Estrangement. And How To Cope With It

When Memories Matter Most

The past is beautiful because one never realises an emotion at the time. It expands later, and thus we don’t have complete emotions about the present, only about the past.
-Virginia Woolf

Mother’s Day, is it just another gimmick, deployed by marketers cashing in on sentimentality? Or, a day where we honour mothers and celebrate motherhood, maternal and the influence of the feminine in society? Either way, for me, the celebration is bittersweet. Regardless of the fact, it was I who cut the ties and as complex as it is; for me, Mother’s Day is a painful reminder of sacrifice and loss.

Estrangement is a loss because that person is not present in your life anymore and like death, we grieve that loss. Going no contact came at a price, and when I broke away from that toxic triangle; I knew it would sever the connection between mum and I. Therefore, Mother’s Day is a trigger, a day that reminds me that my heart carries too much weight.

However, this year something shifted, an antique bookcase to be specific. Turns out when I find a bargain my measuring skills go to shit! We had to take out the living room window to get that behemoth into the house. But I digress. While decanting books I came across a quote from Anais Nin” we write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.”

It was then I realised in avoiding Mother’s Day, I continued to feed the negative narrative of narcissistic abuse. Why allow sadness to extinguish the very love from which it was conceived. So, instead this year I let myself remember, and as the random recollections spark and fire; I get to taste life twice.

She was my mum and dad and despite what other’s told her, the strongest woman I know. A wee powerhouse of a single mother; impulsive, eclectic, stubborn and incredibly kind. Although I don’t look much like her, we shared the same sense of humour; her laugh is the thing I miss most.

Mum was a staff nurse and worked all hours, so it always made my day when school finished, and she’d be there waiting at the school gates. We’d then go to the Wimpy, for cheeseburgers and ice cream floats. Or the time we hopped on the bus to Aberdeen and went to Radar’s (an American themed restaurant) where I had my first root beer float, and thought I was Sandy from Grease.

In primary school, ABBA was everything. Walking home from school one day, and there in the window of the shoe shop were two pairs of ABBA clogs! One pair black, the other white, both with ABBA emblazoned along the outer side. I was far too excited to consider the cost, but I must have banged on about them for weeks. Then one day, the clogs weren’t in the window and when I mentioned it to mum, she told me they’d sold out. Devastating news when you’re six! But that night at teatime, instead of a plate on the table, sitting in its place was a shoebox.

Seeing Close Encounters of the Third Kind on the big screen, igniting my love of all things Stephen Speilberg. Or the time I came home from school and mum had redecorated my bedroom in a day; with a matching Strawberry Shortcake duvet and curtains and a Redrum (not the blood-red scrawl from The Shining but the race horse) poster on the wall. Hill walking holidays, done on the cheap, camping in borrowed tents or tiny caravans; The smell of kerosene and reading by warm gaslight. Days out where we always had sandwiches, a flask and fun.

My passion for reading and obsession with books, my love of nature and science; I owe to my mum (and grandad). How she managed it, I’ll never know, but when I was about thirteen, she took us to London for a mini break. We went down on the sleeper train and before we departed, we went to the station bookshop where I got to choose a book. I opted for Salem’s Lot, my introduction to Stephen King.

However, apart from a bad perm, my main memory of London was mum taking me to The Natural History Museum, more specifically, to see The Darwin Collection. Before we left, we went to the gift shop where I spied a book on Origin of the Species. It was a beautifully illustrated journal, but it was way too pricey, so a pencil set sufficed. We left for home the next day, back on the sleeper to Scotland. And as I settled down to sleep, there tucked under my pillow was the book.

Books were our thing; I still have the originals of David Attenborough’s The Trials of Life, The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia. Every year for birthdays and Christmas, we’d give each other books, and on the inside, both of us would leave a quote or a line of poetry. Each and every book is treasured. Periodically, I’ll open a book and read her handwriting, there inscribed in words are my memories.

Trauma and grief can convince you otherwise. It’s only now as I recollect, I realise just how much I have locked away these past few years. By focusing on the bad stuff, I’d forgotten the many good times. I also do my mum a huge disservice; without her guidance, I would not be the mother I am today. Undoubtedly, many of my memories are behind bars for self-preservation. Others are selfishly caged because they are too precious to set free. Either way, my mind is a menagerie of curious creatures.

Ultimately, life is a collection of memories, a scent on the breeze or the first turn of amber leaves. We think with the head, but it’s the heart that remembers.

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