It’s taken me a generous distance, as well as a healthy break from the pain, to realize I don’t understand what my mom thought of me. In my earliest years, I believed she loved me, cause none of her demands were unreasonable. After all, children are often helpless and don’t even know what’s best for themselves. Then I grew up, and developed an identity of my own. That meant I had distinctive needs separate from hers, and she would deny every one of them unless they were in line with what she wanted. It was impossible for me to believe there was any love at all when she was the cause of so much of my pain. I’ve since come to realize that relationships are full of nuances, and that it’s possible to love someone wholeheartedly and be terrible for them at the same time.
The last time I saw my mom was on a trip she took to see me in Ottawa, along with a few other family members visiting from out of the country. I had table tennis practice one night, and instead of dropping me off, they decided to come watch. So five of us piled into her van, and halfway through the drive, my vision started growing blurry. I’d been working full shifts, then entertaining the guests every night, and my body decided it didn’t want to continue cooperating. With the aches getting sharper in my head, I told her I couldn’t play. She sharply asked why. I explained.
My mother has always been an emotional driver, and on top of that an “emotional” person when she doesn’t get her way. With me riding shotgun, she decided to make a U-turn into oncoming traffic. It was an attempt to go home in a huff, except there are things to consider when doing this in a vehicle, like the fact that everyone around you is also moving in their own giant metal sledgehammer. When we crossed over the median, I saw an SUV heading towards me at full speed, and in that moment, there was only the distinct realization that this is how I died. It was something I’d always wondered, and the satisfaction of my curiosity was greater than any sense of fear of what was about to happen1.
But we were saved by the grace and reflexes of the person driving the SUV, who slammed on his/her brakes, and there was no collision. My mom continued speeding back home in her mood, like she hadn’t nearly maimed us all. I knew in that moment she didn’t care about me or my well being; all she cared about was how she couldn’t show off her son in front of the family, and how that made her look.
I never looked her in the eyes after that. And when she left, I never saw her again. It was already her last chance. Proof that I still didn’t mean anything to her as a person, that I was just an ornament to her my entire life.
Fast forward many years later. A phase where I find myself learning about hate and forgiveness, how to let go of one and practice the other. I decide to contact her again, letting her know that I’m not ready to forgive her yet, but I’m open to talking. She asked what there was to forgive, as if she had no idea what she did wrong. I thought it was an odd thing to say; after all, how did she explain why we hadn’t spoken in years? I made no assumptions though, and brought up a few things to refresh her memory, the incident above being one example.
All she could say was that she was going through a difficult marriage, so I should understand why she acted the way she did. Then she meekly tried to mask her guilt with excuses about making sacrifices for me, as if a child’s acceptance or forgiveness is something that can be bought and this is why she owes me nothing. Through it all, she refused to apologize, or even acknowledge that she ever hurt me. Perhaps saying sorry would mean admitting to herself that she’s done these horrible things to her only child, her fault things got so bad he cut off all ties, and that reality would be too difficult for her to deal with. To this day, she’s in complete denial about her role in any of my suffering, and she doesn’t even care enough about me to feel bad about it.
I’m learning to accept that my mom would rather give up the chance at reconciling than do something as simple as apologize, cause it means her sense of pride is more important to her than her only child. This is exactly what makes her a bad parent. Separating myself from her so many years later was just as easy as the first time.
If only I wasn’t still dealing with the after-effects of her influence; I’m only now learning not to judge myself the way she did the entire time we were in contact, how not to hate myself for being less than perfect, how not to feel worthless when I don’t have constant validation. So many of my demons can be traced back to her. Parents are supposed to nurture, instilling strength and confidence and stability, while helping their children explore a sense of identity. Instead, she dangled love and favour and reward in front of me only if I met some ridiculous standard in school or played the piano or did exactly as she bid. Otherwise, I was a bad person, the child she didn’t want.
It’s been somewhat traumatizing to re-experience these triggers again when trying to resolve issues I’m dealing with now. Sometimes I hate myself for being so broken, but it’s easier to forgive my mistakes and accept myself when I realize such a toxic person has had so much influence on my life.
- Although maybe that was also cause I knew it was a situation completely out of my control. [↩]
I have to write this so I can admit it to myself.
I have to write this because I can’t think of anything else nowadays, except for how hard it is to get out of bed in the morning.
I’ve been reading a book my therapist recommended to me a long time ago, the one that deals with lifetraps. In one of the first chapters, it goes through each lifetrap by first explaining a “core need”, which is something a child should have in order to thrive. It goes through examples on how we should have been raised, and how a healthy mind will grow from that. Then it explains how the lifetrap may develop if that core need isn’t met, by giving examples of destructive childhood environments.
And for almost every lifetrap in the book, I saw my own childhood in those examples of destructive environments, such as the one about “Self-esteem”:
Self-esteem is the feeling that we are worthwhile in our personal, social, and work lives. It comes from feeling loved and respected as a child in our family, by friends, and at school.
Ideally we would all have had childhoods that support our self-esteem. We would have felt loved and appreciated by our family, accepted by peers, and successful at school. We would have received praise and encouragement without excessive criticism or rejection.
