Monday

Mom. Mommy. I’m so glad you’re here. I’ve missed you. I’ve written these seven letters to you, one each day beginning on my 47th birthday. Just like every greeting card says, thank you for sacrificing so much for my benefit. Thank you for tearing off pieces of your flesh, breaking them down, and regurgitating into my gullet so that I may have life.

As I step into this epistolary abyss, I’m not sure what will be said but I’m hoping you’ll not only read these words and feel closer to your only child but that you’ll find some solace in the knowledge that I’ve made it this far and everything really is okay. I’m still here, drawing breath, despite your greatest fears.

First, lemme acknowledge that I know it wasn’t ever easy. Not as a single mother. Not in the Detroit ghetto. Not being who you are (an immigrant, an eldest daughter, a survivor). Not being who I am (a hypersensate, over-achieving owner of a smart mouth and smarter fingers). I don’t need to have borne nor raised small humans to appreciate what your life has been and what you have done. So hear me when I say, first and foremost, I may not know you but I see you.

So, wherever you are on the planet at this moment, this is me reaching across the Internet because it’s the only and best gift I have to give.

 


Monday | Tuesday | Wednesday | Thursday | Friday | Saturday | Sunday

 

Advertisements

Tuesday

Day 2. Where to start? First off, I should thank you for mailing me a handwritten paper note that one time! Out of nowhere too. Surprise! It’s always nice to receive correspondence on thoughtfully chosen stationery, isn’t it? Don’t worry, I understand that you probably didn’t have time to actually thoughtfully chose any stationery and I’m perfectly happy with the piece of printer paper inside an envelope taped shut with hairy Scotch Tape. I’m just happy to hear from you!

I don’t want to seem ungrateful or anything but can I just say that even though your charmingly brief note opened with “Hello my darling daughter,” I have to be honest, it was a bit jarring to veer straight from there into “Mama works with 1: drug addicts, 2: mental patients.” I mean, just wham, how’d you do.

I have questions.

But first, how’ve you been?! I’d love to know. Has your life improved at all? Are you finally enjoying some hard-earned contentment? Passing a few pleasant retirement days here and there maybe? I worry that you still don’t have friends or companionship. That you’re washed by the blue light of that giant tv and nothing else. Loneliness is a killer.

So about that greeting. Since drug addicts and mental patients cover an impossibly broad set of people with vastly different traits, interests, demographics, dispositions and the like, I’m guessing you’re trying to tell me that as a nurse-turned-naturopath, you help all the poor, wretched souls and likewise, you will help poor, wretched me? Is that it? Thing is, Dearest Mother, we haven’t spoken in years and when we did, what did you know about me? About my actual, presumed wretched life?

I’m sorry. That’s unfair, I know. You’ve done so much for me, as I said. I should totally cut you some slack. Mothers, they give so much and we offspring are such merciless ingrates. As I said previously, thank you for my birth. I am obviously forever grateful (maybe not on those days I’ve wished I was dead but you get the idea, right?) All you’re asking is to be in your only child’s life. Anybody would want that. It’s reasonable. I’m an adult; I get it.

Our estrangement is on me, after all. I tried (so, so hard) to distance you from my life but, to your credit, you kept coming back. A mother never abandons her child, you said. I can always count on you, you said. That turns out to be true although maybe not in the ways you intended.

So here are these letters. Hopefully they will offer some understanding, relief, clarity. To you? To me? Does it matter? You have not lost your child; not really. I am alive and well. Your cells are in me. They are me. As you’ve said many times, you will never leave me alone and it’s true. You never have.

It’s cruel, this. You know it. I know it. Cruelty is the skin that clings and wrinkles, thickly concealing — protecting — the tender wounds beneath.

And yes, I am angry. So get ready for that. Fun times ahead! I suppose I always have been, really. When I was a child, you’d ask me why I was enraged and I didn’t know what you meant. I hadn’t yet worked out that what I felt was anger and that there was some other feeling state in which to live. Be what can you do with that information now? I don’t have that answer.

