I went back to look for the Thanksgiving in 1991 to find out why we hadn’t joined the rest of the family in Florida. I don’t mention that, just that we did spend Thanksgiving with Dana’s parents. But I did find this other entry which really struck me for its illustration of my relationship — or non-relationship — with my mother.
November 27, 1991 (day before Thanksgiving)
Jo and Jerry were angry at Mom for having the operation without telling us. (Jerry said “you could have died”. Mom said “It’s just routine”. Jerry said “Dad nearly died.” Mom claimed it wasn’t true, and Jerry had to check with Jesse to be sure he wasn’t crazy.) I told Jo how I felt cut off from any feelings of sympathy I might have expressed. Jo said Mom had told her that she was talking to me every week, enjoying it, that she was “so cheerful that she can’t be in a bad mood.” Jo wasn’t sure she had the words right but it sounds like mom to take credit for a change in my behavior. I’m interested that she seems to have perceived a change that as far as I can see is entirely internal (namely I’ve given up my anger and stopped trying to change her). I don’t think my outward behavior is any different. And it amuses the hell out of me, or kills me, or something, that she can call suicidal depression, the rage and grief of an abandoned child “a bad mood”. I remember my struggles with “bad moods” when I was a teenager, but of course no one tried to give me any guidance. What am I left with? Slight feelings of hurt that Mom can so miss the point, but mainly validation for my decision to keep her at arm’s length. It’s sad that she sees it as an improvement. She’s delighted that I’m finally behaving like a proper daughter, all cheerful and superficial, and I’m sad because I have finally given up trying to have a more meaningful relationship with her. At least I don’t have to feel guilty because she’s hurt that I’ve pulled back & don’t share myself with her. Yes, that accounts for my astonished sense of amusement and relief. It’s been painful to me, reading old journals, to see how often my responses to her have missed the boat, how they look inappropriate or even crazy when looked at from outside. Of course, the journal records just the words, not the tone of voice. But I think what she wanted/expected was a more conventional response, not my anguished efforts toward truth or deeper engagement. Now I’m feeling bad that I failed to see the more conventional aspects of the situation and give a more appropriate response. I think I’m going to have to hunt these down and find a way to validate or forgive myself. I suppose I’m angry at myself for failing to be more mature; since our relationship has always been one of roles reversed, I still think of myself as the older wiser one, the one who “should have known better”, and I’m ashamed that I didn’t. Sigh. So I’m still angry at myself for not being a better adult when I was a child.
Note the gaslighting Jerry talks about.
I think the operation she refers to must have been a hysterectomy. Her mastectomy must have been some years later, by which time I knew exactly what to say.
The Story of My Mother and Breast Cancer
I didn’t know she had breast cancer until she called me and said: “I found a lump and I went to my doctor and I had a mastectomy and I’m fine now.” Knowing from painful experience that she would not want sympathy, I hesitated a moment. Finally I said “You sound fine, Mother.”
I wrote this in a retreat with Deena Metzger, it appears in the Alternative Version of my life in “about Jenny Deupree.”