TITLE: The Confrontation
By Edwina Cowgill
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I woke up this morning before the alarm ever sounded. I think the knots in my stomach must have been my wake-up call. I am calling today “C Day” rather than “D Day.” I’ve invited my nemesis to come over today. I’m finally going to face her and tell her the things she has done that have affected me all of my life.
I quickly took my shower and dressed. Heading for the kitchen, I mentally rehearsed what I planned to say. With my mind a million miles away, I prepared breakfast for my husband and two sons by rote. They eat the same thing every weekday morning, so thankfully, this was an easy task.
Time passed quickly and before I knew it my husband and boys had left for the day and I was alone in the house. Wondering through the main floor, I inspected each room to ensure the rooms were clean. I knew that everything was clean because I had spent all day the day before cleaning! But I also knew, given the chance, that my guest would inspect everything to see if it was clean. One of the features of the house that we fell in love with when we first saw it was all of the windows. There were cathedral sized windows in the living and dining rooms and I had even cleaned those until they sparkled. I love to decorate and had a great time decorating this house after we purchased it. I decided to keep most of the rooms light and peaceful, letting the outside light into the rooms to brighten them. The walls in each room were painted a soft candlelight color. The furniture and accessories were in rich shades of cherry, evergreen, royal blue and tan.
I ended my inspection in the sunroom and was momentarily blinded by the natural sunlight shining through the back wall of cathedral windows. Walking over to the windows, I looked out at my garden full of colorful flowers bursting into bloom. Cardinals, blue jays, wrens and finches flew from tree to tree, stopping occasionally at one of the bird feeders for a quick snack. The butterfly bushes attracted various species of beautiful butterflies that playfully flit from one bush to another.
Turning my attention back to the sunroom located off of the family room, I realized that some people might find it rather plain, but when I decorated it, I wanted the focal point to be the cathedral windows and the view of the garden beyond. Still, it is a warm and relaxing room, painted a soft robin-egg blue; the wood floors a rich shade of golden honey. There is a comfortable seating arrangement of a sofa and two chairs in front of a fireplace, which on this beautiful spring day is unlit. On the low coffee table, I have already paid out tea and coffee service in preparation for my guest. I sat down on the sofa and anxiously wondered if I should sit in one of the wing-back chairs instead. I moved to a chair and decide that is where I should sit. Minutes pass and my anxiety grows. I’ve waited for this meeting for a long time and finally, it is about to happen.
The front doorbell chimed and startled, I jump to my feet. “Okay. Calm down,” speaking to myself. I walk to the door and open it. There stands my mother. She is shorter than she was when I was a teenager – her back is curved into an “S” shape, giving into the degenerative disc disease she has been plagued with for many years. She walks slowly, using a walker to guide her steps and support her. But she hasn’t given into the disease completely. She still puts on her “face powder” and lipstick every morning. When I was a child, she went to the “beauty shop” (we didn’t have “salons” back then) every Saturday morning. Now this disease is so painful, she is only able to go about once a month.
“Hello, mother. Please, come in,” stepping aside so she can enter. I reach out to help her, but she waves my hand away. “I can do this,” she muttered. “Hmmm…..still as stubborn as ever,” I silently think.
Once she is in the foyer, we hug briefly. “How are you?” I said tentatively.
“Oh, about the same,” she replied. Nothing has changed as this has always been my mother’s standard reply for years, no matter how she truly felt.
“Come and have a seat. Which would be more comfortable for you – the sofa or a chair?”
“I can’t sit on the sofa. I would not be able to get up, so I guess I’ll sit in a chair.”
“That’s fine” I said. “These chairs are quite comfortable. Would you like some coffee or a glass of iced tea?”
“No, nothing.” Perhaps it is just because I am nervous, but she seems more aloof and on edge today than normal.
“This is so much harder than I thought it was going to be”, thinking to myself, “but I am determined I will not chicken out.” So taking a deep breath, I begin.
“Mother, I invited you here today because I have some questions I want to ask you.”
“Questions? What questions?” she asked as her brow furrowed.
“I have questions about the time you were pregnant with me and the months after I was born.”
Very defensively she asked, “Why in the world would you have questions about that time? That was a long time ago. What would make you want to talk about that after all these years?”
“Well, you are not aware of this, but I’ve been going to therapy for chronic depression. My therapists thinks, and I agree, that some things happened while you were pregnant with me and after I was born that has affected me all of my life.”
“Why……why……. that’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard!” she sputtered.
