how i divorced my mother in three easy steps

Originally published August 2015 at but the site has now gone dark, it is now reprinted here.

Mother/daughter relationships are always fraught.

My mother never dated until she met my father. At age 29, she gets married. At age 30, I am born. They get divorced.

3 or 5. I am standing next to my mother hopping up and down because I have a question to ask. I do not remember the specifics. I do remember toddler me neeeedddeeeeeddd to know but I was also afraid for the answer. So I asked. The answer was “no.” It was not the “no” of a parent shooing a child from some danger, or because the child was too young, or some other kind of parental “no.” It was the “no” from someone who could not be bothered.

9, 10, or 11. I am grounded. (Do parents still ground their kids now? It seems so antiquated.) I am not grounded for days or even for weeks, but for a total of 18 months. Infractions pile up like dirt to form a hill. Some of the infractions are things like forgetting to dry the dishes before a set time. Not watching my brother as closely as I should. Taking the rap for something my brother did. I cannot leave the house. Family cannot take me on trips. I cannot have friends over. A birthday party is canceled.

I read. A lot.

14 or 15. My mother swoons over me. You’re so pretty. You have boyfriends. You have all the things I could never do. I am so jealous of you. She plies me with compliments while withholding important teenage items. I’m not allowed to get a drivers license. She will not buy me school clothes, supplies, or give me cash for class trips. I start working at the mall busing tables for a chain restaurant. My father helps me when he can.

16, 17, and 18. She joins a dating service and starts a relationship with a man 20 years older. She is gone from our house a lot and often overnight. She leaves money to buy groceries, the nearest store is a mile away, and I have no car. Thankfully my younger brother can get to and from school on a bus. It is decided we will move in with him and I’m given space in a finished basement. His 29-year-old son watches me like a hawk. That is a different story.

I try to emancipate myself. I fail.

17. I am a few years away from my bipolar diagnosis. I try to commit suicide using my mother’s antidepressants. I am found by friends who call 911 and feed me greasy hamburger to force me to throw up. Mother is called at work to come take care of me and she’s angry. So very angry. I leave with my friends to take a walk, smoke a cigarette. She locks me out of our house. After banging on the door for what seems like hours, she answers and tells me matter of factly the next time I want to kill myself to use knives instead of her drugs. If a friend had not been there to hear her statement, I would have thought it was all a dream.

18. I dropped out of school several times and I was bullied when I came back the third time. It is decided I will move to Canada to be with my father if I want to finish high school. This nicely juxtaposes my being kicked out. I do not do well in Toronto. I smoke a lot. I cry a lot. My father, who has never spent more than a few days with me, is helpless. I am allowed to go back home after the school year has ended. I am ever so glad to be back in the States but there are conditions. There are always conditions. I have to get a job. I have to have a car. I have to pay rent. I have to take care of my brother.

19 – 24. It’s the same story, different year. I am always in trouble. Nothing changes. I have been diagnosed bipolar and with a side of depression but the drugs make me suicidal. I write furiously. I am awake for days on end. I chain-smoke endlessly. My grandfather dies and she refuses to attend the funeral. There is hush hush about his beating and raping my grandmother. They all pretend everything is grand and he gets the send off of the decade. They always think the kids never know, and yet, we do.

25. I move to San Francisco. I move in with a self-proclaimed dominatrix who could not dominate her cat. I get a job, I stop speaking to both of my parents.

I suppose I should mention at this point my mother had wrapped so many lies like presents about my father for so long, I believed him to be an evil man. It was after his death that I realized his goodness. I cry every year on his death anniversary.

25 – 30. For my 26th or 27th birthday, I receive a large envelope from her containing my birth certificate, her divorce papers, my immigration papers, and other random paperwork. Friends in attendance are puzzled. I have still have that envelope and it is stored amongst my more favorite things as some kind of reminder of something. I’m never sure what.

I move to Washington D.C.

