I grew up believing there was no gray area. There was either a life in the light or in darkness and only one way to be in the light. Any other way left you broken. I had two examples of how this theory could play out in real life.
My sister, 8 years older than me, has been a mother hen since I was born. She was an almost perfect example of who I was expected to be. She never did drugs, waited until marriage, actually got married, and has a secure income. You might’ve read the part about sex and drugs and rolled your eyes thinking “that you know of”. I’m telling you, she never did any of this. I know because I was her chaperone. She couldn’t go out with her now husband without my tiny, pestering presence. She couldn’t go out with her friends without my tiny, pestering presence. My 13 year old self once got in her boyfriend’s face and said “I just want you to know: you’ll never be good enough for her.” Thankfully, he was aware of this and laughed it off. Considering that my parents also shared this view and strongly opposed their relationship, she didn’t find this funny at all. The strangest part is that I know she came to enjoy having her little guardian around.
Unsurprisingly, my sister got into every university she applied to. They were all in state and she even had full scholarships to all of them. My mother threatened to divorce my dad if she moved out though. I didn’t find out about this until years later. She didn’t want me to think our mother was crazy or selfish. Or maybe she just didn’t want to scare me.
My brother, 6 years older than me, is someone who’s past life I’m still learning about. He was the kind of person you knew in high school who you just assumed had no parents or siblings or cares. He was just that cool. Lloyd Dobler cool. When he came home with a crown from his senior prom, I was stunned. It turned out that all those nights he’d come home late from working at Chili’s or Carvel or the movie theater (all jobs he held at the same time) he was actually coming home from parties. He went to every damn party.
My mother wasn’t completely oblivious to this. She’d fly into a rage whenever it was past 1 am screaming and throwing things. Nothing major. It was major to my brother though. Enough to make him go to college 4 hours away. It doesn’t seem like the worst consequence but it’s been 10 years and my mom still cries when she talks about how much that choice hurt her. It hurt her and my dad so much that they didn’t hold any threats over his head. They even funded his housing and education.
About a year later, we met his girlfriend. She was white. She was 19 years old and was living with my brother in an apartment with a dog and books and her own TV and couch. I realized there was more than one choice to be made. More than anything in life I wanted my own apartment with a dog and books and my own TV and couch.
Once my brother saw this flame in me, all he did was fuel it. My only qualm with this concept, independence, was the toll it would take on my parents. He explained that of course it was hard at first. Especially when they found out about his cohabitant. But they’re our parents! They love us and they just want us to be happy and safe. That’s all that matters and when they realize that, everything gets better.
He wasn’t wrong. There were less fights when he did come home. He would do these awesome surprise visits where he’d call the house around 7 pm and I’d know to run out the back door to unlock the gate so he could secretly park his car back there. He’d sneak into the house and into my mother’s room where she’d be entranced with Ruby. She’d notice his figure from the corner of her eye and jump out of bed and throw her arms around him. No screaming or throwing things. It was dope as hell.
Growing up, I was a popular little kid. I got invited to all the birthday parties at bowling alleys and roller rinks. I didn’t go to any. My mother needed home court advantage. She had a vetting process for who I could commit to spending time with outside of school and my own home. Boys were obviously out of the question. I could hang out with girl friends after she had a brief but meaningful interview with their parents and even that didn’t seal the deal. It could get you my appearance at the event in question but future events were not guaranteed. A lot of my friends’ parents shared this logic. Unlike my mother though, some were insulted by her insinuation that their kid couldn’t be trusted or that they themselves couldn’t be trusted and cut their losses. It was a ridiculous circle of nonsense.
As I got older, I kept everyone at arm’s length. I committed to being okay with not going out with friends and forced myself to be an introvert to feign confidence and cope with loneliness. I knew that I couldn’t provide what was required from a lasting friendship. I couldn’t show up. Anyone who understood that my life wasn’t in my hands and stuck around anyway are still my only friends to this day.
I moved to New York straight out of college and it was a veiled improvement. I went out with whoever I wanted whenever I wanted but as soon as the phone rang and I saw “Mami” on the screen, I flew into the bathroom and put on my homebody hat. I’d pretend to be watching Friends or suggest that I was getting ready for bed. Most importantly, I’d pretend to be sober.
One of the ways I kept up my charade was by never giving anyone my address. I believed my mother fully capable of showing up completely unannounced and having a breakdown upon seeing the life I’d chosen over living with her. I was happier living in an inconveniently located, bed bug infested apartment with three other roommates and one tiny bathroom. It would break her heart to know that. Or maybe she’d bug my apartment and leave without a trace. Either scenario was fully plausible.
Moving out didn’t mean I suddenly had a ton of friends. It meant I was available. I wanted to finally enjoy my life and not commit to the betterment of anyone else’s.
I did find someone to love in New York. I was a shitty girlfriend at first obviously but he was patient with me and gave me a chance. Over a year later when a job opportunity brought me back to Miami, he came with me.
Informing my mother of this was my worst nightmare come true. She had no idea I had a boyfriend. Months earlier, she was questioning whether or not I even liked men. When I finally told her, all she said was “I knew it”. Her “knowing it” gave me no relief at all. It meant that all of her fears about me were confirmed. I was a slut, she couldn’t trust me, I was deceptive and dangerous.
This was the part my brother left out when he talked about how much better everything would be. It wasn’t the distance that improved the relationship. It wasn’t a case of absence makes the heart grow fonder. That alone yields short term, superficial results. There has to be a shit storm. You have to really put everything out there and choose to move on from it. Eventually, we came out the other side completely new.
Today I consider my mom a great friend. We confide in one another and lend each other support. I happily visit her every weekend and she’s welcome in my home. She was my greatest accuser and fierce protector and is now a lifeline.