Had my mother lived past her 85 mostly miserable years, she would be 100 today—the Ides of March. Chances are she would have been no less miserable, had she been granted those extra 15 years and likely she’d have been meaner, more hateful, and punitive. We do hear those stories of the wretched relative who turns into pure sweetness at life’s end. There are Nicholas Sparks’ novels and sagas of forgiveness following years of disharmony paired with redemption and love.
I will never know for sure if my mother would have gotten better or worse. I do know that she left this earth with me yearning for her love. Her narcissism trumped all and I have worked hard on my recovery., moving on, raising my own family, believing I am loved and offering love deeply and genuinely. Perhaps I made some therapists rich over the years but they helped me recover while learning boundaries and self care. They also opened my eyes to the fact that the way she thought and acted was in no way normal mothering and never my fault.
Last night I was rearranging our clothes closet when I came across two items. The first one was the light green knit “Gap” jacket, size small, with Sharpie printed letters inside the collar marked, ‘Florence Conlon.” It was hip and cute actually and why I have held onto it all this time is hard to say, but it hung in the laundry room in our last home for years when I felt I could not discard it. I’d washed if for her shortly before she died and then it moved with me to our new closet. She’d spent a short time in a rehab in Long Island, thus the identification of her clothing. (After that she’d moved back and forth to Raleigh, NC three times within the span of a few months! We are talking, moving van, airline tickets, the whole nine crazy yards. It’s a whole other story!) My mother loved to shop for “tops” as she would say, but would oddly take apart, re-design, and add onto anything she bought. I hated that, as I could never understand why we couldn’t just leave a dress or pants alone and why instead they had to have added fringe, sleeves removed or other changes. I believe it was the unrelenting rebellion in her that took a front row seat in every moment of our lives. Everything had to be “different,” but I just wanted to be the “same” instead. But, back to the jacket—15 years later it still looked good and current and frankly, if it fit, I would have worn it. She knew a little about a lot of things, but she really did know fashion and a good buy as well.
Old ladies cling to their pocketbooks. They never put them down or let them out of their sight. My mother was no different and living in New York, probably more so. She never used a shoulder bag, but rather a double handled handbag. That too, has lived in the corner of my closet and I have been unable to part with it for all this time. It is vinyl, not leather and black of course. There are three broken combs, a broken half of a mirror, some mint gum, a checkbook with no cover, a tattered address book, notes scribbled on a ripped piece of paper, used tissues, a Lipton tea bag. There is a black nylon “cosmetic case” with “Wet and Wild” lipstick (she was 85!), a nail file, more broken combs, Vaseline, Labetolol, Nitroglycerin, and Chapstick. It is the essence of her as most of our handbags reveal the essence of each of us. I feel as if I am prying and violating privacy as I poke around in it and am still afraid of what I might find so I am a bit ginger in my poking.
But here’s the truth. I took that light green Gap sweater and I put the arms around me, trying to wrap them tight. I asked her once again to love me but I got no response. I sniffed the jacket but smelled nothing and then, I placed it in the “going to Good Will plastic bag” saying goodbye. It was done. As for the pocketbook, it has been put back into the corner of my closet where it may stay for another 15 years. I can’t really explain why but I just can’t let it go and likely I haven’t quite let her go either. Still waiting. Still hoping. Knowing better.