What I can say is that everyone needs a mother. Maybe not their actual mother, depending on circumstance, but everyone a mother. We humans need mothering, nurturing, caring. Each one of us needs someone to be there in times of need and in times of triumph. We need someone to see us regardless of our opinions, appearance, or choices. We need someone who chooses, at every moment, to make the maternal connection an unbreakable one. We can give it but without receiving it, we do not thrive.

Mommy, I needed a mother. Where were you?

 


Monday | Tuesday | Wednesday | Thursday | Friday | Saturday | Sunday

 

Wednesday

Day 3. This is where I come clean about my part in all this.

Here are the 10 ways I’ve heard you say I hurt you, Dearest Mother:

My Crimes

  1. I got caught up with a bad crowd.
  2. I did drugs and drank and had too much sex with too many boys.
  3. I was selfish.
  4. I was cold, remorseless, and uncaring.
  5. I was ungrateful.
  6. I didn’t listen.
  7. I lied.
  8. I talked back.
  9. I was just like my father.
  10. I abandoned you.

To this day, you probably still think that I didn’t hear you back then, that I didn’t care about what you were going through. You were mamma-bear-ing through a difficult, lonely life, protecting your one and only child. You stopped at nothing to keep her safe in hostile Detroit in the seventies and eighties. All five foot two of you dug deep to find the strength every single day, whatever the cost. You gave all you had to give, didn’t you? And yet, despite all your efforts, I committed crimes against the family, against you.

Here’s the thing though. Those crimes up there? The grievances you railed against as I grew out of childhood and found a life of my own? They’re not all true.

Before you fly off in a rage, bear with me a second. Let’s go through them, one by one.

1. There was no bad crowd.

Why not? Because I had no friends. Vigilantly, you chased off the ghettobaby neighbourhood kids, instructed me not to talk to any of the raggedy children at school nor at any of my many after-school classes, and you forbade visitors to the house. I was safe from their influence and safe from harm. In those difficult and dangerous times, you protected me and I did as I was told.

2. There were no drugs, drink, nor sex of any kind.

Today, this is one I totally wish was true back then. But it isn’t. I believe my first “grown up” drink was a cloying Bartles and James wine cooler when I was nineteen. For those keeping score, nineteen is the age of majority in my home province. At nineteen, I’d been in university for two years already. No drunken frat-house gang rape here. You protected me and I did as I was told.

The first time I’d even seen an illicit substance with my own eyes was well into my twenties and even then it was from across a room and I was mortified. If I’d worn pearls, they’d have been clutched and clutched hard. I remember actually being afraid I’d be irreparably damaged just by proximity to debauchery. In the era of crack pipes and destroyed lives, you protected me and I did as I was told.

As for the dangers of underage sex? Being years younger than my high-school  classmates, I had no clue and no one was interested. I had to beg to get a date to senior prom and even then he stayed as far from me as he could all night, partying with his friends instead. Good times. When it came to boys (no one said a word about anyone else) and the perils of teen pregnancy, you protected me and I did as I was told.

3. I was selfish.

This one is probably close to true. I didn’t think much about anyone else in my youth. This is likely because aside from you, Dearest Mother, my every-other-week father, and a few occasional relatives, there was no one else to think of.

Sure, there were a few kids at school I had conversations with when they needed something but, as instructed, I did so only out of politeness and a desire not to draw attention. I spent my time reading, watching television, taking apart and reassembling appliances, computers, and electrical equipment, and rearranging the room I am indeed grateful to have had. These, you may notice, are solo activities. Self-focus came with the territory.

4. I was cold, remorseless, and uncaring.

Sure, I’ll cop to having a cold and remorseless nature. Looking back, I can see now that I’d lived an emotionless life until my thirties, really. Shut down. Numb. Absentee. I’d taught myself to summarily stifle my thoughts, feelings, and opinions as they only served to bring about difficulties for myself and others. I suppose that made me come across as uncaring, if not actually reduced my capacity to care as being successful in this way of being required a degree of disengagement. You can’t have it all, I guess.

