My Mother and Me: From A to Z

Noreen Clemens early 50sOver the past few years my mother has been following me around, showing up in my stomach, my bones, and my dreams. She used to be a dull ache inside me, but not so much anymore. Mom wasn’t cruel or abusive—there was no sliver to take out, no bullet to remove, no thorn to pluck. In the five years I lived with her, I wasn’t raised by co-mission, I was raised by omission, by neglect, but neglect doesn’t leave a scar, it leaves a hole. Some say holes are harder to heal.

I’ve spent the last thirty years trying to fill this hole: with sex and recreational drugs (God bless the 70s!), with work, and now with writing. Much like my mother, I’ve been looking for answers. She went the conventional way of the 1950s, going to doctors up and down the state trying to find out what was wrong with her, getting prescriptions for depression, weight, sleep, and for whatever else possessed her.

I’ve gone from A to Z in search of understanding, attempting to heal the ache in my stomach, release the pain in my shoulders and jaw, and let go of the resentment I hold in my body.

I’ve tried:
* Acupressure and acupuncture. Both helped. So has an Ayurvedic diet. Astrology however mystifies me: too much like math. I’m a Leo with my moon rising and my sun setting, or something like that.
* I’ve done bodywork, breath work, and Bloomwork. I’ve had biofeedback, taken Bach remedies, and brought a black Buddha back from Bali.
* I’ve been to chiropractors. I’ve had my chart done and my chakras cleansed. I have a crystal on my altar. I’m still on page eight in A Course in Miracles.
* I’ve done dream work, dance work, and death work. I’ve seen the Dalai Lama.
* I’ve studied the Enneagram. I missed est, and thought people who did workshops like that were whacked. Of course, that’s when I was into working and survival, when the only important thing in my life was keeping a roof over my kids’ heads. And though I know it might help, I find exercising boring and painful.
* I’ve read some Freud, Frankl, and Fernando Flores. I’ve had my house Feng Shui’d. I’ve taken folic acid and flax seed, and owned a fresh carrot juice company.
* I’ve studied Gurdjeiff. I’ve done group therapy. No gurus abide in my repository however.
* I’ve practiced Holotropic breathing, seen holistic doctors, and tried homeopathy. I did the Hoffman Process, which is grueling if you’ve had the mishap of having seven parents.
* I’ve learned to trust my intuition, I have an understanding of my incident, and I try not to be too attached to my identity.
* Jung interests me.
* So do Krishnamurti, karma, and kinesiology.
* I’ve taken LSD.
* Meditation has helped; I have a mantra. I have Michael’s mandala on my wall. I’ve studied mythology and the muses. I’ve tried magnet therapy and muscle testing. But I’m disappointed to say, I’ve had no mystical experiences. Perhaps lightning will have to strike me. That could be my final step, like shock treatments. I don’t know though, they didn’t do my mother much good.
* Regarding numbers: I’m a type one on the Enneagram and a two in numerology (this is the extent of my mathematical skills). I’m not interested in non-violent communication… I’d have to quit swearing.
* I’ve met Oscar Ichazo and I’ve read Ouespensky.
* I’ve played with a pendulum. I believe there is planetary consciousness. I’ve prayed to my ancestors, received psychic readings, and done past life work. The teacher said I’d probably be better off not going there, that my plate was plenty full with my present life work.
* I’ve tried Qi Gong. Too slow.
* I’ve read Rumi, Rilke, and Ram Dass. I spent a month at Rio Caliente. I tried reflexology. There are, however, two things I won’t do: Rolfing or a ropes course. I lasted two minutes in the first and two hours in the second; both are simply ruses to off you.
* I’ve talked to my spirit guides and asked for their help. I’ve shadow danced and slow danced. And I know that surrendering is part of my work.
* I’ve taken Touch of Sun tinctures. I took an introductory Tantra session and within two minutes my jaw locked up; I knew my father would’ve never approved. I had a teacher, Michael, who died. He taught me about trialectics, among many, many other things. I miss him.
* I read parts of the Upanishads. Unfortunately no flashes of illumination presented themselves to me.
* I’m vaguely vegetarian. I try to remember to take my vitamins. A vision quest is NOT on my calendar; I hate camping, convinced something out there will get me.
* I’ve done relationship workshops, writing workshops, and women’s weekends. I’ve done a lot of work, and it’s made a difference. I know who I am and how I operate. I know that where I stumble is my gold. I know my answers are inside me, not out there somewhere. I know I can ask for help. And my stomach is much better, although my shoulders and jaw are still pretty tight.
* Sadly, Xenglossy, the ability to speak in an unlearned foreign language, is not in my repertoire.
* I’ve practiced Yoga. I’ve tried to balance my yin and my yang; my yang is still winning.
* I’ve never mastered Zen. It’s a little slow for me too. I keep trying to hear the sound of one hand clapping, but there’s still too much racket inside my head.

Cathy and Noreen 1957 (when we lived in Hawaii, the last year I lived with her)

Cathy and Noreen 1957
(when we lived in Hawaii, the last year I lived with her)

So after this, after all my seeking and searching, hoping for some understanding, I’ve come full circle back to my mother. “Why?” doesn’t matter nearly as much as I thought it did. Mom didn’t think about the ripples caused by the rocks she cast in the waters. She wasn’t out to purposely make my life unhappy or irritating, didn’t have me in mind when she made her choices. It wasn’t about me. Somehow I knew that even as a kid.

I imagine my mother would have preferred it to turn out some other way, to not have stumbled and tripped through her life leaving a batch of broken and chipped china in her path, waltzing a mindless waltz in endless circles. Don’t you think she would have liked to have held the hemmed edge of her billowing skirt and elegantly danced? I do. Like her, I too can be a little clumsy, but unlike her, I learned to dance: to twirl and tango and two-step. I love when I float across a shiny wood floor, gliding and swirling and turning like a warm breeze on tiptoe. I never dreamed I could be a dancer.

Many of mother’s belongings have found their way back to me. Her heavy pinking shears are now in my sewing box. Her black cast-iron griddle cooks my grilled cheese sandwiches. Her delicate gold watch with the narrow black cloth wristband, her Liberty half-dollar necklace from the 1939 San Francisco World’s Fair, and her silver charm bracelet crowded with mementos from her life all keep my jewelry company. Her pictures are on my wall and in my photo albums. Her mother Nellie’s round English deco mirror hangs in my bedroom, reflecting all three of our images in my face. I also have her metal meat grinder (the one she ran my right index finger through when I was not yet two) stored in an old workman’s aluminum lunch pail, way up high on a shelf in my garage where it can’t get me. My sisters and brother must have thought these things important to me, that I should have them. They are. I’m pleased when I use or look at or wear them. They remind me of Mother, remind me of some good parts of her. And they remind me of what I missed.

For years I didn’t think about her at all. For a while I thought about her more than I needed to. Now, when I think of her, it’s easier, and it feels like we can dance.

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