Grace II All Feelings Are Mutual

Grace Cathedral

Grace Cathedral

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in …

        – Leonard Cohen

 

I was raised by a mother who could not feel loved by me, who told me I don’t love her, and then gave me reason not to.

 

It made me a fractured person, unable to forge deep relationships with people.

 

Instead, I became someone who imagined I was worthy of love only if I could make others feel loved.

 

Because it was something I could not do for my mother.

 

I recently lost my best friend and the man with whom I shared the last 4 years of my life.

 

These were both people I adored, but no matter how much I loved them, my love could not heal them, just as it could never heal my mother.

 

And in their absence, I felt only lightness.

 

And so while I could not grieve, still I could feel the Crazy Train pull into the station.

 

Saying good-bye to these beloved people felt like the end of an era. The end of putting others’ needs first, the end of feeling like I have to save other people to be worthy of love.

 

The end of, in the brilliant words of Danielle LaPorte, “restraining your magnificence” for the sake of another.

 

I could suddenly breathe deeply, the muscles in my face relaxed, and this newly-found lightness made me radiate joy.

 

Mommy, my little boy said. I don’t want to say anything mean. But ever since it’s been just the three of us at home, it’s been nothing but hearts and love around here!

 

I looked around me and all I could see was joy. These amazing, loving children. This warm, charming home. This personally validating career.

 

Everything I ever wanted has been here all along.

 

Why hadn’t I seen it?

 

When I was a little girl, I thought anything was possible. That I could do anything.

 

And that maybe I was a witch.

 

I would imagine something, and then it would happen.  And I believed that if I truly wanted something enough, I could will it to be so.  I believed – and still believe – this so firmly, that when it doesn’t work, I am shocked. Truly shocked.

 

I manifest like no one I know. I can make the seemingly impossible happen.

 

By way of example, when I was 30 I met a man who was a felon convicted of violent drug-related crimes, fresh out of San Quentin. I was teaching a class at a halfway house, and he was my student. He was also who I envisioned would be a strong protector of a man, with whom I could have children.

 

And – though a more unlikely pair you never would find – he was the one person who unabashedly stood up to my mother.

 

And so despite all odds, I somehow willed him to be someone I could have children with.

 

I now have those children I am convinced needed to be born. (If you know them, you know what I’m talking about; it’s almost like they glow, and they say things that make me think they’ve done this before.)

 

That was 15 years ago, and while our relationship was not meant to be, there is no one I would trust more to protect my precious children as their father. (And not only is he now a Prius-driving-thriving-business-owner who makes sure he always has turmeric root for green smoothies, he’s about to start teaching spin classes at our local gym. And when he does, I will be his most loyal student, our story coming full circle.)

 

And now, slipping out of these latest relationships had given me fresh eyes.

 

How have I been so lucky? I wondered. How have I come to be so blessed?

 

I called my dear friend Andrea Scher for a porridge date. I can feel something big happening to me, I told her. I don’t know what it is. But I can feel something amazing coming. And it also feels a little bit like I’m losing my mind…

 

Let me read something to you, she said. And then she told me that she had come upon the phrase “All feelings are mutual”  and she had not been able to get it out of her head. It had resonated with her deeply, but she hadn’t known what it meant.

 

Fortunately, she’s connected, so she asked her friend, the wise Buddhist priest Karen Maezen Miller if she knew what it meant. And she did. Andrea read Karen’s email to me (and published it here):

 

Dear Andrea:

How nice to hear from you. You approach me with gratitude for my words, and I respond to you with equal gratitude. That’s what it means. We all know what this means by our own experience:

 

If I am cranky, the world reflects my crankiness.
If I am angry, the world returns my anger.
If I am critical, the world returns my small-mindedness.
If I am non-judgmental, the world accepts me.
If I smile, someone smiles back.

 

And so on.

 

We see and receive whatever we project.

 

And just so we don’t feel as if we are carrying the blame for all the negativity, just observe and respect that everyone is suffering. That’s what we share most of all!

 

This is not a philosophy. It really works like this.

 

But we have to see it for ourselves and take responsibility for ourselves. If we are the least bit aware, we will be careful with what we give to the world. It will always return to us, because of the physical reality of the universe. Although it looks like we are separate, we are not. We share everything; we are like waves in an ocean. If an ocean is poisoned, every wave carries the poison, no?

 

When Andrea read these words to me it was as if I were watching a movie. The kind where there is a big reveal at the end, and then a montage of earlier scenes flash on the screen that suddenly make sense or have new meaning.

