Since becoming a parent, a lot of things haunt me.
Now, if you had good parents, you want to be like them. Teach your own kids the kind of invaluable life lessons your parents taught you. You probably remember Mother's Day as a day with the smell of warm breakfast floating around the edges of that memory. Maybe your dad made your mom breakfast in bed. Maybe he took you and your siblings out for a day at an amusement park so Mom could have a day to herself to relax. In my house it was much, much different.
Mother's Day always fills me with a sort of dread. I can feel the impending holiday looming over me, like a storm that has the potential for tornadoes. That heaviness that comes with humidity. Potential disaster. And in my growing up, there was a lot of humidity. A lot of storms. And disaster was always close.
On this particular day, I couldn't have been more than 7, maybe 8. It was somewhere around 1987, months before my parents would finally call the time and pronounce their marriage DOA.
What I remember is it being one of those fantastic days with my dad. He was bi-polar, and would sometimes wake me and my brother up at 5 a.m. to go to a little donut shop, where we'd have donuts and chocolate milk while Dad planned out our day. These trips usually started with us getting our fishing gear, a cooler full of drinks and food, and a lot of driving. Dad's fishing spots were well-kept secrets.
It had to be a Sunday. The day that most things that can go wrong, do. I remember Dad going to surprise her, and the fight that followed.
I can't and don't know what stress my mom was under. I don't know what was weighing on her mind. What I do remember is her words, because every Mother's Day since, I've replayed them, and I still feel a child's shame and helplessness.
"YOU never get me anything for Mother's Day." "You NEVER make this day special for me." "You never REMEMBER, so don't even bother."
I remember her eyes looking into mine during those words, and feeling naked. I didn't get her anything. I didn't remember this date. I felt those words like knives in my heart.
It was me who went with my dad to go pick out a present. I remember Wal-Mart. I still remember what he picked out. A rose attached to a glass bell. It was hideous. The kind of present that can only be given by a husband under extreme duress.
I don't remember her reaction to the gift. I just remember that as the last Mother's Day I forgot about. After that, I tried pouring love and affection into the black hole of her needs. I did that for the next 24 years.
Today is my first Mother's Day. That memory is so close. I never realized what power it had over me, until I told it to my fiance. The tears came. I think he understood what I was trying to say. That's part of the reason why I love him so much. Love is it's own form of ESP.
And even as I think about that day in 1987, and try to shake the ghost of that memory off, I want better for my own twins. I never want them to have a memory of never quite being good enough. I sit here, still haunted at 6 a.m. and think how words can carve out a heart. I sit here, and I'm still haunted.