“What in the world could have happened during that time that would affect you all these years? What have you heard? Who have you talked to? What are you talking about?” she asked, wearing her accusing look and her chest rising and falling with agitation.
“Well, I’ve talked a little with Anne and she has told me what she remembers. I’ve also prayed and I believe the Lord has shown me some things, too.” When I mentioned the Lord, Mother got really quiet. She is a Christian but she’s not always too sure that the Lord speaks directly to us today.
“Just what did Anne tell you?” she asked in that same sarcastic tone of voice I have heard all of my life.
“She told me that she thought you had miscarried twice before you got pregnant with me. She said the doctor told you that this would be your last pregnancy because you would get so ill during your pregnancies. She also said that since this was your last chance, you and daddy desperately wanted a boy - that you both wanted a boy so badly, you did not even have a girl’s name picked out. I was named by the nurse in the delivery room, wasn’t I?” I had been watching Mother the entire time I was talking and the accusing look on her face had begun to slowly crumble and change into a distant look. But she wasn’t quite ready to give up yet.
Then she snapped, “And just what did the Lord show you?”
“She must really be rattled if she is being sarcastic about the Lord,” I thought. I’ve never heard her speak sarcastically about spiritual matters.
“The Lord reminded me of a photograph that I saw when I was a child, but I never really thought about it or even remembered it until these last few weeks.”
Mother slowly leaned back into the chair, asking, “What was the picture?” she asked rather fearfully, almost as if she already knew the answer.
“It was a picture of you holding me in your arms, but instead of you holding me close to you, you were holding me out in front of you at arms length so you could see my face. You’re looking at me, but you have absolutely no expression on your face at all. There is no love, no joy or happiness, nothing on your face but a dead look. It’s almost as if you are thinking “So, you’re here. Big deal.”
My mother’s shoulders slumped, her head slowly lowered and for several minutes, neither of us spoke. After a few minutes, she took a deep breath, let it out, lifted her head and looked directly in my eyes. I saw the tears running down her cheeks.
“You have to understand,” she began. “In those days, medicine had not made the advances, we did not have the technology that is available today. Anne was right. I lost two babies before I got pregnant with you. The doctors were not able to determine why I lost the babies and since they did not know, there was equally a good chance I would lose you. The first four months of my pregnancy with you, I was terrified – afraid I would have a miscarriage. I had to stay in bed those four months. The only time I was allowed out of bed was to go to the bathroom. I could not even go eat in the dining room with your daddy and sister.”
“You lost the other two babies within the first four months of those pregnancies?” I asked.
“Yes. Once I was past the four-month mark with you, I relaxed a little, but I was still so physically sick and scared. I kept thinking that anything could happen and I could still lose you.”
“But you carried me to full term.”
“Yes, I did and Anne was also right about the doctor telling your daddy and me that this pregnancy would be our last one.”
“So both of you really wanted a boy,” I commented.
“Yes. I guess every man wants at least one boy to carry on the family name. I know your daddy did. And since he wanted a boy, so did I.”
I had known this for quite some time, and yet, hearing it from my own mother was quite painful. “So when I arrived, ‘Edward, Jr.’ was no longer an appropriate name for the baby girl you didn’t want,” I said, all the anger and rejection pouring out.
“You make it sound so cold!” Ah, her defensive snappiness had returned!
Angrily, I answered, “It is cold! You wanted a baby boy so badly that you did not even think about ‘what if it’s a girl’. I bet the nursery was painted blue and all the new clothes were for a baby boy. And to be named by the nurse in the delivery room because my own parents didn’t have a girl’s name picked out…don’t you understand? That is the ultimate rejection!” All the hurt and anger that had slowly built up over the years now erupted. I got up from my chair and walked to the windows, putting my back to her. “And then to see that picture of you holding me with such an uncaring feeling – to realize that you truly did not care that I was there…”
“You have to understand…..” Mother interrupted.
Turning around, I told her, “No, Mother, YOU have to understand. The rejection I felt from you not wanting a girl even at that age has followed me through my life. That was such a major rejection from you that I went into every relationship, every friendship subconsciously expecting rejection. And you know what? I got exactly what I expected. Sooner or later, that friend or that man rejected me. Everything I have ever thought about myself, every decision that I’ve ever made has been colored by the rejection I felt from you. And besides that, growing up, I had to be the best at everything. I had to have better grades, I had to be a better pianist than Anne, I had to be better at everything. Do you know why? Because I thought that if I was “Miss Perfect” you would accept me, love me. But nothing was ever good enough for you.”
“Please, Elizabeth, let me try to explain,” Mother pleaded with me.
