I have been so unbelievably bored this past week (post-Christmas letdown, I guess) that I actually cleaned out my closets and reorganized my room. You wouldn’t believe how much stuff I purged. I filled a giant cardboard box with old toys (my dad is going to take them to the hospital and donate them to the children’s ward). And I gave most of my old board games to my little brother. I don’t need them anymore.
Now that we’re in Middle School, my girlfriends and I don’t really “play” anymore. We don’t choreograph dance numbers, or play board games, or build “girls only” forts. Instead, we just “hang out” and we talk. We talk about which boys we like and (mostly) which ones we don’t. We talk about our teachers and our parents (about how much they annoy us, and how completely clueless they are). We talk about one another. And, we talk about our feelings.
Which, I must admit, has made me wonder whether things would have been any different – whether I would have been more open with my friends – if what had happened to my mother all those years ago was happening to her now, instead of then.
But, while I’d really like to believe that I would be more willing to talk about my mother’s illness with my friends today than I was when I was back in the third grade, the truth of the matter is that it probably wouldn’t have made any difference whether I was eight years old of eighteen years old when she died. Age was only one factor involved in my decision to keep quiet. And important one, but not the only one.
More significant, I think, is the fact that (as hard as it is to believe these days) not one of my closest friends comes from a single-parent hime, a family broken apart by divorce, or death, or abandonment, or anything else other than the typical All-American household. So, even though I think that I have very wonderful, smart, ultra-mature friends, and even though I’m sure that they’ve all had their share of unhappiness and disappointments in life, it’s pretty unlikely that they’ll ever be able to truly comprehend what it was like for me to watch my mother get sick and die. Their lives are just too…undamaged.
Feeling sorry for someone is not the same thing as understanding them.
And, as Ellen’s note to Rose made clear, “pity” is the word that best describes how my friends feel about my being motherless.
I can just imagine trying to describe some of my mom’s symptoms (or her death…or her funeral!) to these normal, average twelve year olds. First, they’d give me one of those bewildering “I have no idea what you are talking about” stares. Then, they’d probably shift into automatic-pilot pity mode: “Poor Sophie. Unlucky Sophie. Motherless Sophie.” Ugh!
For them, it’s not about lopsided breasts, or limps, or canes, or wheelchairs, or wigs, or hospital beds, or coffins, or cemeteries; it’s about not having a mother. And, no matter what I say to them, they will (most likely) never be able to accept the fact that I don’t feel sorry for myself for not having a mother. They won’t understand that you can’t miss what you’ve never had.
Well, yes, I know I did have a mother – until I was eight. However, I don’t know if people realize this, but an either year old’s mother is not a ten, eleven, or twelve year old’s mother. The mom that I had when I was in the third grade could never fulfill my twelve-year-old needs. As creative as I may be, I can’t possibly imagine what it would be like if my mother was alive today. She was an eight year old’s “Mommy” – my “Mommy.” But, she’ll never be my “Mom” because she didn’t live long enough. She didn’t make it to the next stage.