 

I saw myself joking with the parking attendant, Jerry, at work, who wishes me luck when I go off to a big meeting. I saw myself giving my red leather purse to the shocked woman next to me at the restaurant in Oakland who’d admired it longingly, saying she would never have the money to own a purse like mine. I saw myself jogging up the subway stairs to offer my arm to the old woman who was climbing the stairs because the escalator was broken, and who was so grateful for my help. I saw myself putting on a bear suit and going out into the world to offer people love …

 

My god, I thought. I really did that?

 

And then there was this: a quiet why? Why, Lara, why did you do that?

 

I could never answer that “why?” in a way that felt true to me.

 

But when I heard “All feelings are mutual,” I could. I am motivated by love. I yearn to put light and love into the world. I am a light bearer. And donning the bear suit and hugging those who needed it was my *big* way of showing the world my love. But I do it in small ways every day. There is love in nearly every interaction I have with people.

 

It is this love that I love to give – and that I am so clearly receiving in return – that has allowed me to find my way through the darkness. And into the light.

 

Andrea wrote a blog post about all feelings being mutual and asked what the phrase meant to each person. In response, I wrote: “I feel like the luckiest, most beloved person in the world. And I realize that what’s happening is that I am receiving a lifetime of love that I have bestowed on others. It’s making me more tender. It’s shaking my bones. It’s making me the most grateful person alive. And, in turn, it’s making me return to others from a place of fullness, gratitude, and love. Plus joy.”

 

And suddenly the montage of all the ways the love has come back to me flooded my heart. Yes! This is it! I realized.

 

Goodnight, my little sugar blossom! I can’t wait to see you tomorrow! I hear my daughter say to me as she kisses me on the tip of my nose at bedtime.

 

Mom, you are the person of my life! says my son as he reaches for my hand. When you hold my hand it goes straight to my heart – straight up my arm and into my heart!

 

My friends Kathy and Doug  – whom I met when I first became a mother and whom I haven’t seen since – post a video of themselves playing “You Are My Sunshine” on the ukulele and guitar and dedicate it to me, saying You’re our sunshine, Lara! You inspire us with your courage, insight and humor. Keep writing … and shining!

 

My friend Annie, my best friend from 8th grade whom I had lost touch with for 25 years and whom I had just seen in Texas, sends me a note saying, Austin misses you so much!!! Come back soon!! Having you back in my life is the greatest gift I’ve received this year!!! Start a cult!!! I LOVE YOU!!!!!! xoxoxo

 

A client calls to tell me she’s getting married and that it’s important to her that I am there.

 

One of the people who works for me gives me a card that reads: Don’t Shush Your Inner Voice. It’s Who You Really Are.  And in it she writes: Obviously, this card was created to be given to you. I’m so proud to be working with someone who knows the value of her inner voice.

 

All feelings are mutual.

 

All feelings are mutual.

 

Feeling the truth of this left me feeling expansive, RADIATING joy like my dial went to “11″!

 

And then …

 

Real life set in.

 

I was working 15 hour days. I have a highly combative job. And one of my opponents is as wounded a soul as I have ever come across. Exactly the type of person I have lived my life trying to save. But I had just discovered my opponents had done something considered a “sin” in our profession, and now it was time for me to turn the screws.

 

There was no room for this love bullshit.

 

But, my inner voice said. All feelings are mutual. And I don’t want to do this. I will do it if I have to, but what if I don’t have to? People make mistakes. Can you help them find a way to gracefully surrender so they can find a way out of this mess?

 

Feeling fragile, I went to yoga.

 

In yoga, I became completely porous.

 

The song “Stand By Me” came on (it’s groovy yoga!) while I was in child’s pose, and I started to cry. I thought of that “Playing for Change: Peace Through Music” video of “Stand By Me” where people play together at once all over the world and then I just really started bawling. (If you haven’t seen it yet, do yourself a favor – it’s beautiful.)

 

We are all connected.

 

All feelings are mutual.

 

I couldn’t sleep at all anymore.

 

Could I find a way out of this for everyone?

 

So, I wrote an email to my opponents. You don’t really know me, it began. And so you may not believe me. But I don’t want to be doing this to you. Like you, I am a parent. And one of the things I take most seriously about my job is a parent is to model for my children the kind of person I hope they grow up to be. As parents – as people – sometimes we make mistakes. We just do. But it’s what we do with those mistakes that defines who we are, that defines our character. There is no shame in admitting a mistake. My goal is to help you find a way out of this without any lasting damage to your careers. 