Your own life was a war zone and you imparted to me the only way you knew how to survive a situation like that: head down and soldier on. And it worked, partially at least. I’m still alive. So I suppose you might count this as a win in the end.

5. I was ungrateful.

Let’s talk about ungratefulness for a sec. Ungratefulness seems to be the curse of children whose parents do not see their own heroic efforts reflected back at them. Because children don’t have a frame of reference outside their own experience, they do not have any reason to think their parents’ back-breaking exhaustion isn’t just the way things are for everyone at all times.

Looking back, of course I’m grateful. You were a single parent, an immigrant, living in an embattled city. You had struggles of your own. I didn’t expect to live past thirty so yeah, every day I’m grateful. But no, as a child, I probably didn’t say so.

6. I didn’t listen.

Like so many of these criminal accusations, I’m not entirely sure where this came from. Not only did I listen to every word spoken, I took in every gesture, every look, every tonal variance. Anything I could get, I greedily took. As an OG latchkey kid, I was desperately lonely in those houses. You worked double, sometimes triple shifts and slept the rest of the time. You had to. How else were we to live? When you were around and awake, I paid attention so hard, I ached.

It’s why I penned that pathetic letter to you when I was nine; I wanted that same quality of attention directed back at me. Now I know why that enraged you so — you were doing all you could and I wanted more.

Barely a moment passes without your internalized voice guiding me. It even has your accent and the sound of you sucking your teeth in disgust. My memory is unusually and selectively accurate when it comes to interactions. It replays conversations word for word, gesture for gesture, as if I’m watching a recording. Even if I wanted not to hear you, I can’t.

7. I lied.

You remember how dramatic it was back then? Me proclaiming my innocence when you called me out? You railing at the nerve I had for denying what you knew for sure? Well here’s some breaking news: I told you the truth each and every time you asked.

You warned me to do that so I did. Terror apparently makes for effective parenting, at least if you squint and look real hard.

I’ve lied to you exactly twice in forty-seven years. Both were in that period in my thirties where I instinctively tried so earnestly to take space, time, and distance to hear my own voice and think my own thoughts apart from yours. Both horrid moves, I know (once I made up a reason to escape your house the last time I visited and once I lied about having a cell because I wanted to keep the new number to myself…not everyone had phones then). And I accept the guilt of my actions. But the point is, all those other times? Truth. 100%.

It’s worth mentioning that I vividly recall the moment I understood that everyone lies pretty much all the time despite consistently instructing children not to do so. That moment was only a handful of years ago and it broke my world.

8. I talked back.

Okay, you got me on this one too. I talked back. I did. I asked questions. I expressed opinions. Or at least I tried. It was my damned job to be curious about the world. It was my damned job to develop an identity separate from yours. Autonomy is natural, inevitable, and desirable. I’d do it again too, only much, much more. I now know that it’s healthy and expected to have one’s own self and to actively develop it. I just missed that chapter back then.

For the record, in my youth, I barely spoke. When I did, I quickly learned I had no right to do so and worse, was being offensive for doing so. You all weren’t kidding when you said speak only when spoken to. I’m going to say I think I lived up to that expectation fairly well.

9. I was just like my father.

To be just like my father was, in my eyes, a high compliment. He was tall and handsome, dignified and intelligent. He was white and fit in easily in the affluent circles in which he enjoyed traveling. I saw him command respect wherever we went. People smiled when we entered a room. I admired him for that.

Being in the world with you was different. There was a furtive feeling in the air, a sense of danger but from what? Back then, I didn’t understand the hostility and side-eye was more about the colour of your skin and your foreign-sounding voice. The racial tensions of black versus white Detroit just after the 1967 riot permeated every moment yet were invisible to me even as I stood among them, the embodiment of the unwanted, feared future.

Being a kid, I just thought you offended everybody in every store and doctor’s office and ballet class lobby because you were pushy and strange. So yeah, I wanted to be like him, not like you. I wanted people to smile when I entered a room not roll their eyes when I fished for my wallet because they were certain I’d come up short.