But this may not have happened to you. Perhaps you had a parent or sibling who constantly criticized you, so that nothing you did was acceptable. You felt unlovable.
As an adult, you may feel insecure about certain aspects of your life.
When I was reading that, all I could think of was one specific incident from my childhood. I was young enough that my mom would bathe me, and she would do it in the en suite bathroom of the master bedroom. One day, she came to dry me off with a towel, and both the bathroom door and the bedroom curtains were open. I told her to close the door, because I was self-conscious about being seen naked by the neighbours across the street. I was really upset about it, and instead of walking two feet to close the door, she laughed and said, “You’re no Tom Cruise”, and left it open. From that point, I’ve had this irrepressible feeling that I’m never attractive enough for someone to even be interested in seeing me naked.
And that was just one example. My childhood was filled with so many such memories, each one branching into other lifetraps.
I’ve never wondered why I have self-esteem issues. I fucking hate how self-conscious I am, because I know the extent of that self-consciousness isn’t normal. I’ve struggled with issues like that my entire life, and I can trace everything back to my parents. It fills me with rage to know that they damaged me to the point where I feel so overwhelmed by my flaws that sometimes I’d rather be dead.
If I were ever to commit suicide — and at this point I feel like I can’t rule out the possibility of this anymore — I’d say that my parents would be 55% responsible1, with my mom sharing more of that blame than my dad.
I hope she reads this one day. I hope my entire family reads this. I hope all my cousin’s moms read this, because they usually try to defend her. I want everyone to know that if I die by my own hand one day, I blame my mom more than anything else in the world. I want parents to know that they have a responsibility to their kids because they’re people too, that they have to treat them properly, and that I was an example of what happens when you don’t.
This is starting to sound like a suicide note, and it’s scaring me. Good thing I’ve always been a rational person, and I still recognize that suicide is an irrational decision for me at this moment. Sometimes, I watch suicide videos just to shock myself into realizing how final, irreversible, and horrible that decision is.
I’m at a lot better than where I was two years ago, before I went to therapy, but I’m still far from being fixed. I can admit that to myself now.
- The other 45% being my own inability to deal with these things, but I attribute that to temperament, which is inborn and hence not their fault. [↩]
A few weeks ago, I received a package wrapped in brown paper at work. It took me a few moments before I recognized the return address; from the woman who birthed me (I prefer not to use the term “mom” anymore). I didn’t want to open it, because my first suspicion was that it was a box of ears. Why ears? Well, I’ve seen Oldboy, and let’s just say that in the movie, the main character does something similar as an act of penance to someone he wronged.
This woman can also have a twisted sense of logic, and it wouldn’t me surprised if she cut off her ears, along with someone else’s, to show that she was trying to make up for the way she treated me by punishing herself, along with another poor, unfortunate soul who donated their ears to the cause. But it was heavy, and curiosity frequently gets the best of me, so I opened it, and discovered it was a box of mooncakes. Four mooncakes, to be precise, and the expensive kind with the double yolk. Then I realized it was the Mid-Autumn Festival, so this kind of delicacy wasn’t so out-of-the-ordinary.
My next thought was that they were laced with arsenic. Who knows what this woman is thinking; every now and then she goes fucking crazy. I told my office-mate, who said, “They aren’t poisoned! Your mom’s just trying to reach out to you.” I didn’t believe her, so she said she’d take one home and feed it to her family to prove it to me.
Unfortunately, my co-worker is only in the office once a week. So there I was at home on the weekend, with these delicious, though potentially poisoned, mooncakes on my counter, waiting to see my co-worker in six days so she could tell me if she started developing any signs renal failure.
Part of me was also thinking I should just throw them out. By eating them, I was accepting the gesture by this woman — in other words, forgiving her — which was definitely not the case.
The thing is, I’ve always had a weakness for mooncake. Those heavy, delicious little pastries that are only made more special by the fact that they’re only available twice a year (the other time being Chinese New Year).
So I told myself she was just repaying part of the debt she caused from mental anguish, and there went my pride. I ate just eat a little piece — an eighth of one cake — and waited a few hours to see if I started experiencing vomiting, nausea, or seizures. Then one piece led to another, and by the time I knew it, half a cake was gone.
This was supposed to be a picture of a box of mooncakes, but this is all I have left now.
I’m still alive.
If you beat a dog, don’t be surprised if he runs away.
—letter to my uncle, March 2008
When I was a child my mom would always ask me if I’d let her live in a nursing home. She would do this as a form of reassurance, a way of addressing her insecurity about dying alone. To Chinese people, this is a fate worse than death. I understand that there may be medical conditions or other circumstances that make it impractical for a family member to live in your house, but that doesn’t change the fact that being put in a nursing home is like waiting to die.
At the time, I was too young to understand the gravity of such a question, so I would always reassure her, no. Maybe I even loved her at that point, and meant it. But I’ve since cut off all ties with her, and after the divorce, she has no one left. Her relatives lead their own lives, and she’s never had enough of a personality to make any friends. I’ve lived with her long enough to understand what a hollow, empty existence she has.
Now I’m old enough to know that she’ll die alone.
And that it’ll be exactly what she deserves.