 

It was true. And I concocted a (totally outlandish, outrageous) plan for them to extricate themselves. But would they – could they – trust that my words were sincere?

 

And then it came to me: I could send them my bear video.

 

And so I did. I sent my opponents a link to the bear video (with a cameo of me at the end to prove that it really was me) in another email. Although you have said you think I hate you, I wrote, I don’t. This video is who I am. I truly believe that all that matters is human connection. And it brings me no pleasure to be doing this to you now. But only you can stop it. There is no shame in surrender. Making yourself vulnerable is the only way to let others in, and I can help you if you let me.

 

I think it’s fair to say that in as much as nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition, nobody expects an opponent with the upper hand to try and help you, or to try and win your trust with a bear suit.

 

Okay, I thought. This time you have clearly lost your frickin’ mind – and it’s showing!

 

But in my heart I knew I had done the right thing. If it works … If I can spare everyone the otherwise inevitable result, I thought. It was worth it.

 

The next day, one of my opponents bowed out quietly – so quietly I pretended not to notice.

 

All feelings are mutual.

 

I could feel the light emanating from me. Was I going to really make this happen?

 

I am not a religious person, but suddenly I felt called to go to church.

 

I stopped by Grace Cathedral, and walked in to find silky ribbons hanging from the ceiling, creating the effect of an undulating wave of rainbow light you could get lost in. I sat in a pew and looked up.

photo(101)

 

I got very quiet. What’s happening? I wondered. I’m not finding god, am I? Because nobody – least of all me – is prepared for that. It’s probably more likely that I’m cracking apart. I’m losing my mind. But I’m so grateful. I’m so thankful. I’m so thankful just to be me and to be living this life.

 

Please don’t tell anybody, I said to myself. Please don’t tell anybody you went to church. You can’t tell anybody this story without sounding like a complete lunatic. Please, just get through this without telling anybody. Your mind will come back. Things will go back to normal.

 

See, this is not my first trip on the Crazy Train.

 

I’ve had great loss before – just like I was experiencing now – and I know that it cracks you open. This time, the difference is that I knew what was happening to me.

 

And this time, I didn’t want things to go back to normal.

 

I went home and soaked in my porcelain tub, Jeff Buckley’s version of Hallelujah playing in my head.

 

I began to sing:

Baby, I’ve been here before

I know this room and I’ve walked this floor

I used to live alone before I knew you

I’ve seen your flag on the marble arch

But love is not a victory march

It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah

Hallelujah

Hallelujah

Hallelujah

Halleluuuuuuuu-uuujah

Maybe there’s a god above

But all I’ve ever learned from love

Was how to shoot at someone who outrdrew you

It’s not a cry you can hear at night

It’s not somebody who has seen the light

It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah

Hallelujah

Hallelujah

Hallelujah

Halleluuuuuuuu-uuujah

I did my best, it wasn’t much

I couldn’t feel, so I tried to touch

I’ve told the truth, I didn’t come to fool you

And even though it all went wrong

I’ll stand before the Lord of Song

With nothing on my tongue by Hallelujah

Hallelujah

Hallelujah

Hallelujah

Halleluuuuuuuu-uuujah

I sang in that porcelain tub until the water turned cold.

* * *

 

The next day was Christmas Eve.

 

My parents and brother and sister-in-law were arriving.

 

And on Christmas Eve I woke up early and went to confront my opponent.

 

I was terrified.

 

All feelings are mutual.

 

I watched my opponent shake her leg uncontrollably.

 

Can I talk to you? I asked. Not as your opponent, but as a human being?

 

We talked. I said I was sincere in trying to help them find a way out. She said we viewed the direness of the situation differently, but said that she thought it brave of me to have sent the bear video. And at the end of our meeting, we hugged.


You can’t always get what you want, I thought. This wasn’t the resolution I had wanted.

 

But this was enough.

 

I returned to Grace Cathedral and took solace in the quiet. Thank you, I thought. Thank you for this gift of finding connection with others. Feeling the truth and power of this gift – this gift I’ve had all along – this is my Christmas gift.

 

I went home, where my parents and brother and sister-in-law were settling into a Christmas Eve tradition of latkes and brisket.

 

The holiday, the food, the family being together – it brought back ghosts of ugly Christmases past.

 

And those ghosts came barreling down on me fast and hard.

 

* * *

 

It was Christmas Eve three years ago. 

