The author of this piece wished to remain anonymous.
Recently my wife and I took a few days to indulge ourselves in a small vacation and traveled from our home in the Caribbean to the small island of Saba.
My wife and I were sitting at a small bar next to our hotel and struck up a conversation with two American ladies in their late 50’s. Both were ex-pats (like me) and we’d both shared a few chuckles over the current state of affairs in the United States and the chaos surrounding both Hillary and Trump. Eventually the conversations took a turn to discussing our mutual families and, blame it on the friendly atmosphere or the three glasses of Malbec I’d downed, but I’d openly vented about my reluctance to visit my family. This reluctance was chiefly due to the actions of one person, and after about a half hour of verbal tennis one of the two ladies asked me with a laugh:
“How are you such a nice and level acting person if this person has treated you that way?”
The person…..is my Mother. Very few days pass me by where I don’t ask myself that same question.
Mom, comes from a typical old Southern family: Our ancestry in the Carolinas date back to the late 1700’s and homes under Pecan trees as gnarled as the hands of the men that worked in the fields. Matter of fact, one of my maternal great great great grandfathers was an overseer on one of the few plantations in the area…and bloodlines like mine are fairly common south of the Mason-Dixon line, so this isn’t an odd thing.
I have to tackle who (or rather, what) my maternal grandfather was. Aside from being a local handyman, retired WW2 veteran of the U.S Navy, and father of four…he was also a member of the Ku Klux Klan for many years. I have a faint memory of the way my late grandmother mentioned this fact with a flat, matter of fact sort of pride. And my mother and her sisters recall riding in a parade with him. One would assume that their exposure to the Civil Rights era and integration would have watered down their view of that fact. Regrettably, my Mom seems to view that time through the rose-colored glasses of nostalgia. She also seems to deny that her views reflect this. But I begged to differ when she thoughtlessly spouted off homilies like “There is a difference between “Black People” and “Niggers.”
I wasn’t allowed to have any friends of color come over, nor was I allowed at their house, and more than once I was told “In the Bible it says that you shouldn’t mix races” Despite this bigotry, she was known as a fair and friendly manager of several businesses she worked during my childhood. She was a doting mother and passed down a love of cooking, and classic musicals down to me and my younger sister. However, around the age of 10 or 11, I began to balk at the beliefs my grandfather passed down to my mother. He’d died in 1987 but his presence was still strongly felt in her words, and often parroted by my stepfather.
My mother and father divorced when I was young due to domestic abuse that at the time I assumed was his fault….he was the military man: Ex-Marine, and Army. According to her, he was mentally lazy and my biological affiliation and shared resemblance was often used as an insult to bully me into submission, or to essentially psychologically manipulate me. Of course me being too young to really understand this, I always blindly backed her play and followed By the time I was around 11 or 12, I was parroting her ideas around the home.
But that wouldn’t last long…
I was essentially a picture perfect target for bullies: Socially awkward, bookish, overweight, high pitched voice, short, and my last name rhymed with a not so polite slang for a homosexual man…..and seeing that quite a few of my tormentors were African-American, I was at first easily swayed towards my mom’s ideas. Then one day, something in my mind clicked as I realized that quite a few of the people that defended me from these bullies were African-American too. And I realized that these views that she was attempting to ingrain in me were racist, ignorant and self-destructive. They were isolating me from making friends. So I swore my first step would be to never use a racial slur towards anyone again.
It all fell apart when I finally hit my late teens and began dating. I’d came to the personal realization that I wasn’t attracted to caucasian women, and deciding to throw caution to the wind, I began dating whomever I wanted. This primarily turned out to be African American women…as the majority of women outside of my family that had treated me with some compassion, and mutual respect had been African-American women. So, that was my primary dating pool. As you can imagine this set as well with my mother as a battery acid enema. Her disapproval was always fast to bubble to the surface and despite her having a good poker face. Her opinions were often unchecked….
“Can’t you find some nice white girl?”
“So-and-so’s daughter is single and I overheard she thinks you’re cute”
“This wouldn’t have flown in (insert my Grandmother’s name here) house”
It all came to a head during a “tough-love’ incident where my mother repeatedly referred to a girlfriend of mine (whom had never shown her an ounce of disrespect) as a “nigger” “coon” and other explicit racial slurs when it all came out in a rush. We were bantering about it and finally, as I stood at the bathroom sink I said: “Mom…I’m 18 now. I’m more than capable of deciding who I fall in love with and your opinion isn’t going to affect that in any shape or form so just knock it off.”
There was a long pause and if I’d have been more attentive I’d have seen the flash of rage in her green-gold eyes. Suddenly she was popping me across the face and shoulders knocking bottles and toothbrushes over as I struggled to block the onslaught. Grabbing a brown bottle of peroxide she slammed it into the wall just barely missing my skull, I felt the liquid running through my hair. (It would be a lighter shade of brown for a few weeks). I was verbally chastised in a way that would have done R.Lee Ermy proud, and informed how I was “an ungrateful little bastard”, “a little shit”, “a niggerlover” , how bad I’d embarrassed her etc. Much to my mother’s delight the girlfriend would break up with me….but I was heading off to college soon. So her grip on me would be further loosened. So I assumed the fight would be over. It wasn’t. Not by a long shot.
