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  • My relationship with my mother has always been full of secrets and lies, and to this day we both remain mysteries to each other. When I learned a few weeks ago that she didn't have lung cancer, my response was a mixture of anger and disappointment, not your typical loving daughter's attitude. As I listened to the message my brother left for me giving me the news, my head began pounding, and my breath became short and constricted. Suddenly I was in panic mode, overcome by anxiety and a sensation of gloom, which was somehow fitting since I found myself then in the middle of Times Square walking against the never-ending tide of rush hour commuters.

    My mother always has this crushing effect on me: negation, invisibility, silencing. As a result, my inner life has largely been hidden away in books, classical and indie music, and in journal after journal after journal. Words and art she can't touch, remote aspects of me and my many loves she'll never ever reach.

    When I look at her---and it pains me to do so since, while technically still young at 69, she's literally wasting away and debilitated---I think what a stupid waste of life and relationships. Every time I reflect on it I feel angry and hurt at the same time.

    Although it's taken many years, my mother's become a teacher to me, and here are some of the things I've learned from her troubled life:

    --You can never change anyone. They must decide for themselves to get help and do that difficult work.
    --Despite all my efforts to be kind, loving, generous, and compassionate, the other person may reject me outright in the cruelest and coldest of ways.
    --Some people will never see me or receive my love.

    Alas, it's so hard for me to accept that my mother is lost to me, that, tragically, we never knew each other. Was this picture of us, taken when I was probably three, the closest I ever got to her??

    Of course she's not aware of what she's taught me. These lessons are further secrets. She'll never ask for forgiveness. She'll never begin to penetrate the secrets or unpeel all of the layers of pain, brokenness, misery--the memories of holidays ruined by her anxieties and mood swings, of vacations tempered by her drinking, of her countless monotonous days of waiting and doing nothing, with no agenda, no project, no pets, hobbies, dates with friends or loved ones. Tragically, she's been trapped in the same routine for years, as someone who's suffered from severe depression that's gone untreated for decades. Of course she's paid the price, and so did my father, who died at 56 from pancreatic cancer, and her two children.

    My response to having a mother like her was to go underground--submerge, subsume, subvert--do whatever it took to simply survive....In the end, it made me a writer, and for that I am so grateful, as well as for whatever drove me to be a traveler and seeker, someone who kept pursuing new things, welcoming change, and kept being unafraid to fail and then fail better, to paraphrase Beckett. I believe that experiencing all this pain and battling of wills, not to mention doing several years of work on myself, made me a better person, utterly cracked me open to reveal to me my own fledgling ability for self-compassion and love.

    Her shunning relationship increased my hunger for it. Her negativity made me want to find the good and look for traces of hope, no matter what. Her rejection of her body and sexuality only deepened my curiosity and awareness around embodied experiences. Her relentless self-destructive ways have made me something of a health nut and passionate advocate of self-care. Her inability to love has meant that I've sought its every expression, pulsation, circuitry.

    I am not you, Mom. I am defiantly, powerfully, exuberantly ME. You are not my model. Sadly we'll never have a heart-to-heart. It appears that we'll just go on telling our white lies and deceiving ourselves until the end.
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