 

We had champagne and Chambord cocktails.

 

When my mom has more than a single drink she sometimes goes to a dark place, and, taking command of the conversation, she takes others with her.

 

And on this occasion she turned the conversation to that most festive of holiday subjects … child predators.

 

My new boyfriend was the target, lured in unwittingly. “So, how do you keep your son safe on the Internet?” she asked him. When he offered some response, my mother pounced. “It’s ignorant to think that boys are safe just because they’re boys. Predators are looking for blonde haired blue eyed boys, too, you know.” Not quite knowing how to respond, my mother came at him from another angle. “I saw penises on the street when I was 5 years old. I saw my uncle’s penis when I was 8. Your sex is fucked!” she spat, now pointing her finger at my stunned new boyfriend. “Men are fucked.”

 

At this point I jumped in. “Okay,” I said. “You’re cut off.”

 

I then became the target. “You have a problem with me?” she asked, like Travis Bickle, sitting around my dinner table, just having eaten the Christmas Eve meal I’d labored to prepare. “You always have a problem with me. You and I will have ours out later.”

 

She had me. It was Christmas Eve. They – my children’s grandparents – were staying at my house. She stormed upstairs, and when I took my little boy into his room where my parents were to sleep and where my mother was sitting on the bed fuming, to get pajamas, she yelled at us, “Get out of here!”

 

“Say goodnight to your Nana,” I told my very confused son.

 

And then I put the children to bed. It was late, and I still had the kitchen clean-up waiting and the Santa gifts to arrange. The cookies for Santa to eat, the crumbs to leave, the milk to drink. The Santa note to write, in red ink, with the curly-cue script my mother had scrawled on my own Santa notes so many years before.

 

My father tried to mediate. “She wants to talk to you,” he said. “But she won’t do it here. She won’t do it on your turf. She wants to go outside.”

 

“Fine,” I said.

 

My parents led the way down the many stairs to the curb.

 

My brother and I followed.

 

“Get in the car,” my mother said.

 

Really? I thought. Does she imagine my brother and I are going to get into the back seat of their car while she and my father drive us around like we were kids?

 

“No,” I said. “I’m not getting into your car.”

 

We stood on the curb, and then on the street.

 

My mom came right at me, yelling and shaking her finger in my face.

 

“Mom,” I said, calmly at first, “Get your finger out of my face.”

 

“Don’t you tell ME what to do!” she hissed.

 

It was all I could take. All this, I thought, because I had had the audacity to stand up to her – to try and stop her outrageous behavior.

 

I turned to my poor, tired father. And I grabbed his jacket by the lapels, and shook him hard.  Do something, old man! I wanted to scream. But instead, I said through gritted teeth, “TELL. HER. TO. GET. HER. FUCKING. FINGER. OUT. OF. MY. FACE. OR. I’M. GOING. TO. KICK. HER. OUT. OF. MY. FUCKING. HOUSE. I. SWEAR. TO. GOD!!”

 

It was all too much, like by about 30 years, too much.

 

My mother – seeing that she had pushed me finally to the edge – lunged at me. We were toe to toe, screaming til it burned in my throat, until my brother pulled me away, afraid that I might finally do the unthinkable and hit her.

 

“You don’t love me,” she spat. “You’ve never loved me.”

 

With this, I lost my shit. I felt like a cartoon. Like the cartoon where the wolf’s eyes pop out of its head, its mouth opens, its teeth jump out, the teeth open and the tongue jumps out, and then all of it just falls to dust.

 

Hearing her say this to me – again – made me split right in two.

 

I had on a hat. And I snatched it off my head. I was suddenly a whirling dervish, spinning around, punching the air, snapping the hat, speaking in tongues.

 

“NOTHING I DO IS EVER GOOD ENOUGH FOR YOU! NO MATTER WHAT I DO! NO MATTER WHAT I SAY! YOU NEVER FEEL LOVED BY ME! I GET EXCITED ABOUT YOU VISITING! I MAKE YOU A BEAUTIFUL MEAL! AND YOU RUUUUUUUUUIIIIIIINNNNNNNNNNNNN IT!!! YOU MAKE ME LOSE MY FUCKING MIND AND THEN YOU TELL ME I DON’T LOVE YOU?!?! I DON’T LOVE YOU!! I FUCKING HATE YOU!! I FUCKING HATE YOU AND I FUCKING LOVE YOU!! I WISH I COULD BE DONE WITH YOU!! YOU MAKE ME FUCKING CRAZY!!”

