It’s one in the morning and I’m packing for the wedding. We leave in two days. I shove five pairs of “Spanx” into my suitcase. I can’t believe I need today’s version of a girdle. The antidepressant I’m taking is helping my mood, but the side affects are taking their toll. I’m sleepy during the day, my metabolism has slowed, and my libido has disappeared.
The next day while Simon is in school and Gus is with the sitter, my sister Naomi calls. She wants a more detailed explanation of why Jack and I aren’t bringing Simon and Gus to her wedding. She’s taking it personally and wants me to change my mind.
I want to tell her about “independent-me” and “mother-me,” and how I need “independent-me” to be at the wedding to handle my dad, but I can’t seem to find the words. I know I sound clipped and defensive, but why doesn’t she just get it?
“Maybe when you have kids you’ll understand.”
The conversation escalates. Naomi isn’t taking no for an answer.
“Why can’t you just handle Dad? I agree with you about everything about him. But I’ve made different choices about him than you have, and I just want him at my wedding. Why can’t you accept that? I want my nephews there, too. You’re my maid of honor. You should be smoothing things over, making sacrifices for me.”
“Naomi, I am supporting you! I just can’t do it exactly how you want. I can’t do this one thing. I’m not bringing the kids.” I feel like the old Rebecca, cornered and needing to get out.
After the phone call I can’t help thinking, is this the easy way out? Is that what this whole thing is about? The selfish, easy way out? I’m literally hot with fury. I take off my sweatshirt and call my mom.
I want to hear that this isn’t my fault, isn’t even Naomi’s fault. It’s Dad’s fault he’s so fucked up. He’s the one who caused these problems and we’re stuck trying to deal with it. I want my mom to be our voice of reason. But I’m still focused on Naomi.
“I’m so mad at her for making this about me and her and not about him!”
Mom tries to be neutral. I picture her sitting in the middle of an old-fashioned “teeter-totter” with Naomi and I weighing down either side. Mom is trying to make sure no one pushes too hard or throws off the balance.
“I do think it’s okay to make the right decision for yourself … but you can’t expect her to be happy about it.” Is she taking her side?
“Why don’t you get it? I do not want my kids around Dad.”
I feel abandoned and unsupported. I’ve always felt this way. I was the first to separate from him, my mom leaving him only after I cut off all contact following my wedding. Naomi barely speaks to him, but she has this idea of what a wedding “should be,” and she wants him there. Secretly I wonder if Naomi is just trying to pretend the abuse never happened, just like my mom did before their divorce. Even after the divorce, Mom vacillates between acknowledging what our family was really like and minimizing it to make it more palatable. Is she doing that now?
“Why aren’t you supporting me?” I hang up, too scared, too hurt to hear an answer.
Later that night, my mom calls back. She reassures me that she thinks things will work out between me and Naomi. And she also has another point to make.
“I want you to know that when we are at the wedding, and all the events before and after, I will not leave your side. We can even go to the bathroom together. You will not ever have to be alone with Dad. We will celebrate and he will be in the background. I promise.”
Could she really be coming through for me? I’ve only ever been able to count on myself where my father is concerned. My mom’s silence while I was growing up spoke volumes. She opened up a little about him during their divorce but she’s always thought that saying anything against him would hurt us. She wants her daughters to have a good relationship with their father. I know she wants the best for us. But I also feel like her balancing act helps her deny his abuse, as well as her tacit complicity.
“Oh mom, I don’t know if I can trust you. What if you feel differently at the time?”
Then she gives me the greatest, most unexpected gift: “Rebecca, I won’t feel differently. I know I never protected you before. Let me do it now.”
Relief, gratitude, how to describe the feeling of being understood, really understood, by your mother? How to describe feeling mothered? Up until that moment, that second, I never let myself wish for it, never knew how much I needed to hear those words.
The next day I call Naomi. “God, Naomi, I love you so much. I don’t want your wedding day to be about Dad, I want it to be about you and Marc. I know you’re disappointed about the kids. Please, let me be there for you anyway.”
She says okay. I’m not sure she completely gets it, but I can see she’s trying, and I think she sees I’m making an effort also.
She says “I can’t wait for you to be my Maid of Honor.” And for the first time since she announced her engagement, I can’t wait either.