There’s so much I didn’t understand back then — so much I’m just beginning to understand now — about the experience of being black in white Detroit at that time. I do, however, understand that not much has changed which is why one goal for my life is to do all I can to engender #equality for all regardless of appearance, heritage, ability, sexual orientation, gender, wealth, location, language, and all the other ways humans differ.

10. I abandoned you.

It’s no secret that ran away from home as soon as I could. But it didn’t go down like some would expect: I wasn’t underage and full of fury. No, I ran when I was far too old, improbably naïve, and filled with shame. I was ashamed of my being the vile, unnamed thing that was so disdainful, so horribly wrong that it caused my Dearest Mother, my only friend, to tough love me out of our home twice before that final break.

I tried, I did. Despite my best and constant efforts, I didn’t behave well, didn’t use my body correctly, didn’t use my words properly, didn’t anticipate and react as required. To self-correct, I studied people every chance I got. I examined characters on television. I internalized every novel I could get my hands on. I devoured pop psychology books from the library and became a keen observer of the world around me. I was earning my Jr. PhD in Expected Human Behavior so I could stop being me.

But those studies were never good enough. I was never good enough. I wasn’t able, no matter what level of effort I put in, to earn my right to be alive. Whatever my fundamental, in-born error was, I wasn’t going to be able to overcome it, it seemed. So the third time I was told to leave, I did, for good. I ran. I hid.

I hid so I wouldn’t cause any more upheaval. Now I understand that the default for a child’s psyche is to believe that a parent’s unhappiness and suffering is the child’s fault. At the time, my childish reasoning was that if I stayed away, you’d finally have the peaceful life you wished you had. That faulty reasoning soon turned into a wish for a peaceful life for myself.

The more separated we were, the calmer I felt. My nightmares lessened. I tried making friends. But the happier I got, the more belligerent you became. The threatening phone calls increased. The sporadic letters in the mail became more bizarre and alarming. My attempts to ease your outlandish fears backfired so thoroughly that the only choice left was to step away.

That seemed to work best although from time to time your fury reached me and undid my world. This crime is a complex one. Some would say it’s simple, that society expects a child to devote all energy and resources to supporting their parent, no matter what. That having been given life itself is a debt to be forever repaid, without question and with respect.

That is not how I choose to live and for that, I accept the charge of abandonment. I believe that I carry no debt for having been born. You chose me and that choice comes with great and long-lived responsibilities that are non-transferable and non-interest bearing. The crime of abandonment means a separate, less stressful, more loving life for me. For you, this crime means a chance at the peaceful, unencumbered day-to-day you dreamed of for so long.

The Verdict

To the charges listed above, I plead somewhat guilty. Life is complicated, filled with shades of grey. Some of my crimes were committed in the ignorance of youth and others in order to nurture a healthy adult life. I suppose every criminal has justifications for their actions.

These letters are my self-imposed sentence. I’m fairly certain nothing I say will touch you in any way because I’m either “remembering incorrectly” or “lying” (see #7 above), right? But words are what I have to offer and so I offer them to you.

 


Monday | Tuesday | Wednesday | Thursday | Friday | Saturday | Sunday

 

Thursday

Day 4. I started this one intending to tell my little girl’s view of our life together. I thought that maybe if you had that window in, you might see that your adult understanding at the time was likely very different from mine. I thought that your decades-old disgust and rage might be soothed because you’d see they are fueled by miscommunication and misunderstanding.

But then I remembered how many times I’d tried that very gambit and how each time it failed.

We’re both adults and adults already know that children see and experience things through their own lenses. This is not news.

So is there anything at all to gain by looking backwards?

I’ve certainly done my share. It turned out that my continuing to live depended on my looking back. And now? Now I’m at last able to look forward. To look ahead and imagine — to dream, not just to plan — is a luxury earned.

So let’s look forward instead. Let’s talk about what’s left because you’re in your eighties now and, if it isn’t too late already, there may or may not be time left.