 

I don’t remember much beyond that – except that all she could do when I said that I loved her was to shake her head, as in “No, you don’t.” I remember clinging to my brother, exhausted, saying, “I can’t take this. I can’t do this anymore. It’s too much for me. It’s too many years of tearing my hair out. I can’t do this.”

 

And I remember my brother giving it a shot.

 

“Look,” he said to her. “Look at what you’re doing to your child. Can’t you see what you’re doing?  Can’t you see her frustration? Can’t you see what it does to her to have you shake your head when she tells you she loves you? Is it so hard for you to accept? Do you really want so much to drive her away?”

 

He’s a good, good brother, but I don’t think that until that night he had ever fully understood – had ever fully witnessed – the insanity I had lived with.

 

She’d been a different mother with him.

 

I had never accepted what was – I always challenged it – and, consequently, I got more of it.

 

“Mom,” he said quietly now, “Mom, now is the time. You need to apologize to Lara for hitting her – for kicking her – when she was younger.”

 

That again! Jesus, what do you want from me – I’M SORRY!!” she spat.

 

It was as if one of my children – still angry – had been forced to apologize to the other.

 

It was no kind of apology, and I told her so.

 

Finally my mother said she is terrified that when she is a defenseless old woman, I will …

 

Beat her. 

 

Stunned by hearing such a thing, I retreated.

 

How could she say such a thing?

 

I’ve never even come close to spanking my children.

 

Does she not know me at all?

 

Things calmed down.

 

My mother grabbed me for a hug.

 

This was our dance. 

 

Apparently, watching me turn myself inside out proved my love to her.

 

She was touched; I was exhausted and sickened that that was what it had taken.

 

And it was Christmas! So with 3 hours of terrible sleep, I was up with the children, feigning excitement over gifts, with my mother looking to corner me in the kitchen to weep and hug each other over how wonderful it had been that we had finally been able “to have our talk.”

 

I, in turn, had Christmas breakfast to make …

 

I had never allowed myself to come so unglued, and at 42, I was clearly too old to start. I was no longer just a daughter.  I was a mother now, too.  And I didn’t have the emotional currency it cost to allow this dance with my mother to continue.  What worried me most was that my mother now saw the way to get me to “open up” to her in the way her insecurities demanded I prove my love.

 

And what I knew for sure was that it could never happen again.

 

I could never go there again.

 

So I flew to L.A. to see my parents for an afternoon.  We went to a restaurant – to the restaurant in which, three years later, I would realize that I had to leave my boyfriend – with me sitting across from the two of them.

 

“I love you,” I said to my mom. “And I know you have a hard time feeling that. I’m really sorry you have such a hard time feeling that. And I know that you say that you finally feel like I love you because of what you witnessed on Christmas Eve. But I have to tell you that I have not been well since then. Look at me. I haven’t slept in weeks. I went to a place I don’t ever want to go to again. I WILL never go there again. I will not turn myself inside out again to prove to you that I love you. So I need you to just accept that I love you. Whenever I say something you don’t like, whenever I hurt your feelings – because I will, it happens – I need you to just go back to that place where you know that I love you. You are the most amazing, loving, supportive mother in the world – most of the time. But there is this other side of you – this truly awful, cruel, hurtful bitch, who says anything she can think of to hurt me. And that’s the side of you I need to never see again. Do you understand? Never again. I love you, and I want you in my life. But you are the only person in the world who says things intentionally to hurt me. I would never allow anyone else to do that to me, and I won’t allow you to do it either. I have not raised my children in a house where we abuse each other or call each other names. I have gone through a marriage and a divorce, and not once did my children hear their dad and me screaming at each other or name-calling. It doesn’t happen in my house and I’m not going to have it be that it’s something you bring into my home. I want to be clear now, because this is important. I need never to see that other side of you again, because if I do, you will never see me again, and you will never see your grandchildren again.”

 

The much-adored grandchildren were my leverage, and I knew it.

 

But also, I meant it.

 

Given an ultimatum, the prideful monster was awakened, “Are you threatening me?!” her voice crackled.

 

I could feel her hackles raise.

 

“I am not threatening you, Mom,” I said to the woman who had not stopped shaking her finger in my face just weeks earlier because it would have been a sign of weakness, a backing down. “I am BEGGING you. It would break my heart to lose you. And it would kill me to take the kids’ Nana away from them. But I can’t have that person again in my life, in my children’s lives, or in my home. And so I am begging you to put her away – to never force me to make that choice.”