College was a reprieve for me…but I began to mentally cringe whenever I went home. By now Mom was trying a new tactic: Let him bring the young lady home with him and act hip. “You’re 21 now so I know you’re having sex but as long as you and her are being safe….I understand.” She’d put on a show of being understanding, and even state how she liked this or that about the girlfriend. But the second they gained more influence on me than she wanted, or suggested I push for more independence from her (still no driver’s license, always asking for permission when I was at college to go places…etc.) she would resort back to using racial slurs….mostly just to enrage me. And knowing that I’d tell whomever I was dating about it as a way to warn them…”Don’t trust her 100%”.
So for many years it went that way, until finally after getting engaged to a longtime girlfriend. She seemed to have finally suppressed that side of herself.
My fiancée wasn’t American and during a visit to my home town, she suggested that rather than limit myself to working and living in the U.S…that I could possibly move to her country and build my career there. I weighed the options and informed my mother. The switch in her brain was audible. Literally overnight she went from loving this girl to hating her, from being happy for our engagement, to attempting to discourage us from getting married. My argument being that at 25 years old, I was old enough to think for myself and it was high time to leave the nest.
The arguments escalated…it was my final year in university and I wasn’t buying into her brand of bullshit. So her tactics increased in childishness, and in bizarreness.
She began attempting to set me up with other women, including several co-workers….began neglecting to inform me of my fiancée calling the house. Attempting to slow the process of getting my passport and tickets to fly….which I managed to get by having the passport sent to my sister’s home. But her mental health was increasingly volatile and her verbal tongue lashings were beginning to take a back seat to her fast right hand.
In the early spring of 2013, after spending a good portion of the evening chatting with my uncle and stepfather in the living room, I decided to go and study for final exams….graduation was in a few weeks and I was ready to go. Mom attempted again to sway my decision….and when I stood my ground. All hell broke loose again….leaping to her feet after I stated that I had made up my mind and that her opinion was irrelevant to me she hissed at me “She’s a nigger!” over and over again with such venom that her spittle flecked my glasses. And then she launched a haymaker right handed slap at my head.
Now….to side note here: I was an amateur boxer, and martial artist for several years. So on reflex I blocked the swing. Which only proved to further infuriate her, and she continued attempting to hit me and finally at around 9 at night told me to get out. So I walked out the back door….but recalled my books, wallet and cell phone were in my room upstairs along with my new passport. I wasn’t going to leave them around her unattended so I turned around to re-enter the house and barely holding in my own outrage I snatched open the door and turned to head to the stairs. My mother stomped behind me, clutching a metal shafted, steel headed walking stick like a samurai sword and began beating my back and shoulders with it, screaming for me to get out of her house. I never slowed, and finally after claiming my property I exited the house and sat on the wet grass until the county sheriff’s deputy (whom she had called) pulled up in the long dirty driveway. I finally caved mentally and blubbered the story to the deputy who patiently listened and several times told my (still-irate) mother that she needed to pipe down until I finished my side of the story. Finishing his questions the man looked me in the eye and asked if I wanted to press charges……”No….you’d have to let her out sometime. And she’d be even madder then,” was all I said. I spent the night on my sister’s couch, and didn’t seen Mom until the next day when she gave me a lift to campus. I was berated all the way there and if she understood my silence was my resignation to never getting her respect it didn’t show. But several weeks passed….and after a visit to her doctor she shared her reaction to the man and some anti-depressant medication she gave me a quiet long winded apology stating that “When I’m that mad, I just want someone to feel as outraged as me, as powerless….there’s no way I can throttle it.” I wanted to believe her but it became her go-to excuse for saying outrageous stuff, or lashing out physically at her adult children.
Three months later I was gone….I’d graduated, hopped a flight and was scraping by in the Caribbean. Married and getting along swimmingly with my in-laws. But the world never stops turning and apparently karma is real and truth is stranger than fiction. I seldom call home, and when I do I try to keep my personal situation to myself. The wife and I are both working multiple jobs to make ends meet, her family helps whenever they can, and we guiltily hate whenever they help us. Meanwhile, I occasionally get a “I miss you” on Facebook…or a “Call me” then I’ll get a repeated message that has the opposite feel of her old statements.
“How you doing boy? How’s my daughter-in-law? Ya’ll going to give me a grandbaby? Sure wish I could see you….etc.”
What!? How can you act so nonchalant about things when you did all you could to destroy what I have? I could have said anything. But the events that followed were so ironic they would be funny if they weren’t so sad.
In late 2014, my stepfather told my mother; “I love you but I’m not IN love with you” and then after being confronted with evidence of infidelity, and numerous accusations of it. He moved out. I was told during a conversation “Of all things he left me for a nigger”……I dropped my coffee mug on my desk at this. My 55 yr. old stepfather had apparently been having an affair with, and purchasing marijuana from a 28 year old gas station attendant…who happened to be African-American. My wife found this highly amusing….as did I.
I finally decided to limit myself to seeing her for a single day next year and visiting the rest of my family. I won’t ask my spouse to come with me as I don’t want her to deal with my craziness more than necessary. But the wife’s agreed that there isn’t anything I can do about it….except move past it.
And she’s right: in the long run…obsessing over my mother’s racism and mental issues won’t be helped by feeling guilty for my happiness. If she wants to get help she can….and when she can talk to me like I’m an adult I’ll call her. Until then I’ll keep it in passing.