So, today I got sad about my mother. Or not really having a mother. Or, no, ok, I got sad about having a mother, but a mother with borderline personality disorder, and so I specifically got sad about not having a mother who played the actual role of "mother," and instead having a mother who played the role of "a crazy person."
There's a lot to unpack, my relationship and history with my mother. And I am so normally unwilling to provoke any of her fury or her disaster that when I started this blog, I didn't think I'd ever write about her, lest she find it somehow. My mother is very, very good at terrorizing me, making me feel anxious, or small, or like a worthless human being. She has had many years to practice. And even when she is not actively trying to make me feel bad in order to try to manipulate me, she is trying to be really nice and gain my trust and secrets in order to try to manipulate me. There's really no winning. The best thing I did for myself a couple years ago was stop playing the games with her, in the hopes she'd finally be a good mama, and stop wishing for her to be someone she's not.
And, of course, I do appreciate my mama for the things she did right in raising me - convey to me that there should never be any shame surrounding sex, teach me to question authority, encourage me to be a feminist. But walking home from working tonight (yeah, I know, I worked on a Sunday (HUNGOVER), what the fuck) I thought about some of the little, painful things she's done, and how they've followed me.
When I was little, I looooooooved to sing. Loved to! I would sing all the time. In the car, the shower, walking around the house, to myself in bed at night. And all while I was growing up, my mother would make fun of me. She would laugh at me, tell me I couldn't sing, tell me I was tone deaf, tell me how painful it was to be in the car with me when I was singing, I was just so awful. She told me this whenever I opened my mouth. She also sang a lot, but, she maintained, at least she could hit the notes. I just was so totally, totally horrendous, it was like nails on a blackboard, she said.
So, as I got a little older, I gradually started to sing less. Because, I mean, I couldn't sing, right? I became embarrassed to open my mouth. I didn't want to make anyone around me have to suffer through it. But I always secretly coveted the singers, the people in choir, the people who took lessons. I always wanted to do that, to know how to really use my voice, sing my heart out, join in the music and let myself go. But I knew that wasn't something I could ever try to do. Instead, I would try to sing so quietly, so low, no one would hear me but me. I sang as secretly as possible. My voice, whisper-y, loaded with shame.
When I hit high school, and I've written about this before, we ladies were all about the singing all the time. To pass the time, to be silly in the car, whatever, and no one cared at all if you could sing or not. It was about the togetherness of it. There were bands to sing with and folks with guitars and get-togethers at houses where someone would play the piano and we'd all just sing along. And people started to tell me I had a lovely voice. That I could sing. That there was absolutely nothing wrong with my voice. I hit the notes just fine. But I was still convinced I couldn't REALLY sing. I wasn't a singer. I was ok, I could hold a tune, but I couldn't be GOOD. So I still never tried out for choir, for chamber singers, for anything in high school, even though I secretly still wished I could.
My first year in college, on a complete whim, I tried out for the school choir. And I made it! I was thrilled. I was told I had a lovely voice by the choir director! Like, someone who would really know! And here I was, my first practice, sitting down with all these like, trained singers, people who really sang, were really good, were officially singers. And that first day, they handed out sheet music. It just had notes on it. And I just froze. I didn't know what to do. Everyone around me burst into song, knew exactly what they were to sing, which notes, which parts, and when, and I was totally lost. I stayed silent the entire first practice. I was the only person there who couldn't read music. I'd never learned how to read music; that was for real singers. And I wasn't a real singer, because I was kinda only in this choir by accident, a lark, I probably barely made it, I wasn't ever good enough to learn things like sight-reading. Tone deaf kids don't learn notes! I only went to three more choir practices before becoming so discouraged I quit. I couldn't keep up. I couldn't practice on my own, because I never heard each song enough to memorize all of them. I was overwhelmed and frustrated and felt so out of place.
The thing is, I actually really can sing. I mean, ok, everyone can sing, but I can do it well. A friend of mine, who was a music major in college, has said to me how much he hates me because I have perfect pitch. When I was teaching, my students would beg me to sing to them all the time. When I teaching in Morocco, I played Dorothy in the staff play The Wizard of Oz, and I sang "Somewhere over the Rainbow" in front of hundreds of people (and, admittedly, I didn't sing it very well during the actual production, because as it turned out, I had walking pneumonia. YEAH. And, you know, I couldn't really breathe. It is not easy, or terribly fun, singing "Somewhere over the Rainbow" when you cannot breathe, let me tell you). But the first time I practiced the song, with everyone in the play in the music room with me, several people had tears running down their cheeks at the end. I am not the ashamed, secret singer anymore.
Recently became friends with all these real singers. Like, trained-for-reals-and-can-read-music singers. And, still, I am kinda jealous. And I still feel kinda left out. Because they can do what I've always wanted to do, they can sit together in front of the piano with the notes and sing, they can breathe right and sing crazy ranges and know how to work their voices, they can go in public and feel confident and just let the songs fly from their throats. I wish I could do that. But I believed I couldn't for too long. Because it was my mother who told me that, and when you're little, and you hear it over and over, that's the only truth you can imagine.
I don't see or speak to my mother that often anymore - every couple months. A few years ago, I had somehow screwed my courage to the sticking place and was staying with my parents for a visit (it's gotten easier, dealing with my mom, now that I've stopped caring about our relationship. Go figure). And I was in the car with my mom, and she started to sing along with a CD. And holy SHIT she is tone deaf, you guys. It's PAINFUL. Like, she did NOT HIT A SINGLE NOTE. I was totally blown away. All that time she had told me what an ugly voice I had, how I couldn't hold a tune, how I was painful to listen, and there was nothing wrong with my voice. It was really just her. She couldn't hear whether I was hitting a note or not. So she had just been telling me, my whole life, what a crappy singer I was, for gods only know what reason. Maybe she was jealous? Perhaps. But mostly, me knowing her borderline personality disorder, I think she told me I couldn't sing because she knew how much I loved doing it. And she knew she could take that away from me.
And that's just what's it's like having a mother with borderline personality disorder.
I continue to sing in the shower. I sing in people's cars. Singing is still the best way I know to get things out, relieve stress, be really angry, or have any kind of catharsis. I still have to fight, though, the urge to sing quietly, secretly, so no one can hear. But then sometimes, I imagine my mother is right there, having to listen to me, whining about how painful it is hear. And that always helps remind me to sing at the top of my lungs, loud as I can, and let all that shame go.