 

And then a peculiar thing happened.

 

My mom turned to my dad and said something like, “Well, I haven’t acted like that in a long time, right honey?” And there was some discussion between them about how far she had come, how this used to be a regular occurrence with her and how “It’s been what now? Twenty years?” since such an episode.  (Believe me, it hadn’t been 20 years.)  It shocked me that each of them knew exactly what I was talking about – about this other, awful beast my loving mother became when hurt or defensive, and yet all of these years I’d been forced to deal with it on my own, as if “our problem” were MY problem. The guilt I had felt about being a daughter screaming ”I FUCKING HATE YOU!” at her aging mother smoothed away.

 

I flew home that day feeling like I’d earned a Lifetime Achievement Award. 

 

I was reasonably assured that the Beast was gone, and things normalized between us.

 

* * *

My birthday that year came the day after the 10th anniversary of September 11th.

 

The 9/11 anniversary had sneaked up on me. It left me sad and confused, but unable to articulate why.

 

I cringed with every “We Will Never Forget” sentiment expressed. “How much more of this ’remembering’ can we take?” I wondered. And then it dawned on me: for us to heal means that we have to be able and willing to move on.  That I believe “We Will Never Forget” is a self-inflicted curse that does nothing more than keep the fires of rage alive and well within us.

 

And in thinking about this anniversary it was like something in me snapped back into place, something that had been out of joint for longer than I can remember, and my heart softened.

 

I had found forgiveness for my mother. For the exquisitely flawed, complex woman who had given me life, and who had loved me ferociously, and, misguidedly, and who, at times, had wanted to consume me. For that damaged, lovely woman with a hole in her so great, and a desperate need for the love of her daughter. This I can give her, I thought. I can give her what she needs. I am strong enough now.  I can give her my love, and still keep myself whole.

 

She was in Hawaii for my birthday that year, so I sent her a birthday email. This is what it said: “‘Thinking of You’ – Mama, I wanted to send you an email today letting you know that I’m thinking of you today with much love and tenderness. I hope you can feel it coming to you across the Pacific! Have Daddy give you a long squeeze from me. I love you true! Me.”

 

And it was true. I loved her. I loved her madly. She was mine. And I am hers.

 

* * *

 

It was Christmas Eve.

 

And just like the light, the ghosts, too, had gotten in through the cracks.

 

My little boy spilled milk – ruining the baguette I had bought for the Christmas cheese plate, and pooling onto the floor.

 

I yelled at him for it.

 

Twice.

 

Hearing myself, I was horrified. So I pulled him aside.

 

Please forgive me, I said, my forehead on his little tummy. Please forgive me, sweetie. I shouldn’t have yelled at you. It was just an accident. Please forgive me. I’m just stressed out.

 

But why are you so stressed out, Mom? he asked.

 

I’m not sure, I replied, unable to clearly see the ghosts at my side.

 

I feel myself tighten. My words become sharp. My tone is cutting. My brow is furrowed.

 

I talk about nothing but myself.

 

By Christmas morning, I am having a panic attack as I try to measure milk for our traditional Christmas breakfast.

 

Fuck! I think. Why did I ever start making these ebelskivers for the kids such that they come to expect them every Christmas morning?

 

When I read the part of the recipe where you’re supposed to get out your mixer and whip the egg whites into stiff peaks, I stopped breathing. (Me, the cook and baker. On Christmas morning, I am undone by the simple prospect of whipping egg whites.)

 

I lean into my brother who is making coffee: I’m having a panic attack. Will you take over the bacon? I have to go upstairs for a minute.

 

Why? he asked.

 

I don’t know, I said, truthfully.

 

The ghosts followed me upstairs.

 

Uh-oh, I think to myself once upstairs. I am having a panic attack over ebilskivers. Does that mean the Crazy Train is leaving the station?

 

I pull it together enough to get through breakfast and leave my mother and my brother to cook the turkey, and, with a snide parting – Just put the fucking turkey in the oven! – I head out for a run.

 

Usually, a run clears my head. It makes me smile.

 

But this time, I did not smile.

 

This time, I couldn’t even hear the music.

 

All I could hear was the stomach-acid sourness of my own voice – of my voice with my mother, my children, my family.

 

Maybe there’s a God above

 But all I’ve ever learned from love

 Was how to shoot at someone who outdrew you

 

I wrote a blog post in my head called The Christmas Bitch.

