Written by: Deanna Erdmann
I’m going home again… the thought didn’t fully register. The idea of being back there was both triggering, hopeful, suicidal, and curious simultaneously. After what happened it will be difficult, but what they say can’t hurt anything worse than it already hurts.
I leaned my head against the glass of the bus window and let the jarring vibrations ground me. I felt it vibrate from my head, down my spine, and down into my pelvis, spreading evenly like ripples on a pond. Yes, ripples. That’s the word I’ve been searching for. Words create ripples and those ripple touches further than anyone could ever imagine.
The last time I had seen my mother she was prideful, yelling at me because I wouldn’t cave to her wants for my life. It wasn’t until years later, after I became a mother myself, that I realized it was also from her worry. The realization that I was old enough to stick to a decision she didn’t like had scared her and, in her fear, and loss of control she had lashed out.
“You’re not strong enough to be in the Army, you’ll never make it.” As soon as the words were out, my heart hardened toward her. She must have read my expression because her face instantly fell. We stared at each other for a moment in silence before I turned and walked away. I left the restaurant that day and never looked back.
Six months later I joined the Army and told my parents by sending them a generic postcard that said their soldier had arrived safely and would be in touch later.
They didn’t write while I was at basic training, but my mom attended graduation. She was angry and hurt and proud, but I couldn’t feel for her.
Then on to AIT and then a first duty station in Germany. I tried to call home sometimes, but conversations were cordial, almost fake, and short. She still didn’t like that I had joined. She didn’t like that I had married. She didn’t like that I didn’t take her advice and if I’m being honest, I probably did everything opposite what she had told me to do. I just wanted her to feel as hurt and rejected as I had felt. So obviously marrying the wrong guy would show her to butt into my business.
She was angry when I came home on leave and stayed at my in-law’s house. I met her for dinner one night, and one of the first things she asked me was if I was prepared to murder people. I was so annoyed, as though killing in defense of self, comrade, or property was murder. She had compared me to a heartless killer because I had joined the military. That dinner was cut short, and I walked out feeling more defeated than ever.
Years came and went. Life changed by leaps and bounds. Divorces and remarriage, babies and other hardships. We had developed a relationship over the phone, but in-person interactions were few and far between. Our relationship remained healthy as long as we didn’t discuss the past and how greatly it had impacted our lives. She was a great Oma to my daughters, and she did her best to develop a relationship with my husband although I loved her, there was still that ache and hurt from all the years of control and manipulation, and misplaced anger. She often acted from my father’s prompting, so maybe I was madder at him than her. Going back for her funeral would be the first time I had seen my dad in over ten years, let alone talked to him. So, the idea of seeing him at my mother’s funeral was intimidating, mainly because I would stand my ground and he didn’t have my mother there to be his voice anymore.
So here I am, going home for her funeral, riding on a bus that smells like old farts, body odor, and stale air. The sickness had taken her quickly. She was diagnosed in April, and here it is June, and I already have to say goodbye. My dad hadn’t even told me; my sister only said she was sick. I didn’t get to say goodbye.
How can such a relationship be summarized in a three-minute speech to other grieving relatives? But I think saying it aloud might be the only way to make it right. They say you are only as sick as your secrets, so I was going to help my family heal. My father and sister needed to know what I had grown to understand, and my mother deserved freedom from the responsibility of everything crumbling.
I know that life swung hard at us and neither of us handled the changes and the emotions well. I know that you felt pushed to say things that other people wanted you to, but you weren’t and never have been responsible for being their voice. I was not either. In hindsight, I can see that your fear was motivated by your hard love. You loved so hard that expressing your fears and worries made it difficult. You were strong when others were weak. Your words gave voice to the chaos of fear you were feeling, and I can hear that. I can hear how much you love me in your words, even if they were not gentle. I forgive you mama and I truly see you.
I wiped a tear from my cheek as I saw the sign for my hometown come into view. Thanks, Mama, I thought.