30. My father dies. I contact her for the first time in five years. She says nothing.

32. I move back to Michigan, from where I have been for most of my life. I have come full circle. She is living in a small converted apartment in a building that used to be a motel. I am pacing outside and smoking. July 4th of my 32nd year, my mother tries to commit suicide by overdosing on insulin. The ambulance drivers assume I’m the one in crisis. I direct them to my mother. She arrives at the psychiatric hospital. I am outside having a cigarette and I overhear the intake nurses discussing whether or not to admit her because they do not want to do the paperwork. I cough loudly. They admit her.

I go back to college that winter.

32 – 36. I graduate from college. She and her sisters and brother attend but stay away from the party. It’s too noisy they say. Too many people. Too much drinking. I am disheartened.

She has another bought of suicide. She has no money. My father left me a small trust with the explicit instructions none of the funds go to my mother. I lie to my trust manager and send her a $1000 a month to pay for rent, groceries, and other necessities until she can get disability. This goes on for three years.

36. The disability money has come in. She has received a check for nearly $50,000 as it includes the back pay. I never expected to be paid but with finishing my first master’s, having a few grand in my bank account would be nice. She buys me a new laptop. I do not receive a cent after the purchase. She gives my brother $10,000 towards a new truck and money towards his credit card debt. He did not contribute a dime to her care.

38. I am married. She is annoyed my brother has to drive 2.5 hours to my wedding. They are sullen and demanding. They do not speak to any of the other guests.

39. My husband and I move back to the city that sporadically raised me. She is in a non-assisted housing. My brother and I give her money to supplement her pension, we drive her around, we invite her over for dinner. We put up the façade that all of this is normal like everyone else. We are so desperate to believe the fairy tale.

40. Things are getting terse. More demands that cannot be met as we have full time jobs and our own expectations. We arrive at her 70th birthday dinner at a low end chain steak house. She demands presents. She demands we pay for it (we already were, so…), she demands her cake and eat it too, which we try to quell her demands due to her health. She does not care.

When I was 15, she tells me there are rumors my father had molested me when I was younger. People were allegedly concerned when he and I traveled because I was his late in life child. They thought I was kidnapped. She goaded me into asking him about the molestation, his outrage over the phone and my facial expression in the mirror is a still image in my head. A paused movie.

I am sitting in my office one day, my husband and I are talking about the disaster of her birthday dinner. I tell my husband and we agree no more communication with my mother ever again.

Something triggers a memory. I freeze.

So I thought, “If she speculated he may have abused me, what mother would continue to send her child back to a monster. If she speculated he did not abuse me, why would she lie?”

That, as they say, was the end of that.

I have painted her to be an ogre of a woman, which is partially true. She is an unmedicated bipolar and her illness is taken into account but there is only so much one can expect to tolerate from her behavior. It could be argued my memories are riffed with holes. I struggle to find the good times. To find some redemption amongst the bad. It is often thought if there is no physical bruise, there is no abuse. She is seen as the pillar in the communities she has represented. I was the drug taking, whoring daughter who would come to no good. When I received my second master’s, she told everyone she was the one who helped me go far in life. She had not contributed a single thing, verbally or otherwise.

My brother often pleads with me to reconnect, forgive her, to reconcile the past. At a recent dinner party, he was angry because she was in the hospital, for the third or fourth time, with congestive heart failure and I had not made the effort to see her. “How could I know?,” I asked. He shot back, “I texted you on this date and you never responded.” I scroll through my texts and do not see the texts he claims to have sent. I show him my phone. “Doesn’t matter. You should have been there.” I left and have not talked to him since.

I know she is still alive. I know she is out of the hospital. I spy on her spending habits since my name is on her checking account. And when she dies, I will be at her funeral.

Mother/daughter relationships are always fraught. Some more than others. I feel no guilt. No remorse. Barely any empathy. It was her or me. I choose me.