 

And then I realized, This is not me. This used to be me – this was me at 15 – but this is not me now. I can barely stand to be with myself like this – how must it be for my family?

 

All feelings are mutual, after all.

 

How must it be, I wondered, to be my mother? To love your child as much as she loves me and to have your grown child be someone you don’t know. To have someone so precious to you be alternately loving and generous with you, and then tightened, raging, and cruel?

 

And as I described myself to myself, I heard the very words I had used to describe how I felt my mother had been with me.

 

All feelings are mutual.

 

If this is true – and, I felt, no truer words had ever been thought – then it was up to me to stop this.

 

To stop all of it.

 

Only I could do it.

 

Could I?

I did my best, it wasn’t much

I couldn’t feel, so I tried to touch

I’ve told the truth, I didn’t come to fool you

 

We sat down for a talk.

 

My email to my opponent came back to me: Making yourself vulnerable is the only way to let others in.

 

I can’t do this anymore, I said. I really don’t like myself when I’m around you guys. I don’t like this hardened, defensive person I am with you. I’m not like this in my normal life. I am expansive, loving, joyful! But I feel like you come here out of obligation and you don’t want to spend time with me – because when we’re together we don’t talk. Instead we spend all our time cooking or cleaning or preparing to cook again. But we don’t talk. All that matters to me is human connection, and I don’t feel like I have that with you guys. But I don’t blame you, I don’t. Because I really don’t like myself when I’m around you. And if I don’t like the person I am with you, how can I expect you to like that person, to want to spend time with that person?

 

 I feel like I’m always walking on eggshells when I’m with you, my mother said, I measure everything I say, because I know you don’t like me.

 

No matter the words, no matter the gesture, these words of hers say to me, whatever you do, it’s not enough. It’s not enough to make me feel loved.

 

These are the words that have split me in two.

 

These are the words that for so many years left me a fragmented person.

 

Unable to love deeply.

 

Or feel worthy of love.

 

All feelings are mutual.

 

All feelings are mutual.

 

I was standing when she said these words to me, my mother sitting on the sofa.

 

How can you say that to me? I asked.

 

It’s true, she insisted.

 

No, Mom, it’s not true. Can you imagine how frustrating it must be for me to tell you how I feel – that I do like you – and for you to tell me I’m wrong?

 

It’s semantics, she said. I know you love me, because you have to. But you don’t like me.

 

Baby, I’ve been here before

I’ve seen this room, I’ve walked this floor

 

My own words rang in my ears: How can you like me, when I don’t like who I am when I’m with you?

 

Were these my words, or hers?

 

All feelings are mutual.

 

Love is not a victory march

It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah

 

I crouched down to look her in the eyes.

 

I did my best, it wasn’t much

I couldn’t feel, so I tried to touch

 

 

I grabbed her knee and squeezed hard.

 

I’ve told the truth, I didn’t come to fool you

 

How can you say that to me?! My voice rose. How can you tell me that I don’t like you? YOU ARE AN AMAZING WOMAN! You are an amazing, AMAZING woman! And I love you! YOU are the reason I am the woman I am today! YOU made me the woman I am today! YOU told me I could do anything! And look at me! I believed you! You told me I could do anything, and I believed you! And look at me now! You were right! And look at me now! I owe who I am to YOU!

 

Hallelujah

 

My mother burst into tears.

 

Hallelujah

 

I climbed onto her lap, straddling her, and grabbed her with both hands by the back of her head and turned her face up to me.

 

Hallelujah

 

Please don’t ever say that to me again, okay? I whispered.

 

Hallelujah

 

I kissed her forehead like I would my own wounded child.

 

Hallelujah

 

 I held her head to my breast and she sobbed, I promise, I won’t.

 

Hallelujah

 

I love you, Mama. I love you, and I want you to feel it. And I will take good care of you when you are an old woman. I kissed her again, still in her lap. Please trust that I am telling you the truth, okay?

 

Okay, she sobbed again. I will trust you.

 

I held my mother hard.

 

I won’t let go first, I said. You can hug me as long as you want to.

 

Just as I had in the bear suit with strangers on the street. My one steadfast rule was to let them get all the love they needed from me. They could hug me as long as they needed to. I wouldn’t let go first.

 

Making yourself vulnerable is the only way to let others in.

 

And then I thought about what it would be to have a child who keeps herself walled off such that you can never really know her.

 

And then I thought about the bear video – a video I had been “brave” (or, depending on how you look at it, “crazy”) enough to show to an opponent.

