Two months or so later, I entered the office of my psychotherapist and he said, “Joe, do you know why my bill hasn’t been paid?” When I asked my mother about it later that afternoon, she snapped, “He has to wait like everyone else.” I informed her that he wouldn’t continue to see me without payment. A couple of weeks later, my therapist told me that my mother had sent him the nastiest, most abusive letter he had ever received. At that point, I took a part-time job in order to pay for my treatment. Many people in college have to work, of course; I wasn’t unusual in that way, although my motivation was a bit different. I moved out of my parents’ house a few months later.
That was my mother: nasty, sarcastic and often vengeful. She had a powerful streak of envy and belittled anyone who aroused it. Though not always obvious to outsiders, she clung obsessively to my father and felt jealous of the attention he paid to my sister. She found motherhood a burden and preferred time alone with Dad. She occasionally rage-spanked or slapped us; at the same time, she leaned on me emotionally, confiding information unsuitable for a child to hear, in a way that made me feel responsible and frightened. When she found a marijuana “roach” I’d attempted to flush down the toilet, she brought out the belt; I told her I was too big for her to beat and she broke down in tears. “If you end up like your brother and sister, my whole life will have been a failure.” She was a functional alcoholic who suffered from her own major depressions. She lived on prescription meds — first Milltown, then Valium — for years.
There you have her, the mostly-bad mother — angry, self-absorbed, envious and depressed. Over the years, I’ve struggled without a lot of success to hold on to the good things about her.