Did anyone ever break up with you by simply never speaking to you again? Not a phone call, a note or a message through a friend. Just nothing. Those are the worst. The disappearing act. At first, you think this person is just busy or sick. Then you realize the truth. And you get this sinking feeling inside. “I just got dumped—silently.”
The silence is the worst.
As we continue to unpack my mom’s emotional neglect, the focus of this post will be on The Silence.
I saw a photo of my mom holding me at her shoulder when I was about a year old. She looked beautiful. She had bright red lipstick on. She was smiling brightly.
Remember how I compared moms to lamps in the last post? Here’s what I think. My mom always worked with toddlers at church. She really liked that age and stage. I suspect that my mom unplugged from me when I learned how to talk. Once I started saying No, as all youngsters do, she unplugged from me for the rest of my life. When I started saying No, she was pregnant with her last baby—her favorite. Guess who that was…. You got it. Pam, The Narcissist.
I happened to be standing in the right place once when my dad commented that he was coughing up green stuff. I said “Me too.” Actually, I’d been coughing up green stuff for many, many months. It never crossed my mind to mention it to my parents. Dad taught me that asking for help was unacceptable, so there you go. My parents were there to keep me alive and looking good for the casual observers of the world. Fortunately, since my dad needed to go to the doctor, I got to go too. Those antibiotics really did the job. That was a relief.
My mom never noticed that I was coughing all those months. Maybe she noticed and figured I’d get over it.
The other one
I wasn’t Dad, The Narcissist or Pam, The Narcissist. I was the other one—Nameless Silent Movie Character Actor. My older sister—also a Nameless Silent Movie Character Actor—hid in her room most of the time (just like Brandon’s oldest sister). She came out for meals, transportation, holidays, to play a board game with us, to give an occasional snide remark, etc.
I remember an incident in high school. I got an infraction (i.e., written up and sent to the office). Our elderly, joke-of-a-history-teacher often left the classroom for extended periods of time. While she was out of the room, I took the hall pass and went to the restroom. She wrote me up. I was absolutely terrified to tell my mom about that and get her signature on the infraction. Good girls don’t get infractions. What would she do to me?
I waited until bedtime to tell her. I was a nervous wreck. She didn’t make a big deal about it, but it was very, very stressful for me.
I couldn’t talk to her. She was the fog. The fog who didn’t love me.
Because there was no love in our house growing up (as far as I was concerned), I felt unlovable. I didn’t understand that my parents’ failures were about them and not about me.
What a hollow, empty place. It was a place. A place to eat, to sleep, to get dressed, to spend holidays. As I got older, it was a place to escape from.
Where did I escape to? My best friend’s house—a different flavor of crazy. You’ll learn about her in part 5.
I find my mom’s silence in the face of dangerous situations to be one of the most disturbing things about her.
When I was a freshman in high school, I started dating a junior, with no guidelines from my parents—not even a friendly dating tip. Mom assumed that since we went to church together, he must be a nice boy. He wasn’t a nice boy. He was a very angry boy whose dad was in prison. But my mom didn’t ask me anything about him. She didn’t want to know and she didn’t care. Our age difference alone and the fact that I was 14 years old should have been enough information for her to say No. But instead, she said nothing. Nothing at all.
I was on my own.
When I started going to dance clubs and bars with my friends—again, my mom said nothing. The next day, she’d ask me and Lindsey—my college pal—what time we “got home last night,” and we’d reply with something ungodly, like 2, 3 or 4 in the morning. Mom’s response? “Oh” or “Okay.” That’s it. She was just making polite, meaningless conversation with two strangers.
As my friend Meagan says, “Nothing good happens after midnight.” I second that emotion. Everything about going to dance clubs and bars was dangerous—the drive there (distracted), the time there (drinking, dancing, flirting and trying to be noticed by members of the opposite sex), and driving home (tired, distracted and under the influence). We were engaging in dangerous behavior on a weekly basis. My mom’s silence reminds me of when people answer a question with “No comment.”
Silence can go both ways.
I made straight A’s in college, partied on Friday and Saturday night, and went to church on Sunday. My parents’ way of living—“all form, no substance”—had poisoned me too. Appearances were deceiving….
When I interviewed Lindsey for this blog recently, she mentioned that it seemed so strange to her that neither of my parents ever waited up for us. They didn’t care if or when we got home. Lindsey said: “At my house, my mom would have been waiting up.” That’s something that was totally foreign to me—a parent who cared enough to stay up late to see if you made it home.
My mom always acted like my life was none of her business. Can you believe that? Even when I was 14 years old.
She believed that my life was none of her business.
I lived at home and attended a local university during my junior and senior years of college. Co-eds at my university were being murdered by a serial killer. I drove across town to my boyfriend Carlos’s house several evenings per week. My mom said, “Be careful.” She should have said, “You can’t go.” She should have said, “Invite Carlos over for dinner.” There were no cell phones back then. If your car broke down, you were stuck. Young women my age were being murdered. A serial killer was on the loose in our city. Even this frightening reality didn’t stir my mom into action.
Here’s a more grown-up example—different, but equally disturbing.
After our baby Joshua died, my mom sent me a letter three months later that included the comment that she didn’t call very often because she didn’t want to appear nosey. Our baby died and she didn’t want to appear nosey. What’s wrong with this picture? She wrote me a letter because she couldn’t actually have a conversation with me. She lived fifteen minutes away and she wrote me a letter. I think that says it all.
I’m sitting here, shaking my head in disbelief. I can acknowledge—fully—that there was something catastrophically wrong with my mom. I can acknowledge it because I’m a mom.
How could she ignore danger, sin, murders, death? How could she ignore me? My life? My need for truth and protection? How could she sit there and ignore it all? How could she justify that? How could she explain her apathy—her disengagement—in her own mind? How?
I’ll tell you how. Her letter gave me the answer. She could lay her head on her pillow and say: “At least I’m not nosey.”
And I guess that was good enough for her.
Coming next: In part 4 of this post, you’ll read my mom’s big lie and much more.
Healing through truth and music
Peaceful Readers, I’ve found great healing in my life through the beauty and truth of God’s word and through music. I hope the truths and songs that I share at the end of each post will bless you too.
Truth from The Word: Psalm 119:48-50
Song for Healing: Enjoy this great song—“Not for a Moment” by Meredith Andrews. You’ve probably noticed that I’m choosing songs by the same artist for all the parts of this post, The Trauma of Disengagement. I couldn’t help myself. They’re just right.