Once in a while, my mother plays for me an old country song called, “Idol of the Band”. One of the chorus lines speaks to a brief bittersweet period of shining glory for a young woman from humble beginnings.
We always have a little laugh with it, but within the mirth is a little wistfulness too. I think that song reminds my mother of a funny moment or two from the bad old days. I share those feelings, but I also feel traces of poignancy that can’t quite be defined. They are flashes of the heartstrings that join us more by fate than by our blood.
I’d heard forever that I am my mother’s daughter. I look a lot like her, and I put her temperament on display now and then, but that was the absolute limit to the comparisons that I was determined to live out. I loved her, but I had every reason not to repeat every aspect of her life.
My mother was that young small town girl that did not dream of escape to the bright lights of the big city. Maybe she’d become a nurse, maybe even a nun, but in the end she longed only for a simple life of family, and hearth and home in the same little town. As it always is, it was about a boy.
Her dreams were devastatingly reshaped when step one of her plan led her into the arms of that handsome young man who soon became an abuser who drank too much. Step two in the unintended reality was giving life to me, and then pulling me along on the path to their hell.
By the time she left him, I’d already learned a lifetime of what not to be. There was no doubt that meant being everything my parents weren’t. What I had no way of knowing then was how deeply the sins of the father and mother had already been woven into the fabric of my future.
Like my mother, I was mostly raised in small towns or a very insular sensibility within a city. Maybe partly because of that I grew up craving the promise of anything but simplicity. I was going to be one of those bright lights in the city. I intended to be the people I saw on TV or read about in books about success. I used the same success examples my mother did, but unlike novels of romance, I was not going to depend on a man, or have babies anytime soon.
I was desperately eager to be in that new life. Desperation was probably mistaken for boldness and so, at almost sixteen I went off in search of those bright lights. I hugged my mother goodbye. She armed me with a little money, those lessons well learned, and a crock pot.
The years to follow were harder than I could ever have imagined. I began them by piling on loads of makeup and lying about my age to be able to work long days analogous to slave labor. When the realization grew that I could be stuck there forever, I added night school to the schedule. It took years, but eventually I got my business titles.
I succeeded at school, I succeeded in work, and I succeeded in social status. I was nothing like my mother’s life.
Not until I was. Not until I realized that there was just one thing missing for me, and I would wholly embrace the answer to that, and it would gut everything I’d worked for, including part of the spirit that had carried me away from small town nightmares.
I fell madly in love. He said that I was the smartest, most beautiful woman he’d ever known. He asked, “What can I do to make your life happier”? He said, “I promise, I will take care of you”.
He eased the deep thread of emptiness so common in the fabrics of my kind of past. It was really an unraveling, but I’d grown used to pretending that strand of vulnerability didn’t exist anyway. That was a necessary evil to confirm how much more ahead of my mother I was. So, I ignored the red flags that waved and I said, yes. Just like my mother did.
He swept me off my feet and back into hell.
It was a little over three years before I was able climb out. By then, almost all of my relationships with friends and family had deteriorated, along with all the other areas of my life. The only miracle within the madness was that I didn’t have any children with him. Not that we didn’t try.
I moved from the immediate brutality of that time, but it turned out I wasn’t completely out of those woods yet. I was always a bit of a slow learner for anything that required my heart to assess what was not in my best interests, especially where love was concerned.
I hadn’t learned yet that honest trust for anyone else can only come from honest esteem for self. I still had to learn what that looked like. I still had to learn that betrayal hides in plain sight for the unwitting, and sometimes it’s disguised as your best friends and your closest confidants.
It would take another turn on that shaky dance floor before I could really see under the masks. This second teacher was far more subtle, but just as oppressive with his demand to control. That three year dance was a constant and chaotic struggle to change him/them, but it was clear that this one was about accepting that all the changes needed were mine. I accepted finally that it wasn’t my job to love someone enough to become a better person or to make them be better people.
Time moves every story along, and it became more of my friend this round. My bright future lay tarnished on the ground, but I was finished with the idea of gleam anyway. The only choice I could face was to go back to the beginning. A revisit to that place that gives you the so called strengths you depend on to survive, but really are old scars that need to be opened in order to be properly closed. I was taught that healing me was part of healing the whole of humanity, but it was the only part that I was, or could be, responsible for.
I reworked how I defined success and my revised ideals created the roads to more meaningful ways. I learned to accept that healing is never really over, but the lessons begin to bloom more in joy than the scrapes of sorrow. I worked my way to a life that is different, quieter, but true; to one that matters. Just like my mother did.
And every now and then, we sing together the words of an old country song that plays to our fated heartstrings and we smile at the notes that we more than survived.
This story was partially published as a guest post for JT Weaver.net in September 2013. Revised May 15, 2014