This post deals with child sex abuse and might be triggering for some readers.
There is an image of my mother that will haunt me for the rest of my life.
She’s standing in the kitchen of my parents’ big rambling family home, clinging to the wall, crying. She’s hanging on to that kitchen wall with all the strength she has – an egg-sized tumour in her brain has taken away her balance. Without the wall to steady herself, she’ll collapse. If she tries to follow me, as I stride past her, she’ll fall and hurt herself.
We both know it. We both know that she is trapped there, in the kitchen, hanging on to the wall. And that if I leave, she might be stuck there for hours.
That morning her short grey hair is uncharacteristically unkempt. Her face is puffy. She looks terrified. It’s an awful, pitiful sight. This normally dignified woman in her early sixties, begging her daughter through sobs not to go.
I can’t bear to witness it. I avoid looking at her, determined to make it out the front door without giving in to her pleading.
If I stay, there are only two options: allow her to sweep everything under the rug again or lose my composure and spill 20 years’ worth of hurt right there on that kitchen floor. I don’t want to do either. I just want to get away.
We’ve been doing battle all night.
Though over what exactly, neither of us could tell you. The drugs they have given her to shrink the brain tumour strip her down to base emotion. To fear, rage and sadness. Last night it was rage. This morning it is fear.
She is begging me to at least turn and face her. To say goodbye before I leave.
That’s always been her rule – never leave the house in anger without saying goodbye, lest something terrible happens and you are left regretting the fact you parted on bad terms.
Ignoring her, I collect my keys and bag.
As I reach the front door, I hear her call out after me, ‘You need to be a more forgiving daughter.’
I don’t answer. I don’t look back.
I pull the front door shut behind me as I walk out, stumbling into the warm sun of a Monday morning. I get in my car and drive to work, bleeding exhaustion and sadness.
I didn’t stop or look back when my mother called out to me because she wasn’t asking me to forgive her for the rage and psychosis of the night before. Or at least, she wasn’t asking me to forgive her only for the night before.
Between the tears on her face and the cold of my back were 20 years’ worth of secrets and betrayal.
You see, when I was 12 a man twice my age used to sneak into my bedroom several times a week and go down on me. My mother knew, but she never spoke to me about it. And she never intervened to stop the abuse.
Now she is dying, and the past is rising to the surface like a bruise.