It was two months later before I could go through her papers and tidy up the library. Even then, I couldn't bear to look at her journals. A quick glance through some of the pages showed that I was in no mental state to face whatever was in there.
I gathered them all together, and put them in a box and put them in the garage.
They've sat there for a year and a half. I've been unable to face them.
This summer, with my time off, I was determined to find the time, make the time, to sit down and go through them all at once.
The more recent ones are difficult to read. There's more than a touch of madness to the pages. Most pages reflect what had become her life- a daily litany of her medications and a recording of how often she took what. I feature prominently- she states that she hated me, that I made her miserable. That I was mean, distant, had a chip on my shoulder, and in one passage, describes me as having multiple personalities. There's an overwhelming theme that she could live a good, happy life if only she could escape here, and I suppose me. I was condescending, pitying, and angry.
Hard does not describe what it is like to read detailed descriptions of how much your mother hates you. She details how the vision of her having the perfect, loving relationship with her daughter was a lie.
I will be the first one to tell you that life those last few years was hard, and I know I was nowhere near my best. I've written here about the immense guilt I feel about that, that I never made amends, never made the most of the time we had together. But never, not for a single instant, did I ever not love my mother. I never would have even considered hating her. She frustrated me, the situation saddened me, I felt lost, and alone. But never did I hate her. She was my mother, and I loved her more than anything else. And it breaks my heart into a million little pieces that these were some of the thoughts that she had in these last few years.
I grabbed journals at random- more than half have only a few pages written in them, and then nothing but a fan of blank pages. There were over twenty all told, and most from the last few years. I cried openly at most. I was saddened by all. But I was glad that I sat down and read them all, not stopping at the ones that hurt so much.
It's a different picture as you travel through time, moving backwards through the pages.
The earlier ones, she is proud of my work in NYC, happy I became a teacher, ecstatic at my visits home, our coffee time talks long distance. Taken as whole, it is easier to see that perhaps her hatred is to be taken with some perspective given her illness, that the amount of pain medication she was on could have affected her moods, her feelings. I'd like to believe that her feelings are a complete result of her illness, of the mental problems we saw those last eight years with mood swings, memory loss, and anger. I think the answer probably lies somewhere in the middle. I choose to believe that my mother loved me, and could never have hated me. I choose to believe that her illness, the drugs she was on, and being housebound, did produce a kind of madness. I choose to believe that it is this madness that speaks through the pages of so many of her later journals.
So many of my good memories of Mom are tainted by the many years of her being sick. I would like to hold onto the good memories as much as I can.
Mom's journals were filled with Post-It notes, cards, stickers, random lists. It seems pretty clear where I got that from! Mom was notorious for leaving notes everywhere. She constantly left me notes on the coffeemaker, put notes in my lunchbox (even once I was an adult and teaching!). They were silly, they were loving, they were constant reminders of how much she loved me.
I came across one such "Coffemaker Note" in one of her journals.
This is what I want to remember about my mother. That she loved me. That she set the coffeemaker for me on early school days. That she left cute notes for me. That I was her Ichi-ban.
I have to believe all of these things, because I think if I had to believe that my mother hated me for the last seven years of her life, it would kill me.
Perhaps that's the thing once people are gone- you are left with only puzzle pieces, and the image they form is up to you.