Mothers Day: A Battered Child's Perspective

Why loving a less than perfect mother really matters

Posted May 10, 2014

One of Mom's Balanced Meals

I remember the Mother's Day my mom said, "Eat some fried chicken, mashed potatoes, cream corn and Wonder Bread. And put some gravy on those mashed potatoes too, because we're going to start eating healthy, balanced meals around here." And my cardiologist thanks her for those balanced meals, which paid for his Bugatti.  

On Mother’s Day, when I was 7,  a jealous woman slashed my mother’s throat with a switchblade in a bar fight.  When I tried to help my mom, the enraged woman tried to cut me, but my mother’s friend knocked the woman out with a brick. I was covered in my mom’s blood.  It was terrifying, but not even in the top 20 of my worst childhood experiences.  My mother was a rape survivor, who suffered many brutalizing life events, and sometimes, many times, I became the collateral damage of her torment.  

I chose Mother's Day to tell my parents I was Gay.  My mother's  response was, "No you're not. Those people are very tidy.  Besides, I hear that kind of thing is the mother’s fault, and I’m the perfect mother, so how can you be gay?”

My friends got property and money when their fathers died; when my dad died, I got my mother.  Moving her from Michigan to Los Angeles, during the 4-day grievance time from my job, was no easy task.  Living with her in a tiny one-bedroom apartment in West Hollywood was much harder.

For example, the morning of my first book tour. I came out of the shower to find her hanging from the linen closet with a butcher's knife stuck through her heart. Honestly,  I would rather go blind than to see something like that again.

This suicide attempt did some severe damage to her heart and mine.  She was on death's edge for days.  Each of those days I was in a different city, doing talk shows, autograph signings, and public appearances, including live shows in front of huge nightclub crowds.I realize now that she gave me that strength, and that is the take-home message, not that she had a depressive psychiatric episode and tried to kill herself in front of me.

Me in Coming To America

Still, in life, there is cause and effect. So for so many years, I wore her clothes as she had worn me.  

Let us not forget that truly unholy alliance that my mother formed with my husband, during the last 15 years of her life, when she lived with us. It was like the B-Movie from hell: “Queen Kong versus Gayzilla and Curse of the Mammy,” or "Driving Miss Crazy."

During the final days when I was finishing my Ph.D., and doing long, exhaustive hours brain mapping  at UCLA.  After which, I would study and sleep, in a chair, or on the floor by her bedside. I remember breaking down, crying, and saying that I was sorry, I was a disappointment to her.  She said; "You were the greatest kid, I could have ever hoped for. You did so much for me, after all, I did to you. I cut you; I beat you. I locked you out in the snow in your underwear.  You almost froze to death. You have scars all over your body that I put there. And yet, you still loved me. For what it's worth. I am so sorry. I don't know why I treated you so badly."  

“I know why you did it. You did it because I was fat and ugly. At least that is what told me."  

"I told you that?" she was astonished. 

"Many times mamma, many, many times," once again, there were tears that I could not let fall. "You are my mother; I  love you more than anyone or anything. That's all that matters." I said honestly. A calm came over her troubled face, and she winked at me, and said, "Mamma loves you too baby. Now, mamma just needs you to do one last thing for me. When mamma dies, I want you to put some Kools in my coffin. Not just a couple of packages, I want five cartons.  Now don't worry about a lighter, because there'll be plenty of fire where mamma's going." Then she closed her eyes and died later that night.  I was holding her hand.  

Like life itself, she brought it all, good and bad, joy and pain, love and hate, courage and fear, wisdom and ignorance, tragedy and triumph and on no certain terms, which brings me to this.  Happy Mother’s Day to all the mothers of the world; not just the June Cleavers and Claire Huxtables, but the mothers who struggle with addiction, mental illness and other difficult issues.  

I do not understand this world, but I do understand that saying something should not have been being tantamount to saying, I know better than God.  Most times, I do not understand what God is doing, or why She is doing it, but if nothing else, I do know, that none us know better than God. I also know, in a world that consistently batters women, the hand that rocks the cradle sometimes trembles with fear, sometimes is a clenched fist, and sometimes just cannot rock the cradle at all. 

Personally, my mother suffered a series of brutalizing life events. At times, she passed that brutality on to me.  However, to allow that to prevent me from loving her with all my heart would have been allowing the men who raped her when she was 12-years old, to rape me as well, for my entire life. After they took so much of my mother from me, why would I willingly give them my mind, by hating her, or hating them? Hate is never useful, whereas love always is. You cannot remove darkness by adding more darkness.  You can only remove darkness by adding light. Remain fabulous and phenomenal.

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About the Author

Billi Gordon, Ph.D., is a co-investigator in the Ingestive Behaviors & Obesity Program, Center for the Neurobiology of Stress, David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.

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