“Okay,” I said. “Try to explain. Help me understand why you and Daddy rejected me from the beginning.”
“We didn’t reject you – not really. Once we realized you were not a boy, we were disappointed, but the first question we asked was ‘Is she okay? Does she have all 10 fingers and toes? Is she breathing ok?’ When we found out you were healthy, we were relieved and happy.”
“But you weren’t truly happy, were you?” I questioned further.
“I was happy,” she replied. “However, just a few days after you were born, I went into a deep post-partum depression. I didn’t want to be around anyone, including you. I didn’t eat, and I did not sleep for days on end. It was a horrible experience that I would not wish on anyone.”
I realized I understood what she was talking about. “I remember having postpartum depression after Luke was born. It was a difficult time for me.”
“Yes, I was there with you, remember?” Mother replied.
“I do remember. You came for a few days after I got home from the hospital so that you could help take care of Carol, cook our meals and clean the house while I took care of Luke. You were there for me.”
My mother continued her explanation. “Before I could get past the postpartum depression, my grandfather died. He had helped my mother raise me, my two sisters and brother because our daddy died when I was three months old. Granddaddy stepped in and was the only daddy I ever knew or remembered. You were about 3 months old when he died so you won’t remember what I went through. Your sister was right – I took to my bed for a few weeks. I was devastated by his death.”
“So devastated that you couldn’t even hold your new baby, who needed you to hold her, bond with her? Did you just assume I would be okay?” I asked rather sarcastically.
“My grief was so devastating,” she said, “so overwhelming that I don’t think I thought anything about it. Besides my mother came to take care of you.”
“Having your grandmother take care of you is not the same thing. A baby needs her mother to hold and cuddle her, to bond with her.”
My mother did not say anything to that. She turned her head and looked out the window, lost in thought. For a while, time stood still.
“The picture of you holding me with no expression on your face - that was taken while you were grieving for your grandfather, wasn’t it?” I wanted and needed to know.
She turned to look at me, hesitated and then answered “Yes. I believe it was the first day I was out of bed. That was why I was looking at you with such a dead look on my face. It wasn’t that I was upset because you were here, or that you were a girl, I was still upset that my granddaddy was gone – suddenly – without a chance to even say goodbye. I was just going through the motions of life.”
My mother continued, “Elizabeth, you must believe me. I love you and have always loved you. I never realized you felt rejected or that you felt you always had to be perfect to please me. Had I known, we would have talked about this much earlier in your life.”
I was very skeptical. “Mom, I don’t know whether to believe you or not.”
“Elizabeth!” My mother was obviously surprised at my answer.
Taking a deep breath, I plunged ahead. “Mother, all of our lives you have manipulated, controlled and criticized everything Daddy, Anne and I have done. Nothing was ever good enough for you. So it’s hard for me to accept that all of a sudden you’ve had a drastic change of heart. Why should I believe that?”
“Because it’s true.” The volume of her voice dropped drastically as she continued, “and because I’m sorry.”
That was totally unexpected and out of character – the apology. I wasn’t expecting it and did not know what to say. The few times she had ever apologized to me in the past, it was always given unwillingly, usually in sarcastic anger, however this apology was different – she sounded truly sorry and humbled.
When I looked at her, rivers of tears were running down her face and she looked like she had aged 20 years since she first arrived. “Perhaps she is truly broken,” I thought.
“What should I do now,” I thought. I do not want to be angry and resentful for the rest of my life. But at the same time, I’ve felt this rejection for years so it is very hard to forgive her. “God, please help me!” I cried silently.
“Mother, I want to explain something to you and I truly hope you will understand. Even though you have never realized this until today, the hurt and pain from your rejection has been with me all of my life. I know that Jesus taught us to forgive and forget. I know that He commands us to forgive. But this sense of rejection has been with me for such a long time that forgiving you will take some time. I will try to forgive you, and starting today, I will continue to work toward complete forgiveness. I also want to ask your forgiveness.”
“For what?” my Mother asked, completely surprised.
“For the anger and bitterness I have had in my heart towards you because of this situation.”
“I forgive you” she said. “I’m sure I would feel the same way you have felt if I was in your place. I regret that we did not have this conversation years ago. I also understand that forgiving me will be a process for you. Thank you for starting that process today.” She smiled at me and said, “Now, I must go home.”
She rose from her seat and we hugged each other. And for the first time that I can remember in my life, there was warmth, acceptance and love in the hug. We walked together to the front door; my hand on my Mother’s back, helping her along.
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