by Chana Klein
Here she is again.
My jaw tenses.
I am at an OA (Overeaters Anonymous) meeting.
I intentionally came to a meeting different from the one I had attended yesterday just so that I wouldn’t end up in the same place that my mother is.
Obviously, she too was looking to go to a meeting where I wasn’t.
And here we are again at the same meeting.
It’s torture for me.
I came to the meeting to participate and share.
We all know that it’s not about the food.
It’s about how we deal with stuff.
And I need to share.
But here she is again, my mother.
Memories of being ten years old and wishing so hard for a mother who wanted me. Memories of being beaten and left.
And of my friend Eleanor’s mother taking me to the hospital.
Then, waiting endless hours on the stretcher outside the x-ray room,
Being brought back and forth to the x-ray machine for two days and nights until the police found my mother to sign for a surgery.
Osteomyelitis set in for which the protocol at the time was to amputate (my left leg at the hip.) My mother, likely, by some act of God, signed for a surgery and not for the advised amputation.
But then it was clear to me that she wanted no part of me.
Several years later, by another act of God, I was able to walk again.
It has been many years since I had seen my mother.
And now, in my 30’s, having moved to Los Angeles, she seems to be showing up every place that I am.
I join a gym to do aerobics.
I stretch, standing in the front row, directly in front of the mirror.
My eye catches the leopard leotard of the woman next to me.
My eyes travel up to the woman’s face.
It’s my mother.
In Los Angeles, there seems to be a gym on almost every corner.
But as it is turning out, my mother joined the same gym as I did.
And even though there is a class every hour, she is standing in the same class that I am standing.
And now she is standing in almost that same spot that I am standing.
Here we are, next to each other.
Feeling paralyzed, I try not to look at her. But knowing that she’s there makes it impossible for me to give the aerobic workout my usual bubbly energy.
I give up and leave the class early.
I walk into the locker room to change my clothes.
My stomach does a somersault.
There is my mother sitting on the locker bench, putting on her shoes.
In my effort to not look at her, I hadn’t noticed that she too left early, probably in an effort to avoid me.
She dashes out of the locker room.
Whew! She’s gone.
Having left the class early myself, I now have time to go to the copy store next to the gym.
I enter the store and head for the copy machine.
There’s my mother, right next to the copy machine, making a copy.
As I rush out the door, I hear her voice calling out to me.
From the doorway she screams,
“Don’t invite me to the Barmitzva!”
Flashbacks of 12 years ago fill my brain.
That means she remembers my attempt to call her to tell her that I gave birth to my second child.
Instead of the joy a grandmother would feel, she screamed at me on top of her lungs:
“You’re always giving me bad news!”
And hung up on me.
My knees buckled under me as I slowly put down the phone.
I couldn’t grasp it.
I never could.
It just ached so deeply.
It left me with such emptiness.
I envied young women who had the support of a mother when giving birth and when raising a child. I saw scenes in movies, the young mother giving birth and the anticipating, loving grandmother being there with her and for her.
But even before that, when I was a student in Brooklyn College, in my effort to make sense of this, I found the doctor who had been her psychiatrist when I was growing up, Dr. Etta Byrd. I called and asked or an appointment.
Dr. Byrd was so kind to meet with me. I am sure she recognized the pain I must have experienced as a child and so was willing to help me to fathom what the source was.
She shared with me that my mother clinically was a narcissist and hated me because I was “young.”
I thought back to how when I was a child trying to have a conversation with her, she would talk to the mirror instead of looking at me. She would relentlessly make up her face, and when I was a child, underwent many face-peels and other cosmetic surgeries to get rid of the signs of aging, even though she was so young herself.
Dr. Byrd helped me to understand that my mother interpreted my giving birth to her grandchildren as a sign that she is getting old.
I leave the copy store quite upset.
The next day, I decide to go to an OA meeting that is an hour car ride away from my house. Despite how difficult it is for me to drive without getting lost, I get directions, do get lost.
But finally I am at the meeting and so relieved that, at last I am going be at a meeting that is so far away that there is no chance of running into HER.
I’m in a modernized church in the middle of a lot of beautiful trees and colorful flowers. As I enter the door of the meeting room, a friendly, blond woman in her 50′s, wearing loose slacks and a sweater, greets me and so I quickly take a seat next to her.
I look at the 15 women sitting a circle of chairs.
My stomach turns that sick feeling that is becoming very familiar to me.
There she is.
My mother is sitting across from me.
I don’t hear what is going on at the meeting.
She is probably here in order to avoid me like I am here trying to avoid her.
I don’t share.
I can’t think clearly. I am throbbing so.
I realize to myself that if I were drowning and she stood on a boat nearby with a life preserver in her hands, she would refuse to throw it to me.
She would prefer to watch me drown.
She would actually enjoy the sight.
And this was my mother!
What was I to do now?
I go home and write one of my daily letters to G-d.
“Please G-d, I beg you to help me. “
I discuss it with a friend.
I fear that if I drown out the feelings, I will end up overeating.
I stay with the feeling.
I let myself feel the pain, the pain of having a mother who doesn’t want me, and who doesn’t care for me, or love me.
Here I am in my 30′s and still suffering.
Will I ever heal? Does one heal from such a thing?
“Please G-d, please, relieve me of this pain.”
I keep writing my feelings and begging God for help.
Then, something happened inside of me.
I feel freer. I feel wonderful.
Somehow I realize that I’m okay and she is not.
I look at my situation. Here is a mother who was cruel to me. I didn’t ask to be born. Yet, she treated me like I was guilty of existing, as if it were a crime. She told me that I was an “accident” before I even knew what an accident was.
I didn’t do anything wrong.
But she did!
She was hateful to me.
She didn’t treat me as if she were a parent.
She didn’t protect me from herself or from anything else.
She was the guilty one, not me.
I’m okay. She’s not okay.
Now I am ready to bump into her.
I am ready to look her in the eye and say. “I’M OKAY and YOU’RE NOT!”
I am ready to sing it to her and to everyone else. I’M OKAY!!!!
Now I am ready to be face to face with her anytime, anywhere.
I am ready to share at the meetings, whether or not she is present.
No more fleeing from her.
She can try to avoid me.
It’s her problem now, because I’m okay.
During the next week, I go to the meeting.
She isn’t there.
I go to the gym.
She’s not there.
I go to the copy store.
She’s not there either.
She isn’t anywhere I go.
I have never seen her again.
It’s almost 40 years later and I never encountered her again.
I realize that something in my life repeats, even if it’s with different faces, it’s a message that that there is something that I need to work on.
The problem will refuse to go away until I learn the lesson and act on it.
Here, I had to internalize that even if my own mother wouldn’t love me or even speak with me, I’m okay.
I had to develop that foundation within myself, for myself.
Without that, she would have kept showing up in my life.
The pain would have gotten worse and worse until I would be ready to change.
I believe my soul came into the world, into this cruel family to learn the lessons I did not complete in previous lives.
So I was placed in a situation in which I would cry out to learn the lessons that my soul had to learn – the lessons of being okay, despite abuse, despite rejection, and despite abandonment.
I believe I needed those lessons to do a Tikkun, (Hebrew word for a correction of my soul. )
Had I been born to a loving mother or even a kind family, I could not have possibly been open to such difficult lessons.
Perhaps, the pain that I experienced was really a gift that forced me into newer and deeper wholeness within myself.
Now, no one can shake my foundation of self-esteem.
No one can belittle me without my permission.
No one can rob me of who I really am and the knowledge of that.
Today, I know that I’m Okay.
Chana Klein © 2014