The truth? I feel on the verge of tears today.
Because of a dream.
Or, rather, because of feelings the dream evoked.
In the dream, I flit around the house getting ready for work. From the other side of the closed bathroom door, my mother (the one who raised me from the time I was an infant) says, “I’m here.”
And her voice is smiling.
The realization shocks me awake. I had forgotten my mother’s voice could smile.
Because in my life I have so rarely heard it.
I should call her, I think.
When I was seventeen, I moved out of my parents’ house, and I made it a point to call and check in a few times a year and send my mother a card on her birthday.
My mother has never acknowledged my birthday.
On the rare occasions that I mention to close friends how volatile being raised by a depressed, rage-filled mother could be, they ask me why I’m not more resentful. (I’m not sure.) If I’m feeling particularly safe and confessional, I’ll reveal my mother’s most extreme behavior: ignoring me for days when my father was away on business; cornering me in a bathroom wielding a knife; dragging me from the house by my hair saying she was taking me back to the adoption agency. And even more rarely, I might tell a friend how, at the age of ten, I broke down the bathroom door to scoop up my petite mother, barely conscious, and walk her around the house like I’d seen people do on television shows when someone attempts suicide through overdose.
My mother lived.
And I continued to cower, or rage silently, or try to be perfect, all the while still feeling compassion for her because, even as a child, I knew how broken and fragile she was beneath her rage. Between bouts of fending off her screams and blows, I nurtured her.
I’ve been told that, as a coping mechanism, abused children develop a sort of situational amnesia, like soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorder. I know this to be true. I block out bad things even without meaning to, sometimes when I don’t want to, and out with bad memories often go good ones.
Like the way my mother’s voice could sometimes have a smile in it, the way that tiny, shiny part of her soul could occasionally peek out despite her own traumatic childhood. Pretty mother primping in her vanity mirror, combing black hair back from her heart-shaped face, revealing her widow’s peak; applying foundation and deep red lipstick. Talented mother singing, dancing. Fiery mother tearing up playing cards when Dad managed to (finally) beat her in a game of gin rummy. And my favorite: gentle mother who sang me to sleep with a Japanese lullaby while stroking my hair.
My dream made me remember good things.
The cruelty I suffered at my mother’s hands.
My guilt over only calling her once after she severely injured her knee in a fall a few weeks ago.
So this morning, after the dream, I called my mother: eight o’clock California time, midnight Japan time. A television played in the background, and my mother sounded distracted. But we spoke.
I made my call as the dutiful daughter.
And I still feel on the verge of tears.