By now you’re probably reading this fourth letter of seven, looking for apologies. You’re probably waiting for the sign that I will finally take your advice and turn my back on the life I’ve built to return and be part of yours. You may be looking for an invitation to share the home and the life that I’ve created, like some inter-generational fantasy. You may even be hoping for an indication of some renewed connection beyond seven public letters posted on the Internet.

I cannot offer any of that.

Distance is what I need to continue to rise. That is selfish, yes. It’s self-preservation. I know you don’t see it that way and I understand that point of view. Regardless, you have one power no one else alive or dead will ever have: a maternal connection. Ours may not be an attachment but it is a bond. It’s biology woven with twenty-ish years of formative proximity. You have influence over me, my state of being, my wellness. In your words, you own me. As you’ve also said, it doesn’t matter what I want, this is what I get. In this case, you are correct. I’m only speaking on your behalf using words you’ve already spoken.

Luckily, and because of many years of dedicated effort, I have developed the skills and tools needed to survive and, believe it, thrive. I’d always secretly hoped that would be something you’d want for me but again, selfish. One of those tools I’ve gained is to maintain distance from sources of trauma. Some would say face one’s demons and work through them! I say it’s all a cost-benefit analysis not to mention that I’ve faced you many times already. Here I am, doing it again, sort of. It’s a coward’s way out. Or is it courageous to lay bare at last? I know which I choose.

How I’ve dreamed the collective dream of best-friend sister-motherhood! How idyllic to go on giggly outings together, bake cookies, and laugh at the same idiotic show! Oh! The irritating weekly phone calls where you’d nag about my choices in footwear and I’d nag about your choices in lipstick! We’d plan upcoming holiday events with the family. Should we invite the clan to your house or mine? We’d reminisce about times gone by and how the good old days are surely behind us. We’d care deeply deeply deeply for each other like no one else can. I think they call that love.

But that’s not what we get.

We get whatever this is and the pain that goes with it. Sure, it’s changeable. Everything is. But nothing changes if it stays the same.

 


Monday | Tuesday | Wednesday | Thursday | Friday | Saturday | Sunday

 

Friday

Day 5. This isn’t going at all how I’d planned. But I didn’t plan, did I? Not really. There’s so much less sweetness and light and so much more finger-pointing and bile. But if I’m being honest — and I am, we’ve covered that — bile is what’s here.

I suppose I’m hoping that doesn’t matter. I suppose I’m hoping that there’s more to a parental bond than who’s right and who’s wrong and what happened or didn’t. Sure you’ve said as much but we both know that what you mean is that nothing in the past matters so long as I become an extension of you again: an obedient appendage, the dutiful child. Then all will be forgiven.

Anyway, let’s switch it up! Lemme tell you how my life is going!

So, in case you need to know, I’m 47 now and feeling pretty optimistic about what’s ahead. Sure, when you knew me, jobs were easy to come by for me, and easier to lose. You worried about my future but I’m there now, in my future, and it turned out just fine.

You met J. That one time at your house then again at the ceremony. He is everything and he is nothing: nothing you warned of, nothing you feared. He is gentle and kind, considerate and supportive. He is the very best kind of person and he makes me happy. I know you don’t believe me, that you think I’m lying. Again, refer to the honesty section herein.

It saddens me — always has — that you see the world through a lens of rage and distrust. I’m over the fact that you have never and will never believe a word I say but I may never get over that your experience of the world is coloured by this view. We get so little time.

Yes, horrible things happen and have likely happened to you. But we have lives to live and horrible events can define us in whichever ways we allow them to. Now I hear you in my mind taunting me, calling me PollyAnna (whoever that was). I know enough that she deserved no respect because she chose to view life as a series of happy events rather than dwell on the unhappy. So alright. I’ll take that. You won’t catch me doling out advice to ignore the negative parts of our lives in favour of a blissful outlook but I will happily advise that we can each look through and beyond those difficult events and tuck them safely into our satchels for carrying along the road of life.

