn to. To survive an abusive relationship while searching for love in all the wrong places. To build a safe home with a good man you dislike simply because you cannot control him.

I can finally see you are mentally ill, a classic narcissist with a severe need for control. In your mind you are the only important person in any room. Distance, therapy and years of deep depression have allowed me to see through you. Part of me wants to forgive you. But your lack of self awareness is astonishing. You know what you do, yet you continue to mock, berate and shame me at every opportunity.

As a daughter, this was and still is, deeply painful.

As a mother, this is unforgivable.


About the author

Louise Ortega

Writer, photographer, teacher. Lost in thought, a camera in my hand.

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