“You were never that way”

My mother did not know how to forgive, and so I learned that I was unforgivable.  If I did something “wrong” there was no way I could make amends.  This resulted in some odd behavior that I see as shameful now — an example: I lost my cousin’s bike and never apologized or offered to buy her a new one.  I went into denial about the whole thing, disappeared it, made it not happen.  It was only much later that I remembered several such incidents, and I fear there are more that I’ve completely forgotten.  I was so ashamed that I could barely look at them, much less try to make amends.  Then I saw the movie “Mommie, Dearest” where Joan Crawford’s daughter apologizes for waking her during her afternoon nap.  Crawford doesn’t say “That’s all right, I still love you, you’re forgiven,” she says harshly “Well just don’t do it again.” Lights went on for me.  I realized that when apology was unacceptable, there was no “right” action but not to have done it in the first place.
I remember two moments of redemption in my life.  I was in High School and for some reason I don’t remember, I was unable to write a paper that was due.  I went to the teacher, Miss Sheffield, and told her I hadn’t done it.  I expected to be yelled at.  Instead, she looked at me consideringly for a moment, and then said “You’re a good student.  You’ll write it when you can.” I was so relieved I wrote the whole paper in the next study hall.  It was the first time someone had trusted my integrity.
The second time happened during the time after Mother had broken her hip.  We kids all went home in sequence to help her transition from the hospital to the house.  I was the last one.  By the time I got there she was in a hospital bed in the living room with a walker and a commode.  Mama Greene, who had been taking care of us since I was three, was still coming every day to clean house, cook and wash up, etc.  Mom was her usual unpleasant demanding self, and I survived by doing exactly what she asked me to without questioning or resistance.  I was planning to leave on Friday.  Thursday evening Mother suddenly said “This is a good time to call Mama Greene and tell her we don’t need her tomorrow.” So I picked up the phone and dialed Mama Greene’s number.  When she answered I said “Mom says she doesn’t need you tomorrow.” She said “But you’re leaving and it’s my last chance to see you.” I heard the tremor in her voice and felt angry.  It was OK for Mom to hurt me but not OK for her to hurt Mama Greene.  I also hadn’t expected Mama Greene to care about whether she said good bye to me or not — which is total blindness from childhood conditioning on my part.  I said to Mom “She just wants to see me.” Mom turned her head away and said “Hmph.” Even now, some part of me wants to believe that she hadn’t heard what I said.  I hung up the phone and sat down.  But I started to cry.  Mother didn’t even notice, so I said “I’m going upstairs.” I closed the door to the guest room and called Mama Greene.  I said “I’m so sorry.  I would get in my car and come over & give you a hug, but that would hurt Mom and I can’t do that.” She said “No, you were never that way.” A huge load that I had carried for 50-odd years dropped from my psyche.  Mother treated me like I deliberately tried to hurt her whenever I could, and I had taken it on.  When Mama Greene said “You were never that way,” I felt like I’d been absolved by the Pope.  The relief!  This woman had known me since I was three, she had to be saying the truth.  I told her I loved her and she said she loved me before we hung up.

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