Negative events shape us as much as the positive ones and that’s my point. We can’t dwell on either the good or the bad for they are equal. It may feel as if the bad events have a disproportionate echo, and they may if significant enough, but so do large good happenings. We happen to be wired to see one more than the other as recognizing and internalizing danger is a matter of instinct and survival. But haven’t we all heard stories of people surviving unimaginable circumstances to live beautiful lives?

Point is, I’m content. My choices help me to be that way. My good fortune plays a large part as does my implementation of what I’ve learned from the bad fortune that’s come my way. I’ve worked incredibly hard for this, in myriad ways. No one will take that from me. No one can.

I’m going to say this next bit because it applies to me and also because it likely applies to you.

What people with loving parents take as a given, others have to consciously acquire and maintain. I spend most waking hours planning, securing, preserving, improving, and tending all the things necessary to have and keep a safe and peaceful home. Even when I have what I need and want, the drive continues because it never feels as if security is here to stay. Like a squirrel perpetually stuffing away winter nuts, the drive continues to the exclusion of everything else. It’s been a lifelong impulse that can crowd out everything else. No bill goes unattended, no pantry shelf goes bare. It’s constant.

It’s also fear. Fear is the residue from rejection and abandonment, from the lack of a nurturing, stable bond or a safe and comforting home. This may be the well from which your immense fear springs.

Before you rail at the blame, I thank you. Because of you, I am a domestic goddess of the kind that would make Queen Steinem cringe. I am proud of my deep base of knowledge and my considerable skills in this arena. I am aware that many notable people have made careers from giving advice on homekeeping, home purchasing, home maintenance, personal finance, cuisine and the like. They are not me but I respect them for making good on what they know, despite our culture’s bipolar view.

I am fortunate enough to have lived half my statistical life and what I have to show for it is an enviably great home life filled with love and joy and acceptance and support — all the things that were mocked and derided in my youth as worthless time wasted by ignorant, lazy people. Just shows what “everyone” knows, huh?

You, Dearest Mother, have proven again and again that you will never take responsibility for your actions where I am concerned. You parented the best you knew how at the time and it was good — but it wasn’t good enough. That’s gotta sting. You kept me alive, that’s true. I am here now because of you, that’s also true. But I will not give you 100% credit for who I grew into as that takes away from the work I’ve done to get here, to stay alive.

I forgave your shortcomings long ago. What I will never forgive is the cruelty, the coldness, the lack of nurturing and support as you all but ignored your child’s emotional development. That was voluntary. That was a choice. You were exhausted and depleted, being a single mother in near poverty. You didn’t have to loathe your own child. That is not my fault and I will not accept it as such. Ever.

And now your life is coming to its end and I can’t help but recall the indifference with which you faced the news of my father’s own final breath. He was a mistake to you, as was I. So you easily stepped away from him and pushed me away from you. But I am still here. I survived to tell this tale so that others may ride this life raft I offer here to their own safety.

 


Monday | Tuesday | Wednesday | Thursday | Friday | Saturday | Sunday

 

Saturday

Day 6. If you’re still reading these letters, hats off to you! You’ll have taken a beating by this point and it can’t feel good. I’m not sorry for what I’ve revealed but I do feel your pain.

So what do I want to tell you today, Dear Parent? Maybe we should go down a road we have not before. Yes, let’s.

In my 40’s, I finally understood why my life has unfolded in the previously inexplicable way that it has. Why no matter how hard I studied people and their behavior, no matter how hard I prepared for interactions, eventually I was rejected in some (sometimes creative!) way for not fitting in. People often don’t realize why they’re repelled and, for a very long time, neither did I. Now, if I know you at all, you’re probably thinking, “So what?” or “Poor baby! Suck it up.”

But here’s the thing: our culture runs on cohesiveness and fame. You don’t have good relationships out there, you don’t prosper and by “prosper” I mean earn enough to buy food and shelter. When the group pushes you out, you then may have to struggle for the resources to sustain your life. It happens in the wild and it happens in society.

