A Barrier Between Us

by Anonymous, http://neovox.cortland.edu, October 20, 2009

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There is a boundary between my mother and me. It doesn't lie on any plane, doesn't stretch from any point to any other point. She made it, but even she doesn't know where it is. She put it up, I would guess, some time just after my birth, possibly before; I don't know.

My mother employed the silent treatment as punishment when she was upset with me. Sometimes is would last only a few hours, other times days, a week or so, then she'd act like nothing ever happened. I should add here that I am the eldest child and only daughter; my two brothers were very young at the height of my mother's silent treatments. They never received the same punishment I did.

When I did something I knew was wrong, like break a toy or hit my brother, I'd usually just get a sigh and "Katharine Ann!" Whenever she stopped talking to me I never really understood why. Oft times, simply something I said would trigger her reaction. But what did I say? I couldn't decode what word, what phrase made her... shut off so suddenly.

It was worse in the winter. We'd be laughing and joking around, my mother, father and I at, say, nine years old, and then something would happen. Did I miss it when I blinked? What did I do? May father would say, "You know how you mother gets." She would say... nothing.

I must have been doing something wrong, I thought, but I didn't know what. Of course I tried asking her, "Why are you so mad at me, Mommy?" No answer. "Mommy, I'm sorry." No answer.

As a child I was constantly apologizing. It was all my little mind could think to do. I must be doing something wrong; I must be, but I don't know what I'm doing wrong! I though everything I did was wrong. Some how I was hurting my mommy, but I didn't see how. So I apologized for everything. I got an A-. "I'm sorry." The dishes are dirty. "I'm sorry." My brother ate a crayon. "I'm sorry."

"Katie! Stop apologizing!" my parents said. To which I replied:

"I'm sorry."

What else could I do? I was in constant fear that I was doing something wrong. Then I came up with a better defense; I would stop talking. Since anything I could say could be a trigger; I no longer told her anything of substance.

"Hi."

"How was your day?"

"Good."

"What'd you do today?"

"Nothing. What's for dinner?"

"Chicken." That was usually the extent of it, that and the occasional "I'm sorry."

There is a barrier between us, a barrier that keeps words in my mouth as if they were bullets or as dangerous as. Sometimes, while on duty guarding my side of the border, I slip and accidentally fire my gun over the wall. Then I wait. Did I hit someone? Will they fire back? Dios mío, I'm going to be shot.


The last time she stopped talking to me I was home for winter break, sophomore year. My family had played Yahtzee! while I was at work that night. The game was still out on the kitchen table. There were cold cuts in the fridge so I made myself a sandwich for work in the morning. I knew I would forget it if I didn't leave a note for myself, so I looked around for a piece of paper. On the table I found the thick pad of Yahtzee! scorecards and ripped one off. I wrote, "take lunch" on the blank side in marker and taped it to the fridge. My mother was in the kitchen too. "What's wrong with you!" she screamed at me. "You selfish bitch, you ruined it! Why would you ruin a perfectly good scorecard!"
She didn't walk to me for the rest of the week. At twenty years old I did not apologize. I did not sit outside her bedroom door all night, crying and hoping she would acknowledge my wailing, acknowledge my existence and talk to me. I stopped all that halfway through high school, when at some point on my journey to maturity I realized that it wasn't my fault.
My mother was sick. She couldn't recognize it and my father refused to accept it. But I realized it when my father told me that just after I was born, he left her. I was 16 when he told me. She had become catatonic. She cried all the time, hardly ever moving from her bed. It lasted longer than any postpartum depression, and eventually my father just left. He couldn't take it anymore. "She's crazy," he said. "She's gotten increasingly better over the years, but she's crazy. You know. The only reason I came back was because I know if I didn't that you'd die. And so would she! She's lay in that goddamn bed 'til you both starved to death! Crazy woman."

Crazy. What did that mean? If only he cared enough to understand what he even meant... crazy. Why didn't she get help?

I still talk to my mother hesitantly; the barrier holds strong. I still hold back anything of importance. I don't apologize, but tip toe around her as if she were made of glass, or as if she were a landmine, or my mouth was a loaded gun. I believe that barrier between us has kept her from being a real mother. She is a mother and I am her daughter only at surface level. Our relationship never reaches any deeper.

I came to understand that not only does the wall betwixt us keep my thoughts, my feelings, my words inside me, but it also does the same to her. She does not talk about her feelings, her fears, her anything! Not to me, not to anyone. She does not talk, period, when she needs to the most. It's not her fault, I don't think. It's not my fault either. But she has put up the wall because she... not exactly does not want to talk about it, but she can't. She has repressed her emotions for too long. It's not me that she denies exists when she stops talking; it's her own emotions.

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