When the image I see in the mirror isn’t only my own…

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Sometimes, when I look in the mirror I see her.  Her. It’s not just my own reflection staring back at me anymore, but hers as well now.  It turns my otherwise innocuous bathroom mirror into the equivalent of one you would find in a so-called funhouse.  It warps, it bends, it is anything but “fun”.

I hear her in my voice sometimes, too. In a laugh, an expression I say, in the intonation or cadence of how I speak – and a shiver instantly goes through me when I recognize it.  When I hear her coming out of me.  It is upsetting to recoil at the sound of your own voice.

There are gestures I made, stories I tell, the how chubby my hands are – so many parts of me that remind me of her.  And it is difficult to separate the resentment, and anger, and pain I feel towards her and make sure not to turn it on myself – to stop myself from shining a spotlight of self-loathing on these things that she has that I now have, too.

I share with her DNA, genetics, molecules – life at its most base level.  I share with her history, memories – things I have no control over.  I share the reflection in the mirror with her – but that is only glass. It is only one dimension of who I am and that is all.  I need to remind myself of that.  I need to remember that the sound of my voice and my handwriting and the cellulite on my thighs are as much a part of who I am as they are who she is.

And I need to remind myself that these are the only things I share with her now.  I don’t share my life, or my marriage, or my children, or my accomplishments, or my setbacks, or my fears, or my dreams with her.

I don’t share her perspectives on how to treat people.  I don’t share her outlook on what love is and how to show it.  I don’t share holidays or birthdays or anniversaries with her.  It was their anniversary this weekend and I had forgotten until the very end of the day – and that was an accomplishment for me.  It was so freeing in a strange way.  So many people in the world strive to remember things – as do I – but this, her, I want to forget.

She hasn’t seen her grandchildren in over two years.

They don’t remember her anymore.  They don’t remember either of them.  Last month I was at a gas station and a man was at the pump across the way and Parker pointed to him and said “That looks like your dad.”  And he did.  And I asked her how she knew, and she said “From the pictures on the computer.”

That’s who they are now.  People they see in pictures on the computer.  “Your mom.” “Your dad.”  Not Grandma, or Grandpa, or Nana, or Poppie.  They are “those people.”

And I think that it is better this way.  I know it is.

I wrote her a letter in April of 2012 telling her that I was walking away.  That it wasn’t healthy to be around her, that it wasn’t safe for me or for my family anymore.  I asked her to respect my wishes – not to call, or email, or show up at the door as she had in the past.

And she didn’t do any of those things.  She didn’t call, or email, or show up at my door when my grandmother passed away six months later – I found out from my cousin.  She didn’t call, or email, or show up at my door when Owen had that horrible diagnosis a month after that.  She didn’t contact me, or anyone else, to find out if he was okay. If we were all okay after another bomb had been dropped yet again.  She didn’t call, or email, or show up at my door for any of the four birthdays that her grandchildren have had since then.

For the first time in my life, she has listened to me.  She has respected my wishes.

And this brings me great relief.  And at the same time it brings me great sadness for my children that she didn’t fight for them. And I realize that those are mutually exclusive, and unfair to ask for from the same person, but I have earned that.  She took her pride and her martyr complex and chose them above all else – as she always does.

And all of this mirrors what I feel when I look in the mirror.  I see someone I despise, that I fear.  And I see someone that I am getting to know, and trying to love.  And while my exterior may reflect hers back in the mirror, I take comfort in knowing that our interiors could not be more different.

Comments

  1. says

    It saddens me as a mother:grandmother that it has taken this route BUT if it is important for you to have a healthy life for you and your family that comes first. Anything toxic wipe out ONLY positive energy
    Fern

  2. alison says

    We stopped speaking to my grandmother when I was around 10 and for about 7 years I couldn’t understand why she never tried to see us but, as I got older I began to understand the relationship my mother couldn’t explain to me when I wasn’t old enough to understand the damage she had caused emotionally to my mom. As an adult with my own children now I can see that it wasn’t fair of me to expect my grandmother to fight to see me and that it would have made things harder on my mom if she had. As Parker grows up I’m sure she will have questions as to where those grandparents are and you will find the right words to explain at the different times she asks.

