\doo-PLIS-i-tee, dyoo-\ , noun;
2.The quality or state of being twofold or double.
I didn’t really, truly begin to see my mother until I was an adult. In my childhood and in my teens, I was cast by her spell. My mother suffers from Borderline Personality Disorder. But I was only able to name it just recently. In the past she was “weird,” “mean,” “an abuser,” “fake,” and “crazy.”
My parents are known for meeting someone and adopting them into their fold. They are “the best friend I’ve ever known,” “the kindest neighbor I’ve ever had,” “the sweetest person I’ve ever met.” That is, until the first mis-step. And then that person tumbles into a dark abyss. One day you’re the kindest neighbor. The next day you’re the spinster. On and on it goes. The best employee, the crook. The beautiful friend from church, the cripple.
My mother put me on a pedestal. According to her, I was the perfect baby. The perfect child. I was a young adult when my mother came back from a therapy session and she said, “My therapist says I put you on a pedestal and I need to take you off.” I remember the huge relief I felt just her saying that. My feelings validated. But it was also in that moment that I began to stand up for myself. Pull away from her control.
In that moment, I scrambled off that tower as fast as I could. In her eyes, I came tumbling down.
It was the beginning of the end for us.
My parents had followed me to where I lived. Nevermind that they had aging parents back in our home state. I was Golden Girl. I would “fix” my mother. When I tumbled from the pedestal they packed up and moved away. After they left, people in our small town would ask about my parents. How are they? Oh, they are just the sweetest people. I just love your Mom. She has such a wonderful sense of humor.
Sweetest people? Wonderful sense of humor? I didn’t see it. What I saw behind closed doors, within the comfort of their home was unkindness, selfishness and biting sarcasm. Behind closed doors she criticized others, made fun of weaknesses. What were these people seeing that I didn’t?
Duplicity. My mother is a master.
I recently saw an episode of House where the case involved a woman who was able to understand feelings but wasn’t able to experience them. She had perfected the art of lying and lacked a conscience. A clinical psychopath. At one point she deliberately upsets one of the doctors on her case. After the personal attack, the doctor appears to be on the verge of tears. The patient asks, gleefully, if she’s going to cry. She wants to see it happen because she hasn’t mastered that emotion yet.
Now I’m not so cruel as to call my mother clinically psychotic. But I saw my mother in that episode. Appearing the wildly successful career woman with the perfect husband, the perfect life. Behind closed doors? A life that is distorted and phony.
I was recently looking through some photo albums with my children. The pictures of my father with them depicted playfulness, warm hugs and cuddles, belly laughs. With my mother they are forced. She holds them as infants at uncomfortable angles, out away from her body, stiff, with a pained expression as if she can’t wait for the moment to end. She will ask me to take a picture of her with her grandchildren. To prepare for the pose she will stand a few feet away from them and then you’ll see this flash of recognition, as if suddenly she remembers to lean in, get close.
In the beginning of our marriage my husband would explain to me that my mother was sick. That it was just like any other disease. That I should be more understanding and not take it personally. But then the behind-closed-doors-meanness crept into his world.
It started with snide remarks, and rolling of the eyes when he’d state an opinion and then moved to direct comments like, “I raised my daughter for better than this!” while appraising our first apartment together during our humble-beginning-years. He no longer tells me to stop taking her comments personally. He no longer talks about her “illness.” Instead, we have established limits for the amount of time we spend with them and never allow the children to be alone with her.
Like a magician, now you see her – now you don’t. She wears one face for some, a different face for others. And I have moved through a range of emotion, acceptance levels and tolerance. I straddle between guilt and anger. Guilt because it’s my mother. I feel like we’re supposed to be close. But when I try to be close she pulls a stunt that brings on anger and I push away. Even my role with her has become a dance with duplicity.
I envy my friends with warm, loving relationships with their mothers. I struggle to recognize destructive behaviour in myself so as not to repeat it with my own daughter. And I wrestle often with feelings of guilt and anger over a lost childhood and lost relationships. Dancing amidst all of the feelings I push myself to let go of destructive memories and people I can’t control.
My life now is about creating a new dance. A pure and joyful, playful, dance with my own children. Thank goodness I can both understand and experience every emotion. Even the negative ones. I am so grateful that I am not crippled by a disease that keeps me from experiencing intimate, loving relationships – filled with good and bad.
Even when I am experiencing loss and longing it means that I am capable of understanding and feeling.
And for that I feel so very, very lucky.