Why didn’t this poor baby fit in the big bad world? It wasn’t my appearance as I carefully designed that to not only mimic but exceed cultural standards. It wasn’t my behavior per se as that was thoughtfully constructed as well. Since I was smarter than the average bear, I was found to be useful. Since I was young, I was seen as full of potential. What I was — what I am — that nobody including me knew, is autistic.

I know! Surprise!

For an inadequately brief overview, the autistic brain is one that processes differently than the non-autistic brain. In simplistic terms, input is handled much like a math equation is computed, rationally and deliberately in a different area of the brain than most. Most social cues are handled this way as well, at least for me. Obviously there’s more to it but that means the interaction experience doesn’t go down as expected for regular folks but they can’t quite put their finger on why.

Long ago, I memorized the interaction styles, verbal cues, tonality, body language, gestures, and more of people in general and, when interacting, offered the appropriate response as needed. Growing up, I assumed that was just how life was “done”. I thought everybody learned this way and that I was just behind. I observed that conversation was an inexplicable and tedious ritual of exchanging pat phrases and facial expressions in order to achieve an end and that somehow, everyone but me was perfectly chill with this. Today I know that behavior is called “masking”. The term refers to the persona developed to cope with societal demands.

My persona became highly developed. It became all that I was. Yay, I thought. I was “doing life right!” But when I saw that I wasn’t, I’d adjust. I’d study and practice harder. I’d arrange my face in the right postures and pitch my voice up high while keeping my vocabulary down low. I smiled and made all kinds of eye contact. I had eye contact to spare! But still, people would be put off.

It could happen right away — like if I forgot to use the proper greeting phrases in a coffee shop before placing my order — or it could happen after a weeks or months of getting to know someone new. With every “How To Do Life” box checked off, I’d assumed that things weren’t turning out for as I expected because I wasn’t making my social calculations fast enough.

I would later learn this isn’t how life works for most people at all. In fact, not only was I processing fast enough, I was doing it at speeds multiple factors faster than was the norm. It turns out that I was exhausting myself just being in the world and couldn’t understand why I was the only one stressed out about it.

Now that I know more about my incredible, beautiful 2E brain and those like it (there are LOTS of us), I see that I likely inherited it from one or both of you. We know my other Dear Parent was a mathematical genius. I got zero of the mathematical parts but 110% of the pattern-recognition parts. He was likely an Aspie too — shorthand for Asperger’s Syndrome, an out-of-date way to describe people who often possess extraordinary ability along with the other traits of autism.

Once you know what you’re looking for, you can see traits in some of his other children and probably grandchildren as well. And we know your difficulties in life stemmed largely from social issues and life management difficulties. When you read more about women and girls who have neurology categorized as “autistic” you may see yourself reflected. Or you may not. Knowing you, that will likely remain a mystery forever.

But I will tell you that once I began researching my neurological makeup in earnest, my life began to make sense. A LOT more sense. In fact, as I said, once you know what to look for, it can be stunningly obvious. And contrary to your previous derogatory comments, having an autistic brain is magic.

I can discern patterns in ordinary life remarkably easily. I don’t even have to try. This wondrous ability helps me predict individual and group behavior, accurately project system outcomes, imagine flavor combinations, visualize mechanical possibilities, you name it! Life runs on patterns and I’ve got the touch.

I can hear multiple conversations at once, along with minor sounds in the background and pretty much everything else. This comes in handy when the person I’m talking to may be less interesting than the lover’s quarrel going on the next table in a restaurant. I can also hear when machinery is failing or when appliances have been left on when other’s can’t.

My sense of smell is keen which means my sense of taste is up there as well. Because of that I enjoy meals more than most anything in the world.

I can hold an extraordinary amount of information in my working memory at one time and can hold focus forever. Together with pattern-recognition, this is handy for working with large-format stories such as screenplays and novels, as well as large system structures such as complex software structures or architectural schematics. All of these have supported my life over the years.

I am incredibly sensitive to the feelings of others. I had to learn the social cues in order to recognize the feelings on display but once I did, I couldn’t turn the volume down. I feel so deeply that I need to schedule blackout time to process the intensity. I believe this makes me a peaceful and compassionate person. It also allows me to communicate with animals a bit better than most.

