My mother gave no quarter. If it ever appeared like she had, she was merely playing the long game with you; a marker to be collected at some later date. She never forgot a perceived debt. For herself however, there was no end to the reasons that she wouldn’t/shouldn’t/couldn’t do the thing. Some of her favourites were:

– her awful childhood;
– she was poor;
– they did a bad thing, so she didn’t have to.

I don’t know the truth about her childhood. Most everyone involved is dead. She told so many stories. Although i’ve been able to disprove some, i can believe it was at least somewhat rough. Her family was the only non-practitioner of the favoured religion in a small community – in all the surrounding communities. Her father refused a business opportunity with his neighbours, temporarily putting the venture in jeopardy. Her mother wasn’t interested in church teas or local gossip or community activities. She was adopted, and it was during a time when such children were viewed with a jaundiced eye. Her parents were distant and not affectionate. She was of above average size for a girl, both thick and tall. Add to all that, her little brother was everyone’s favourite due to being the local baseball star.

While i don’t remember much until i was around 3, i can guess based on the memories that i do have that she probably used me as an excuse from the jump. I wouldn’t put it past her to have had me in part for that reason. In fact, i think she popped out 4 babies in quick succession with my stepfather so that she could avoid work, and anchor him to her. She may have tried to use me to keep my biological father, but it didn’t work. I was the reason she couldn’t get ahead, why she wasn’t living up to my grandparents’ expectations, why she couldn’t keep a man. I know she loved it when i was diagnosed with a moderate/severe form of childhood epilepsy, because i heard her expound at length to anyone who’d listen about my seizures and doctors appointments and how much time and worry and how was she supposed to pay for all the travel and special diet and medication? And when she began piling on the pounds and withdrawing from society, we were all constantly reminded of how tough she’d had it and how much tougher we were making it for her to be… Anything. Happy, healthy, financially stable, accomplished, attend some event she was invited to, be on time for an appointment. Everything. Excuses.

My takeaway was twofold. Because i was the “reason” my mother couldn’t achieve success, i learned that i needed an excuse for my very existence. I also learned something more insidious – that there were no excuses for me. There was a subconscious level at which i understood that my mother’s proffered exemptions were, as my generation might put it, lame. I couldn’t acknowledge, contemplate, or in any way live out that awareness, because it would put me in actual physical danger. But as it was for me with many things, i was able to tuck it away in a hidden compartment of my mind, that i’ve since been able to access and use. The insidious part of it was that, while i wasn’t aware of it, it seeped into my self-perception. The result was that for decades, i knew that there was no excuse for how fucked up i was, due to those unconscious, internalised messages. Well, that and growing up observing my mother’s liberal use of disingenuous ones.

What i know now is that, for me, there is no excuse for her level of abuse and neglect of me. As for the rest (e.g. whether or not there’s an excuse for how dysfunctional she was, or how abusive and neglectful she was to my sibs), i either don’t concern myself with it, or don’t consider it my place to judge.

~Background, set.~

Today, after decades of therapy and internal work, i’m learning to apply the knowledge i’ve gathered, using methods i’ve developed that suit the way my brain works. I’m an overthinker, which is part my personality, and part mental illness/neuroatypicality. When thinking deeply about myself, life, the universe, and everything, this only becomes a problem if i get stuck in the mud and i’m just spinning my tires. I can easily recognise that state by rising anxiety, and the same thoughts echoing, over and over inside my head. I’ve even found a way to test if my perception is accurate. I pick up whatever book is currently on my side table and start to read. If i struggle to finish a paragraph, if fragments of the sentences are repeating, bouncing around in my thoughts and i’m unable to catch them and make any sense of the words – then i know i’m in Overthinky Land.

These days of global self-isolation have afforded me even more time than usual to think. At first i felt dread, Oh no, here we go again… I worried that i’d become so entangled in my thoughts that i’d lose myself to them. Lose control of my thoughts, my brain, my system. Lose control of the face, lose time, lose myself. I didn’t, though. Being an introvert and a veritable hermit when the pandemic hit was a boon. I didn’t have to change the way i lived, much. And my reasons for living so long in near-complete seclusion had both prepared me for our current reality, and allowed me to continue my personal inner work.

~End Scene One~

What i’m experiencing in my life over the last year would be my mother’s wet dream. The pandemic would provide an easy and legitimate excuse for any and all purposes. She had a tough childhood, she’d experienced severe poverty (not with her parents, but at her own doing), she had health issues (which were also, to some degree her own doing), and now OMGTEHPANDEMICSHALP!!!!11!1

I, however, am not my mother. I am, through serious, long term effort and commitment, a decent human of my own creation. I see where i came from and how that moulded me into the dysfunctional adult that i was, and i’ve gone to great lengths to become a functional human. A decent one too, i think. There is more work yet to do though (of course, and always shall be), and here i stand, seeing the choices arrayed around me, like open, upturned faces in the audience at my one-woman show.
They’ve watched the prologue, and sat silently through the first act. The lights are dimming on their expectant faces and i’m moving to centre stage to begin Act Two.

Will it be more of Act One? It could be. I could still weave an interesting tale. I’m entertaining and charismatic, and folks would walk away feeling they’d seen a good performance, probably even (dare i say) excellent. But i took big risks my first 2 appearances in the spotlight, just by the straight up telling of it. If i give them more of the same, well… I’ve already given them 2 sad songs (you’ve gotta know my show is a musical, right?) Why not take another chance, and why not make it a big one? I could strut out on that stage and give ’em a real showstopper. A number that’s not exactly a twist, more like an exciting plot development.

If you come to my show you get more than the price of admission. You’re going to get my best. I’m headin’ to Broadway for a long run.

Cue music!
Curtain up!

Aaaand LIGHTS!

NO EXCUSES

IMAGE: Barry Weatherall

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