My mother is a brilliant storyteller but a terrible listener. To talk to her is to have your words stripped of their intent and emotion, assimilated into her worldview, and transformed into an invitation for her to speak at length.
She remembers details with uncanny ease. The shape of a sink in an apartment visited once, decades ago. The coarseness of college friend of a friend’s sweater.
These flourishes of minutiae are mortar in a wall of denial. It comes down to a generation gap, perhaps. Her formative years were Post WWII America, a time of happy surfaces and unspoken demons.
My formative years involved the unleashed anger of blacks, women, environmentalists, anti-war protesters, and heretics declaiming the Church.
The incubator of her personality was Pleasantville. Grey Flannel Suits. Lawrence Welk. Beaver Cleaver and such.
My incubator was the denunciation of all that. Civil Rights. Women’s Liberation. Earth as sacred. Acknowledgment of wrongdoing.
We both had terrible abusive childhoods. She dealt with hers by whitewashing and bowdlerizing it. Such wonderful stories she can tell of magical times with her parents and her grandmother.
I am fixated on getting some salve of apology for the wrongs inflicted on me. My anger and anguish seethe through the thin layer of my face. I broadcast passion. I protest vociferously. I tantrum.
My mother is a deaf raconteur, whose strength is that she can deal with any pain by failing to validate anyone who disagrees with her constructed reality.
I’m a self-absorbed hippie who quests after justice. When not obsessing on my craft, I listen to others. I worked on a suicide hotline for 13 years. I needed to be the opposite of my mother.
And, of course, I am as desperate to be heard as she is to tell tales.
I cut through the dark like an owl, and those married to their masks scurry away in fear.