For me, a lot of anxiety stems from working to predict my mother’s emotions and soothe or foretell her anger. I force myself to censor my words and actions around her so that she can’t react negatively. My sister is more honest with my mom, so their relationship has been strengthened by their ability to grow from their fights. They understand each other; in her senior farewells, or “dot-dots”, she commented, “I guess what they say is true, the apple doesn’t fall that far from the tree.”
But things weren’t always so rosy in their relationship; they bickered ceaselessly when she was in high school, and I always ended up feeling the brunt of my mother’s frustration. At this point my dad used to travel more frequently, which he gradually reduced so he could serve as a buffer in their squabbles, and I remember bonding with my sister in the basement one night after a particularly poignant argument.
We were crouched tentatively on top of a rolled up rug in the drafty spare bedroom in the basement. I remember both of us being really shaken and hurt because our ultimate source of unconditional love had in her usual fashion closed herself off emotionally and physically from everyone in the family. She probably pursed her lips, muttered some reverse psychological phrase like “Do what you want, I don’t care”, and slammed her door behind her to wash up in the bathroom for a while. I can recall agreeing with my sister half in solemnity and half in jest that mom was “bipolar.” We weren’t serious, and yet her comment rang true to me because I allowed my mother’s emotions to affect me so deeply.
It stung that my mom would be angry with me when I did nothing wrong. Huddled in the basement and feeling united with my sister, I thought we shared a common fear and disdain for my mother. Together we could brush off her refusal to be hugged after a fight as crazy and immature, but I hoped my sister felt as trapped by my mom’s unpredictable and petulant actions as I did.
But I was wrong. While the disdain my sister harbored for my mom melted into thankfulness and respect when she left for college, I continued tiptoeing through a minefield, hiding my angst, alone in the struggle.
I’ve always loved to hate being with the two of them. I remember lazy weekend shopping trips where I’m always in the backseat cast away from the conversation. If I ever try to add something to the conversation, I feel so alienated; I cannot articulate my thoughts the way they can. I am crippled by my mastery of saying only the necessary and always keeping things lighthearted. If the conversation transcends the ordinary as the car rounds the corner, I feel further sequestered by my spot in the back seat. I sit listening, but do not add anything analytical to the conversation. I hope my presence is enough to suffice.
My mother and sister relate on a shared hindsight that I do not possess yet, and though I feel both isolated and out of place as an observer to the conversation, I have learned to slowly find comfort in this individuality. I have learned that hindsight may be a function of time and experience rather than personal worth or skill, and I accept my place in the backseat. There is power in standing, or sitting, alone, and I’m trying to believe in myself, my integrity, and my ability to find happiness and comfort in my own skin.