It isn’t all sunshine and moonbeams of course but what is?

There is so much more but I tell you all this as proof that being in possession of an exceptional brain has all sorts of benefits. Most of the daily struggle comes from other people not accepting these differences because different is a threat, different is confusing, different is bad.

My pack-animal theory applies to all parts of life, not just to people who think differently. As I mentioned earlier, this truth makes trouble for those who need to fit in in order to gain the resources needed to support life. And that’s everybody.

So if you resist looking inward to see if this is also true of you, it’s understandable. I encourage you to do so anyway. Life doesn’t need to be all pain. There is joy. There is peace. It’s there if you go looking for it and I wish nothing more than that for you.

And I hope you’ll look back over our time together and be able to reframe our experiences to see that what you once interpreted as shifty or willful, dishonest or disrespectful, mean or uncaring, were likely pretty standard communication differences.

I was never what anyone expected. Turns out, I was far, far, far more glorious and now, much too late, I know it.

 


Monday | Tuesday | Wednesday | Thursday | Friday | Saturday | Sunday

 

Sunday

Day 7. Final day. We’ve come a long way, you and I. Covered a lot of ground. Today I again find myself thinking about all that never was. Those far too frequent moments when I mourn the loss of that beautiful relationship between mother and child; when I imagine the life lessons, the generational spats, even the backlit strolls on a lively boardwalk, hand in hand, like besties. But you can’t lose something you never had, isn’t that what they say?

Even with your struggles, there could have been more love. There should have been.  Affection, joy, lightness and cheer. How nice that would have been, even for a few moments. But I can only recall a handful of times I’ve seen you laugh. This makes me sad for you more than anything else. Why was your life so joyless? Even in the face of hardship, oppression, and loss was there nothing that filled your soul? Was there no treatment for depression back then or did you not seek it? Was that even a thing to think of treating or maybe, were the larger costs too great? So many questions.

You achieved SO MUCH, all by yourself. You gave all of yourself and more to me and everyone else. You were alone all of the time. All of it. What happened to the life that was supposed to have been yours? Why was it so easily lost?

It was a different time, I know. And the forces in your way were insurmountable, for certain. I’ve spent decades turning all of this over, looking for answers, looking for reasons why you and I never were. It’s tragic, really. And you’ll never tell. So many times and in so many ways I asked for the story of your past which is my past and was denied.

I’ve responded to those rare messages from you — always from someplace different — but I never heard back. I guess your need was to reach out, but not actually to me. Just like your need was always to have a child, a daughter, but not me.

There’s no one else who has your memories so I am left to accept that I will never know where I came from or who my parents were: What made you smile? How did you play as children? What were your favorite foods and your favorite colors? What were you good at? When you were tucked into your beds at night, where did your dreams take you? My questions are not extraordinary, they’re not insightful. They’re painfully basic in every way.

But I’m not alone in this. There are so many many many children and adults living with only their memories as their personal histories. They too must make their own families, find their own paths. Some are aware of their situation because their parents have been physically absent in their lives. Some are unaware; their parents are around in body but absent in presence. For them, the void is their normal. They take it with them into adulthood and into the families they build for themselves, passing along the normalcy of one of the great tragedies of our time.

As this series of letters draws to a close, Dearest Mother, you should know, I’m not angry any more. I’m good. And I’m going to choose to believe that you’re happy for me. If you want, you can take my happiness as proof that you won the parenting game. I’m alive and I’m well. I make my own choices and enjoy privilege beyond my own, much less our ancestors’, wildest dreams.

I am damn proud to be me and I work to earn that pride every single day.

This feeling is new and I’m not sure how to describe it other than peaceful. I realized somewhere in the middle of this week of letters that the anger no longer serves any purpose. It protected me, kept me vigilant and moving forward. It kept me connected to you. But I don’t need it any more.

I’m just fine. I hope you are too.

 


Monday | Tuesday | Wednesday | Thursday | Friday | Saturday | Sunday