I haven’t had contact with my mother in a dozen years. Don’t judge me (at least not until you’ve walked the proverbial mile in my shoes). In that time I have blocked her from my phone, moved several times, changed email carriers and keep any and all of my admittedly limited social media very private. I did some of these things specifically in order to keep her away. While other things (like moving) gave me the secondary benefit of making it harder for her to track me. I kept her out of my life in order to preserve and maintain whatever mental health I have. I did this to protect my children from her blatant insanity. You see, my mother is diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder.
If you are not familiar with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), consider yourself lucky. People with BPD are fragile and labile, malicious, vengeful and self-destructive. Think Amy Winehouse or Lindsey Lohan. These people are unstable, impulsive and shallow. They suck you in, chew you up and spit you out with nary a backward glance. They are attention-seeking, unable to maintain relationships and never ever accept responsibility for anything. And these, I assure you, are some of their best qualities.
Many therapists won’t even see people with BPD. While others claim there is no such thing as BPD. Outside of the psychiatric world, some have found the compassion to feel tenderness for these *afflicted* individuals. In January of 2009 Time magazine ran an article on BPD that painted people with borderline personality disorder as piteous wretches who cannot get out of their own way, so misunderstood by society that they often self-destruct. Time suggested that people who suffer from BPD are empty, emotionally starving, and so are deserving of kindness and humanity, even pity, from others and that perhaps all they need is understanding. That article made me so furious I wrote them a letter and canceled my subscription. Here is a snippet of what I wrote:
While I appreciate the fact that Borderline Personality Disorder is gaining attention and while I am thrilled that someone somewhere is having some success with some borderlines, I was overall disappointed with Time’s article on Borderline Personality Disorder. BPD is hardly a newfangled fad disorder. Check out the movies Whatever Happened to Baby Jane and Mommie Dearest or Glenn Close’s excellent portrayal of a borderline in Fatal Attraction. Or read the books Toxic Parents by Susan Forward or Understanding the Borderline Mother by Christine Ann Lawson. Unfortunately, borderlines have been around for a very long time. Also unfortunately, borderlines are not the only ones made to suffer for their lack of emotional skin. Most borderlines, because they are so raw and unable to tolerate or modulate their own emotions, do the equivalent of lobbing emotional grenades wherever they go. This means that because they have not a clue as to what they are actually feeling, they only feel alive when they are inflicting pain, suffering and turmoil on those around them. In general borderlines are mean and controlling, narcissistic, and thrive on the chaos they leave in their wake. They are manipulative, without conscience, histrionic, hypochondriac, and subject to the whims of an ever-changing reality based on their own needs at any given moment. Anyone who has suffered at the hands of a borderline, or even those who have come into contact with one, understands that Time’s article was, as a dear friend of mine commented, “like watching a train wreck and commenting on the blue of the sky.” Sorry Time, you really missed the boat on this one.
They didn’t even acknowledge my cancellation. But I digress… A month or so ago I received an email from my mother via my work email (which is public and on our company website… and quite frankly I’m surprised it took her this long to find). It simply said that she is now an old woman, alone and lonely, dealing with multiple medical maladies, blind in one eye and with limited time left on this earth. In her final days/weeks/months, she was asking for even minimal contact with her precious baby girl (I hope you heard me gag) one last time. Well at least she’s not dramatic. Actually, if you can believe it, this was relatively subtle for her. She wrote me a similar and brief email each day that week.
The reality is that she is not old by any current standards. She is married (to husband number? I’m not sure. And I have no reason to believe she’s given up any of the parasitic boyfriends that seem ever to be fawning at her side). She has always been (and clearly still is) a raging hypochondriac and I highly doubt that she actually has any of, or even facsimiles of, the medical ailments she claims – though I am quite sure that she takes any and all medication she is offered. She may be blind in one eye, but it is more likely a result of the aqua-blue eyeliner she insisted on having tattooed under her eyes than anything else. And while her emails were unlike anything I have ever known of her, in an understated and melancholy sort of way, I did not respond.
During this time though my brother was arrested for minding his own business and being everybody’s scapegoat. According to his report. He spent a night or two in jail and they sent him on his woebegone way with what he considered an invitation to come to court on a specific day (which he deemed inconvenient and didn’t bother attending). In week two or three of her daily emails to me, she did write that she hadn’t heard from Peter and feared the worst. She asked that I write and at least tell her if I knew whether or not her son was dead.
The thing is, I have no desire to have her in my life in any way, shape or form. I have lived without an actual mother for a very long time. I have neither forgiven nor forgotten her parenting (for lack of a better word). But I am not mean. I do not wish to be the cause of suffering for her or anybody else. I also do not fault her entirely for the way Peter’s life has turned out (I know plenty of decent parents whose children are addicts). So I wrote to her to tell her that Peter was, in fact, alive if not well. Emboldened by my response, she wrote with greater fervor, pleading with me to allow her contact with me, to allow her to hear my voice, to let her *talk* (she is well-known for her chatter-without-end) rather than write because given her blind eye it is so very difficult for her. I responded that I had neither the time nor the inclination and suggested she use voice-to-text for writing. Emily thought my response harsh.
A few days later she sent me photos Peter had sent her from his new girlfriend’s phone. Photos of Peter and a 20 year old addict he’s helping get straight(sic) in rather compromising positions – though not necessarily sexual, they were quite clearly doped up on something and looked positively feculent as well as spectral and ghoulish. Honestly, most of the photos were downright creepy and more than hinted at an untimely death.
Anyway, I tried to call Peter but his number went straight to voicemail. Over the next few days it went from going directly to voicemail to a recording saying that the mailbox was full. Even I got a little worried. Mother and I each made a few phone calls with the understanding we would share information at a later point. I called the city police and was told that while there is a warrant for his arrest, he was not currently in their custody.
I relented and unblocked her from my phone so we could text rather than email for expediency. Basically we just compared notes. Clearly, Peter was on the lam as they say. There was really nothing either of us could do about it or for him. And then my phone rang. And for the first time in 12 years, I answered and heard her voice.
I don’t know what made me answer. Curiosity? Feeling untethered because of Peter’s disappearance? Impulse? I don’t know. The conversation was brief, stilted, awkward. She cried, pretty hysterically at times, about Peter. She told me that she had already purchased a cemetery plot for him and that she lives in dread of the day she knows is coming. She asked if she sent me a friend request on Facebook would I accept it. I agreed to consider it. She asked if we would talk again. I said I doubted it. We got off the phone.