    • says

      I know your family went through this too, Al. I appreciate that you’ve shared your story here and that you have some level of closure about it all. I’m hoping for the same for my children… xoxo

  3. katz37@optonline.net says

    Questions for a Blog-erFirst, Hi!Second- I look forward to reading your pieces, and I love them.You are an incredible writer, and from what I can tell, an incredible mother.Third- here’s my question: When your subject is your mom, I get really uncomfortable. Not because you’re wrong (or right), and not because you feel the way you do… but because it’s public.  Maybe because I’m of the pre- Facebook generation (where everything is posted and shared). Or maybe it’s the Rabbi in me (honoring parents- though not loving them- even when they are abusive, is a big Mitzvah; And not speaking Lashon HaRa- “bad things” about others -unless it is to prevent harm to a third party, is also a big Mitzvah.)  Yes, I know, that an artist (and a writer!) sometimes MUST express what they feel.  But there are things we do keep (or should keep)  private. Our sex lives, for example- (although that too may be changing- and I’m pretty sure that’s not a good thing). In my opinion, some things are only expressed to one’s spouse, and to one’s therapist.  So I would guess that you’re still working through things with your mother (and may be for the rest of your life). But why publicly, in front of thousands of others? Is any of this a way to hurt her (assuming that people will tell her or forward to her,  what you wrote?)  By being so explicit about what you believe your mom did to you, are you merely exocising a demon, or are you inadvertently keeping her a continuing presence in your life?  I would say: Either reconcile (not likely) or let her go. I would imagine that each time you write about her, you are keeping her alive within you…      Just wanted you to know what I was thinking. I can’t wait till I can see you published, with copies stacked up in Barnes and Noble. As always, looking forward to reading and learning what your kids are doing- how you are nurturing them, and how they are nurturing you!Much loveRabbi Michael Katz

    • says

      Thank you for your always thoughtful and thought-provoking insights, Rabbi Katz. These are exactly the reasons I love you dearly. You are honest, you make me think, you have never let me off the hook when you think that holding me accountable is in my better interest – always, all of this, with only good intentions for me. Some of what you have written, I agree with and other things not so much. The teachings if the Torah, and the responsibility I have to follow them is a sticky and tricky subject for me. I am still so unsure of it all, of my relationship to my religion and how far-reaching that is at this point in my life. For the social media and public consumption aspect – I agree that there needs to be a line drawn between what we share and what we don’t – BUT – I feel that line needs to be drawn by each individual and those parties affected. For me? Sex life is off the table. My childhood (for now) is on it. My mother was the one who told me numerous times “If you didn’t want people to know about it, you shouldn’t have done it in the first place.” There is so much that I share, and a disproportionately larger amount that I don’t. I write this for me, and maybe for all of those out there that have responded here or on Facebook or via email or smoke signal, to tell me that my words, my stories have helped them, have put words to their stories where they haven’t been able to. And that in turn helps me. When you make someone else feel less lonely, there is a karmic boomerang effect (I’m not sure of the Hebrew word/equivalent for “Karma”. As you know, I wasn’t exactly a star pupil in Hebrew School). And maybe this IS more than just an attempt to let her go… Am I hurt? Bitter and resentful, even? Yes. Am I trying to hurt her? No, not directly – though if it turned out it did, I cannot honestly say I would change anything. And while I’m sure that she reads this, this is for me. This is so I CAN let her go. So I can let go of all of these negative emotions. As for being explicit, I call it truthful. These things happened – and the more I put them into words, the more I give myself a voice, the more free I become from them. There is danger in silence, in secrets. sometimes it’s not enough to share with a person or two – sometimes it needs to be shouted from the (figurative) rooftops. Each word is a link I am breaking in those chains I felt bound by. I don’t know anyone that can walk away from a 34-year relationship – even one that’s abusive – without ever looking back. Sometimes, looking back can show you just how far you’ve come. Again, thank you for this – for your wisdom and for sharing it with me, and here… Jamie.

  4. says

    Oh Jamie. Such hurt. This hit me right in the gut – the pain. I wish families never had to be this way. My own grandmother didn’t meet us until I was five. She had no interest – still doesn’t. Just from her own bitterness. Ick. Love your bravery to share.