 

How would it be to have a child who would do such a thing … and to never know that you raised a person with so much love in her heart?

 

Mom, I want to show you something …

 

I showed my mother the bear video.

 

I could barely breathe while she watched it.

 

The song in the video Seven Day Mile spoke to me as much today as it had when I first heard it.

 

Now, this might take a while to figure out, so don’t you rush it

 

Would she judge me?

 

Hold your head up high, right through the doubt

 

My hands began to tremble.

 

Would she be critical of me having done such a crazy thing?

 

It’s just a matter of time

 

My palms were sweating.

 

You’ve been running soooo fast

It’s the seven day mile

Has you caught in between here an running away

 

I wanted to run away.

 

But when my face aired at the end and she put together that it had been me in the bear suit, her face filled with pride (much like my little boy’s had when he first saw it) and she burst into tears.

 

She loved it.

 

She had seen me – the real me – and she accepted me.

 

And, I believe, she softened to let herself trust me just a little bit more …

 

And I did the same.

 

Why, Lara, why did you make that video? My quiet question of myself came to me again.

 

I had said at the time, I did it “[b]ecause you just never know who you might touch, or who needs to be touched, in such a way.”

 

And it was true.

 

And now it was touching my mother and me, just when we needed it.

 

It was helping me find my way back home.

 

Mom, I said, I have something to tell you.

 

I knelt down in front of her.

 

Mom, I’m a writer now.

 

My voice was shaky.

 

I was on the verge of tears.

 

I am a writer now, and people all over the world read my writing. Even in the United Arab Emirates!

 

My mom burst into tears.

 

This is who I am, Mom, I said, and put my head in her lap.

 

I never thought I would live to see this day, she said, sobbing as hard as she ever has. To have my daughter back. I have my daughter back.  I’m so proud of you! she said. I always wanted you to be a writer.

 

Mom, the only thing is – I write about us. About our stuff. About how I feel about our stuff. Some of it may be painful to read. But please know that I love you and that I don’t write to hurt you. I write to help me. And it helps others, too. Please treat yourself gently when you read my words. And remember, you could not have loved me more than you do. And you did the best that you could. So be kind to yourself, okay?

 

It’s true, she said, I love you more than myself. And I did the best that I could.

 

I know it’s true, I replied, I know.

 

Can I read some of my writing to you? I asked.

 

And we sat there on the edge of my bed, me reading to my mother about us.

 

About our journey apart and our journey back to each other.

 

I read to her “Catch My Fall: The Healing.”

 

About my journey back to her.

 

This, I thought, this is Grace.

 

All feelings are mutual.

 

All feelings are mutual.

 

Hallelujah. Hallelujah. Hallelujah. Halleluuuuuuuu-uuujah.

 

And now, finally, I can sleep.

***********************

This one is dedicated to my loving mother. Merry Christmas. I love you true, Mamacita.

I promise.

xoxo,

Your girl

 

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  • Colleen Courtney Andersen

    You ARE a writer!

  • Ariana Pritchett

    beautiful you.

  • Laurie Wagner

    lara love – when we put the truth into words, life swings into focus. That’s what I see you doing here – struggling into that messy, messy, full of love, aunt-no-way-to-do-it-right place where you’re just trying to get to the heart-core truth of the thing, and you do. You are strong and brave woman, and a hell of a writer!

  • Kathy Oh-Keith

    I was bawling when I read this cuz I used to call my mom umma rio (umma is mom in Korean). She would call me kathyrio but it came out more like kat tee lee oh. I miss her so much. Give your mom big hugs.

  • TMak

    It’s obvious how much you love your momma! And that the feeling is most definitely mutual. Why else would you fight as hard as you have — by clawing, scratching, and screaming — to tell her so? This love may be messy. But no less true.

  • Andrea Scher

    So moved by your words, your story, your love! Sending you and your mama so much love. XO

  • Kathleen

    This left me wondering why. Why is it so easy to believe the worst? It feels as if, for your mom, the worst would be not to have your love. Then we behave in ways that attempt to make the worst true – or shake our heads denying that we’re loved and loveable. I would like to give her a hug and tell her that she is loved and lovable and invite her to accept that truth. Because once we do that for ourselves we don’t feel the need to lash out or cause pain anymore. We can release worst and accept grace.
    I started with your post today and followed it here. I was emotionally wrecked (in a good way) when my phone rang. My boss said, “where are you”? I was very late to work today – but it was worth it.