I just whipped through the beginning of a new series by MaryJanice Davidson. I love MaryJanice, creator of such memorable characters as Queen Betsy, Fred the Mermaid and the royal family of Alaska. She makes me laugh out loud, even while she explores meatier topics. In Deja Who, Leah Nazir is an Insighter, a therapist of sorts who helps people explore aspects of their past lives that are leaking into their present reality. In this world, all of us ride the karmic wheel, reincarnating over and over again until we've learned our lessons or paid our debts. Leah is no exception to this rule. She is living out her karmic destiny to endure a mother from hell only to get murdered by a psychopath who follows her through lifetimes. She seems resigned to her fate, at least at first. Eventually, though she realizes that karma is not inevitable and she breaks the abusive and murderous cycle once and for all. Along the way to her HEA, we get to experience Leah's "Mommie Dearest" moments up close and personal. And I will say this: if there were ever a time that I considered myself and my nightmare of a mother to be terminally unique, the plethora of books—in the paranormal fantasy genre alone—that include mothers from hell, literally and figuratively, disabuse me of that notion. In Leah's case, "It," as she calls her mother, is the worst caricature of a stage mother imaginable. "It" promoted Leah as a child actress, included herself as part of any acting deal in supporting roles, and then stole all the money Leah earned. "It" makes Kris Jenner (Kris Jenner is the ‘mom-a-ger’ of Kardashians] and Britney Spears' parents look like amateurs.
But despite the outrageous abuses, and the vicarious living that "It" did through Leah, there is no such thing as black and white when it comes to our parents. We want to love them. We want to believe them. We want to trust them. And the bad ones use these desires against us to manipulate our feelings. They make us feel wrong. No matter how right we are. Leah rides this emotional rollercoaster over and over throughout her lifetimes.
Being made wrong by our parents is an interesting phenomenon. In my experience, and also that of Leah, and Astrid (in Robyn Peterman's Fashionably Dead series) and Granuaile (in the Iron Druid series), it makes us want to be right more than anything. This tendency can get us into trouble, but that is a topic for another post. It also ignites in us a deep desire to wrench from our bad parent an admission that they were wrong. They were wrong to dismiss us. Wrong to hurt us. Wrong not to love us as we deserve to be loved. We want an apology, an acknowledgement that it shouldn't have been that way. For most of us, it's like waiting for Godot.
These negative formative experiences also lead to a need for external validation. Because we were made wrong by the person who made us (and presumably any error of execution in the creation should reflect on the creator, in this case the DNA donors and those that raised us, but, strangely, only seem to reflect on the creation itself. Weird.), we need to be told we are all right by others. We seek this validation like Keith Richards looking for his next fix (back in the day, of course, when men were men and veins were afraid).
This is a terrible position to occupy. Needing and seeking validation and extreme self-righteousness lead to what I've termed the "Superiority-Inferiority" complex, which can be described by those afflicted as thinking of ourselves as the "piece of shit around which the universe revolves." I'm sure all of us know people like this. I am a person like this. No fun. No fun at all. It makes me a highly critical and judgmental perfectionist with impossibly high standards which no one, including myself, can meet. We look for maternal (or paternal) surrogates, and we ache for someone to tell us that we are right and our parents are wrong. Mostly, we want our parents to utter that exact phrase as they lay prostrate at our feet. Hey, we can dream, right?
One of the most healing moments of my life was when a psychologist, who had seen me and my mother together, told me, in a private session, that it wasn't me, it was my mother. I do not have the words to describe the feeling of liberation I experienced upon hearing those words. Changed my life.
But the one thing no one has ever mentioned before was something that MaryJanice Davidson touched on in Deja Who. Guilt. Guilt—the intense, unrelenting guilt that a child feels for resenting or even hating the person who we’re supposed to love best in the world. And who supposedly loves us best as well. I never thought about that guilt, which makes about as much sense as survivor guilt. It is no one's fault that we survived and others didn't. I feel that way about my brother. I made it out of our childhood home mostly intact. He did not. So while I was able to put myself back together again, my brother, sadly, remains more like Humpty Dumpty. So I got a double whammy of irrational but heartbreakingly real guilt; guilt that I could honestly say that I didn't love my mother, and guilt that I survived our childhood, metaphorically speaking, and my brother did not.
I keep thinking I'm finished writing about my awful mother. But then I keep reading my beloved books and her character—and mine—keep popping up. I hope that I have been as successful in breaking the karmic cycle as Leah was, but I guess I won't know for sure until my next incarnation. Or maybe, just maybe, I will be able to see the last turn of this particular wheel in the lives of my own children and in the nature of my relationship with them as they mature into adults. I’ll keep striving to be the mother I wanted but never had as I ride the wheel of fate, seeking to break this karmic cycle. Only time will tell.