by Pamela Martin
Did you ever notice how a lack of harmony in the home can spread like a contagion? How a morning argument can ripple outward to impact the dog, a random barista, or a work colleague? And what if that original argument was allowed to smolder for years, inflamed by accusations and tended by the poker of renewed offenses? Think of the hundreds of innocents who would have to suffer from the fall-out.
In hopes that it might make inroads in countering such a trend, I wanted to share a letter I wrote to a relative of mine; I’ll call him Sam. A 21-year-old senior this year, he’s a rugby player and Biochem major. He’s smart: a self-professed Renaissance man, and someone I’ve always had a strong connection to, I think because we share a love of good books. Sam’s parents had a messy divorce; his mom had cheated on his dad and the man she’d been seeing moved into their home after the break-up. It happened fast, before either of her kids was ready for it. The ex-husband hired a very skilled lawyer, and later sued for custody (and won). Both boys are estranged from their mom; their father hasn’t forgiven her (nor she him) and the evidence continues to play out more than a decade later. I’ll admit she doesn’t help matters by repeatedly violating the post-divorce cardinal rule: “No trash talking the ex in front of the kids.” But I think he has the unfair advantage. He’s got the entire culture on his side. The cheater is so disparaged by the media, the law, etc. and the one cheated upon so lauded as a saint. And yet we’re talking about human beings. Nothing about relationships can be confined to strictly black or white categories. I only want Sam to consider the complexity of the case, and to perhaps open a small corner somewhere in his heart where possibilities might live. His mother isn’t perfect, but she loves him with the fierceness any tigress has for its cub, regardless of how far afield he’s strayed.
I’m still debating whether or not I should send it.
There are few people you meet in the course of your life who would jump in front of a bus for you: your parents, your spouse (maybe, if she has good knees), your kids, a really special friend or two. What’s that…six, seven people? Your mom is one in that elite group and she proved it by bailing you out of jail that one time. You know she’ll make sacrifices for you, and like all offspring, you torture her because you know you can get away with it—because she’s not going anywhere and will keep paying her phone bill so you can call her up to come and bail you out of jail (though hopefully never again). It’s an agreement she signed up for on the day you were born and its promise will hold forever.
But like all parents she isn’t perfect. It’s true. She can even be exasperating. She does that thing where she stretches the truth into unrecognizable shapes. She’s an exaggerator, a natural story-teller, and sometime fabricator. One could argue it’s a family trait you also share. You have a zest for the flashy turn of phrase that provides “color” to an otherwise drab tale. Maybe she believes her own fish stories too much, and won’t admit the truth even when it’s staring at her from a certain pair of dark brown eyes. But it’s tough when any set of eyes stare In Judgment. No parent is made of as strong a stuff as her kids think she should be. We are all only human.
That said, te essential core of your mom is pretty nice, and she did put whole years of her life into you and your interests (scouts, basketball, baseball, crew: coaching, leading, cheering all the way). She tried to make a happy childhood for you in the best way she could. She and your dad had a terrible divorce—and you and your brother have borne the brunt. But every relationship story (if you’ll indulge me and allow it to be called as such) has two sides. It’s the human mind, that imperfect organ, which demonizes others and cloaks experience in opposites like “right” and “wrong,” “victim” and “victimizer.” But reality lies affixed somewhere in the middle ground, in a place that’s all too often beyond the grasp of puny reason—especially where matters of the heart are concerned. It’s true your parent’s marriage was flawed, and their divorce was flawed, and their communication continues to flounder in “what has come before,” that is to say, in those stories that remain chained to their respective (read: limited) understanding.
As an adult who wants what’s best for you, my wish for you is that you would get some distance from the “he saids” and the “she saids,” and see the truth of what’s underneath (fallibility, ignorance, maybe the whisker of a bi-polar disorder)—and there in the shadows, I think if you were to become very still, I bet you could see beyond the grudges to the enormous love they share— for you. That’s probably as good as it gets. But is that so bad, really?
Besides, champions are hard to come by, and it hurts you as well as your mom to throw your relationship away languishing near figurative piles of coffee grounds and old banana peels. You’re young but you’re not stupid, so maybe you’re shaking your head right now, thinking you naïve, silly, well-meaning relative. Here’s what my years have taught me; life whizzes by in a blink, and the only thing that matters are the people you love. Why waste any more time when you could all feel better if you laid down your emotional weapons of mass and minimal destruction and embraced each other?
Why not call your mom this weekend and ask her to tell you a story (a new one)?
About Pamela Martin…
Pam Martin is an MFA graduate of Naropa University’s creative writing program (2001), and a member of Denver Lighthouse Writers. She’s published numerous features as a business correspondent, and as a staff magazine writer for The O&P EDGE. Staged readings of her play and original monologues have been performed in Naropa’s Arts Center, and more recently, at the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art.
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