An open letter to my mom

Mom,

There are a million thoughts in my head that I’ve wanted to express to you, but the first and foremost is: why didn’t you protect us?

When we were little, why didn’t you step in and protect us from our dad?

I know you bought into the Patriarchal ideas of wifely submission, silence and obedience to your ‘man.’ I know under those teachings that every man is considered innocent as long as he’s a Christian and still a male… that it’s your fault if you’re bothered by something, and it’s your duty to shift your expectations, not his duty to change his behavior. But didn’t your conscious tell you that this kind of belief is toxic and damaging to your children?

I know under cult beliefs, it’s sinful to listen to your gut feelings, or you will get punished by God. But didn’t such a rule, even a rule about not listening to your gut feelings, make you want to listen to them anyway? Didn’t the tears of your children make you doubt that such a cult rule wasn’t expressly from God?

When I talk about the abuse from the past when I was a child, you act surprised, like you don’t know what I am talking about. I realize that out of protection of your own sanity, you had to make yourself blind to what was going on. But I know at times, you weren’t completely blind.

I’ve heard snippets of your conversations with your sisters when you went during the day to visit your own mom and I was young and pretended like I wasn’t listening and didn’t understand what you were talking about.

I saw you on the edge of tears, but you didn’t cry. I heard the frustration and confusion in your voice when you talked about how distant, uninvolved and uncaring our father was. How he cared more about his Vespa than he did about his own children. That he didn’t want you putting the birth announcements of his first two children in the newspaper. You were very careful not to vent details in front of us, though, so this is the only time in my life I heard you express your views on our family. But you never mentioned the abuse.

I remember your own sister, Aunt W. asking me intently if I was scared of my dad, and if he spanked too hard. I forget what I said, but I knew that my feelings or perspective of my father didn’t matter, even if I was scared of him, because he chose what my feelings were supposed to be, and of course, my feelings were supposed to be that I deserved any pain or punishment he dished out, and that God approved of his actions 100%. My answer must have passed my aunt’s inspection, because she let it go and said, “OK.”

I remember a lady at church asked me once if I felt safe in my own home, and if I had enough to eat. I was brainwashed to believe that being afraid was safe, so I said I was safe. The lady slipped us her phone number, and told me to call anytime if I needed anything. You were there, and heard, and told me to rip up the paper.

I know you were taught by the cult that “abuse” doesn’t exist, as God uses men to punish people because they deserve it, or because the abuse is a blessing from God to refine your character. But when you saw the tears in my eyes as I cowered in front of him, didn’t this pull on your heart strings?

I know you were taught in the cult that God will punish you as a mother if you try to go and help someone who has active “sin” in their life, even if that person is your own child. When I needed you and your help when I had nowhere to live and was sick, the Patriarch thought I wasn’t Godly enough because I wasn’t going to church, and he told you that you weren’t allowed to visit me, help me, or take me in. You had to choose between God and me, your own child. And you chose God. Was this a difficult choice for you?

I know how sad you were when the last three of us left the homestead, and you were alone with my dad for the first time in over 30 years. I wanted to reach out and invite you over to our apartment, or come and visit you, but I knew you weren’t allowed to visit us without the Patriarch beside you, and I didn’t want to see the Patriarch coming to visit the house.

You never told us how sad you were when we all left. You have such a sunny disposition and firm resolve to look on the bright side. Once you told me about how it was when we left. You said that you looked at the ground a lot for the first few years, and that you weren’t able to look up. And you said cheerily that you found a $20 bill on the Giant parking lot, and another time you found a $50 bill on another parking lot. You said you wouldn’t have found this money if you hadn’t been looking down. Your face was so wistful when you said this, but you weren’t even able to say you were depressed. You cover things up that bother you because you still don’t feel like you have a right to your feelings.

I wish I could give you the freedom to have a right to your feelings. You deserve to have your own perspective and your own voice!

When I was in the fourth grade, my life goal was to grow up, earn money and buy you a mansion with an intricate, wrought iron gate in the front and a long winding driveway. You would have plenty of people to wait on you, and the only thing you would need to do was tend the gardens out back. Of course, that wasn’t a chore because you love to garden. I always had this desire to see you happy, and I wanted to do everything I could to show you how grateful I was that you were my mom.

I used to think you were an angel. I always felt safe around you, even though the world and some parts of home life weren’t safe. You were nurturing and compassionate, with a quiet and calm voice. I have never heard you raise your voice in frustration or anger. I’ve never heard you yell, even when my brothers were fighting or the Patriarch was lashing out at you. I cried when he was verbally berating you, and wished I had a strong, roaring lion body so I could yell and scare him away.

I loved how caring and calm you used to be. You used to listen when I talked, and you were diplomatic knowing just the right thing to say. You were upbeat and sunny, and were able to find a silver lining automatically in any situation. You were determined and taught us how to go at something with tenacity, that we could do anything we set our minds to. You were friendly and easily approachable, and people gravitated towards you like the floor was tipped in your direction. I watched and listened and soaked up your ways as a kid. I’m lucky. The positive qualities I have, I learned from you.

You had compassion on someone as broken as the Patriarch, and you thought you could help him. He only drew you into his web and hoodwinked you, battered you, and us. We learned from you, Mom, to be gentle and sweet. And the cult taught us to take the Godly abuse and smile. It was “easy” for you because you are not a fighter, not a resister. You value peace. These are great traits. But they made you sizzle like an irresistibly prime juicy steak in the eyes of a Patriarchal man. In their eyes, you are the perfect kind of female, quiet, gentle and submissive.

And I grew up gentle and quiet and calm like you. I looked up to you and wanted to be exactly like you. And I was. I was a sitting duck. I had an invisible sign on my back that said, “Abusers! Pick me! I have no boundaries!”

Mom, I learned from you how to have no healthy boundaries. I learned watching you that boundaries are sinful and selfish. And I’ve paid the price with various men and different “authorities” in my adult life taking advantage of me, and me not resisting.

I don’t blame you, Mom. Sigh. I know you wanted the best for us. I know you were deceived. I know you think you are still doing God’s work. You still think it’s best to choose God over your own children.

I want to see beneath the veil, past the blindness, to your heart and true intent towards us. The dichotomy pulls me in two different directions. I am sad because of your choices. But at the same time I remember how good you were to us when we were young. Even though you didn’t protect us.

It was Mother’s Day not that long ago and you came to visit. Usually I feel comfortable around you. I wasn’t this time.

There is no neat wrap up to this letter. I really like tidy endings. But there will be none of that today. There are a lot of things I just don’t understand, especially how vicious you’ve been recently in the name of God. I don’t know who you are. I loved you my whole life, but I don’t know who you are now.

AJ

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