[CN: suicide attempt]
I have been pondering, of late, these words from Bethany Webster:
“The most insidious forms of patriarchy pass through the mother.”
I have been pondering these words (and the essay they title) so much, in fact, that I am having a hard time writing about anything else. At the same time, I am not ready or willing to write about my mother.
Maybe not ever.
I don’t write to my mother either, not any more. Not since she returned the last letter I sent her, a card for Mother’s Day three years ago in which I wrote: “I know things are rough between us right now. But I believe we both love each other enough that we will get through this.”
She returned that card to me a few weeks later, after the patch between us had become so rough—at least for me—that I needed space away and stopped replying to her phone calls. She returned the card via overnight delivery, together with two typed pages of violent and hateful anger. The viciousness of my mother’s letter was palpable even in the skimming I gave it, unwilling to take on the hurt of a more careful read.
[The other reason I didn’t read it carefully, I must explain, was that her FedEx arrived on a morning I hadn’t expected to wake up. I was too preoccupied figuring out why my latest suicide attempt hadn’t worked to give her letter more than a once-over glance, checking to see if it provided any motivation for me not to try again.
It did not.]
I tossed the FedEx envelope and its contents atop a stack of random papers on my desk and forgot about it in my flurry of other concerns. If I had succeeded at death in that third and final attempt (it occurred to me much later), the letter from my mother would have been easily found by anyone searching my room for desperate answers. In place of the farewell note I did not write, one might have found the letter I barely read—and drawn their own conclusion.
I’m glad I didn’t burden my mother with that.
Remembering the contents of that letter today still stops my breath in near-disbelief.
“My mother—” I said to her in a conversation the following year, “I mean—my mother who loves me—did not write that letter. Could not have written that letter.”
We stared at each other for a long moment, before she broke the glance and left the room. The following day, she brought it up again.
“What you said yesterday, the thing is…”
She and I again locked eyes.
“The thing is, I did write that letter.”
“Yes,” I nodded once, almost holding my breath. “I know you did.”
We exhaled in unison. For a moment, silence held the room.
When she spoke again, my mother’s tone had shifted. Brighter, and so fast she almost chittered. “You know who was standing right beside me the whole time I wrote it, though? Who told me I should write it? You know who took it to FedEx and mailed it?
“Because that wasn’t me!”
I sighed, tired of patiently re-explaining the obvious.
“Of course he was right there. My father is always there, right beside you, when you do these things.”
We have never discussed the letter again.
…the most insidious forms of patriarchy pass through the mother…
A link to Bethany Webster’s complete essay, for any what’s interested. I’d excerpt the most relevant passages for you—but I’m afraid I’d end up copying the whole thing!
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[EDIT: Okay. I went ahead and excerpted a bit below, to give a sense of her argument that I found quite resonant/relevant:
“The patriarchal bind is that women are told that they should be successful but not too successful; sexy but not too sexy; strong but not too strong, etc. Mothers may unintentionally perpetuate this out of an unconscious need to avoid getting triggered by her daughter. If her daughter remains disempowered, small, and always a bit doubtful of herself, then the mother eliminates the possibility that her daughter will trigger the unacknowledged pain within herself that she’d rather ignore.
“For an unconscious, deeply wounded mother, a disempowered daughter is the perfect antidote to her misery because she allows the mother to maintain an illusion of personal power without having to do the hard work of self-growth and healing. If the daughter is empowered, flourishing, happy and fulfilled, the wounded mother would more likely be faced with the task of confronting her unhealed pain….
“A mother may experience her daughter’s empowerment as a betrayal, a personal rejection or a slight. Her unconscious message to the daughter may be ‘I obeyed the patriarchal mandate to stay small and non-threatening. You have to obey as well! Get back in line!'”]
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“Regarding Mothers” is part of an ongoing memory project.
The entire series can be found here.