    • says

      Thank you, Tracy. It seems as though every family has a story like this – like yours, like mine. It’s a shame, but appears to be the case…

  5. sjgoldfarb says

    Heartbreaking, beautiful, and words stolen from my own mouth. I could have written this and have written something similar in my head 1,000 times. I also understand the need (and benefit) of sharing it publicly – and it is for this. To help those like me feel less alone – and for us to let you know, in return, that you are never alone in this. Mothering without a mentor is hard enough. Facing the missing mentor in the mirror and in the sound of your own voice is a special kind of challenge. Sending you strength – thanks, very much, for sharing.

    • says

      Wow. Just wow. Thank you so much for this – for letting me know that we share this, that I gave your emotions a voice in some small way. You are right – knowing that other people feel less alone as a result of my candor on here is indeed also comforting to me, as well. Thank you for getting it, and for letting me know that I “got” you…

  6. says

    I don’t presume to know you in any real way, but I think writing about her actually aids in releasing her. And when one writes as beautifully and honestly as you, surely other eyes that need to read this will find it. Also, I’ve known my grandmother since birth but she’s a bitter, mean woman who eventually pushed us out of her life once my grandfather passed away, so I didn’t gain anything by having what little presence she had in my life. A grandmother title does not a grandmother make…or something. 🙂
    xLara

    • says

      I think you know me better than you think you do, Lara. It IS freeing for me – every post I write here, each page in my book – they all allow me to let another piece of her go, and bring me more peace about both my past and my future. I DO hope that these stories find other people, that somehow there is healing for others when they know someone else is out there feeling this, processing this, moving on from this too. Thank you as always – I truly appreciate your perspective and that you are always so wiling to share it – both here and in your own wonderful writing… xoxo, j.

  7. says

    As others have said, I am sad that you and yoru mother are estranged but I also know that you wouldn’t choose this unless it was the best option for you – and I know you don’t make these choices without tremendous thought and heart. Sending you lots of love and you forge ahead into YOUR sunshine, YOUR life, with YOUR beautiful children. xox

  8. says

    I applaud you for having the courage to get all of this out and releasing it back into the world. It’s hard and messy, but you will be lighter for it. Your story intrigues me and I can identify with it to a certain degree. Please keep writing and working through your feelings about your parents. I just finished Kelly Corrigan’s memoir Glitter & Glue and it helped me frame things in a new way about my own mother. Writers bare their souls and that’s such a hard thing to do. Thank you for doing so. I can’t wait to read more of your words.

    • says

      Thank you so much, Tammi! I recently read Kelly’s memoir, The Middle Place and am looking forward to getting into Glitter & Glue soon! I am sorry to hear that there is any piece of this that you can identify with, and I truly appreciate your kind words. xo, j.

    • says

      Emily, this link that you sent me truly left me breathless. I ached as I read it, as all of the familiar tactics and sayings came back to me all at once. I appreciate that it was worth the heartache though – because reading it proved once again that it was NOT me, that it was HER, and that I am as far away from all of that pain as I will ever need to be. Thank you for sharing this here – hopefully others will read it and it will add to their healing process as well. All best… J.

  9. Shawna says

    I would just like to thank you for writing about this subject. I am in tears I have a very similar relationship with both of my parents. While I do not know your back story I am completely familiar with my children not knowing what it is like to have grandparents and it really breaks my heart and at the same time is a relief. So thank you so much it really helps to know I’m not the only one.

  10. Jennifer says

    You write beautifully, Jamie. I love finding a great writer, no matter what the subject is, because a great writer can make (almost) anything interesting. I count myself immensely lucky that I can’t relate at all to your childhood or your current relationship with your parents. No parent is perfect, but mine did all the important stuff right. I appreciate them even more when I’m reminded other kids weren’t as lucky. I’m going to read your older posts and I look forward to reading new ones!

  11. autumn says

    Thank you very much. I briefly read through the comments. But one did stick out why are you blogging this subject.. this is a great subject and obviously many people can relate. I know I can. My mother is now deceased. But I still see her. She haunts me. I promised myself that I would never be her. But I am her on the outside. I hate looking in the mirror. To know that you are a beautiful person but that you only see ugliness when you look in a mirror. I have over come many road blocks in my life, this is by far the hardest. I don’t look in the mirror and see a victim of neglect, mental, physical abuse, molestation or domestic violence. But I see her. I was unaware that other people suffer with this issue..

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