Sunday, May 13, 2018

Please Be Seated

I came flying through the doors of P.S. 170 at the end of the day and ran straight toward my mother.

I had just created an incredible rendering of an apple tree in my kindergarten class and I couldn’t wait to show it to her.

I had drawn plenty of pictures, of course, but this time I had really outdone myself.

However, things didn’t go according to plan. As I was handing my work of art to my mother, an evil gust of wind blew the drawing out of my hands and right under a parked car.

Naturally I started crying and I’ll never forget how my mother bent down and tried to retrieve my drawing from underneath that damn car

We never did get that drawing back, but my mother was grateful beyond measure notwithstanding and did everything she could to console me.

I thought about that incident this morning, on Mother’s Day, and naturally I started crying all over again. She’s been gone nearly 16 years now, but that image of her desperately trying to find my drawing cut right through me.

I’ve been going some tough times recently, many of which are self-inflicted, and with them has come this crippling guilt as I tell myself what a lousy son I was.

Fred the Shrink has been advising me to talk to my mother—really talk to her as if she is actually here. I’ve been promising to do this for quite a while and I thought this would a good day to give it a try.

So, I sat at my kitchen table, looked at the empty chair across from me, and started talking. I told my mother how much I missed her, I told her how sorry I was for all the times I let her down, lost my temper, or broke her heart.

I mouthed off to her in ways I wouldn’t dare do with my father because I knew he’d put me through the nearest wall. And I apologized for my cowardice.

Give 'Em the Chair

Then I really started crying. My shoulders were heaving as I wailed and tore through a mound of tissues. I started thinking I had made a terrible mistake, that conjuring up my mother wasn’t allaying my pain; it was exacerbating it.

This is therapy? I thought. The next time I see Fred the Shrink I’m going to sock him so hard he won’t know Sigmund Freud from Ziggy Stardust.

Eventually I calmed down and I felt physically lighter from all that crying. There’s no such thing as a miracle cure, but, as painful as it was, I do feel I got something positive from this experience.


I often call up memories of my mother just to make myself sad.

There’s this dark side of my mind that feeds off negative emotions—anger, worry, resentment, fear, and grief.

Normally I hate it when people presume to speak on behalf of the dead, but I know my mother really wouldn’t want me spending my days feeling guilty and ashamed.

This evening I was washing the dishes, stealth-dreading the start of a new work week, and I started on the downward spiral about how I had made so many bad decisions, how I should’ve taken more risks, and somehow reached the demented conclusion that I was a terrible son.

This time, though, I refused to accept that hateful thought. It wasn’t even remotely true, and its only purpose was to pull me down even deeper. Not this time, buddy.

I’m not sure if I’ll do this chair experiment again, especially seeing as how it hurt so damn much. But I’m glad I tried it because reaching out to my mother helped look inside myself.

I may have lost that apple tree drawing, but I feel like I’m painting my masterpiece.

10 comments:

Bijoux said...

It's amazing the memories that stick in our minds. Sadly, they are usually the ones that caused us anguish, like your apple tree picture. Interesting that the therapist suggests talking instead of writing a letter. I'm glad that in the end, you felt some peace,

Rob K said...

Bijoux, we certainly do hold to the toxic memories. Talking was good for me, but I can see the benefits of writing a letter as well. The important thing is that we find peace. Take care!

Ron said...

"This time, though, I refused to accept that hateful thought. It wasn’t even remotely true, and its only purpose was to pull me down even deeper. Not this time, buddy."

BRAVO...good for you, Rob! Whenever we have thoughts like that (and we ALL at one time or another have them) it's important to catch ourselves and retrain our thoughts by replacing them with something positive so that we move through them. Otherwise those thoughts become like an addictive drug; keeping us down because pain is an addiction.

I've done the "chair experiment" before and I found it very healing, as long as I concluded it by reminding myself of something positive so that the inner voices in my head change.

LOVE the photograph of you and your Mom. Priceless!

Have a fabulous week, buddy!

Rob K said...

Hey, Ron, what's up?

Oh, boy, you nailed it--those terrible thoughts are so addictive and before you know it, they become part of you. There's a saying that goes "the price of freedom is eternal vigilance." That's true of both a nation and a person. You have to carefully monitor your thoughts so the toxic ones don't get it.

I'm glad you know the chair experiment. I was starting to feel a little weird!

Thanks so much, buddy!

Jay said...

Well done, Rob. We simply cannot continue to beat ourselves up about how we treated our parents. As a parent, I can tell you that I love my boys unconditionally. Yes, they've occasionally been angry, neglectful, unjust, quarrelsome, and all the rest of the usual negative human emotions. So have we all! I don't like it when people presume to speak for the dead, either, but I do know that if I'd been able to go to her and unburden myself of my guilt and self-flagellation after she died, my mother would have said 'Oh, don't be so silly! You're my daughter, I know you love me, no matter how you behave sometimes. Of course I forgive you!'. And that's the truth of it: no matter how my sons have behave (and still sometimes behave) I love them, and I know that there is an unbreakable bond between us, and I forgive them anything and everything.

I'm betting that your Mom was the same, but even if she were not, the past is immutable. What's done is done, and the important thing is that we learn lessons from it. What have I learned? Well, I still feel that I didn't see enough of my Mum during her last years and didn't understand her difficulties and needs as well as I might have done. I thought long and hard about this after she died, and eventually, I have been able to use this experience to become closer to my elderly neighbour who is in need of a friend right now. I suppose you could say that I'm paying it forward. It's all we can do.

Rob K said...

Oh, Jay, what a lovely comment! I swear I'm going to send you a bill for all the tissues I'm using right now.

I deeply appreciate your perspective as a mother--it's very important to me to get the parent's side of this. I know my mother has forgiven all my transgressions, but I do have this dark need to hurt myself. It's something I'm working to exorcise from my psyche.

I absolutely love how you used the experience with your mother to reach out to your elderly neighbor. She's very lucky indeed to have a friend like you--and so am I!

Thanks so much and do take care.

Jay said...

Rob, my dear, consider this: as a mother, I've often tormented myself with wondering how much I am to blame for the shortcomings and faults and pain of my children. It's not a one-way relationship. I can't control how the world treats them, but I feel responsible for their happiness, and there is no way on earth that I would want them to suffer that same torment after I'm gone, wondering if they treated me well or not. I don't know if I'm explaining this very well, so I hope you understand what I mean (it's very late and I'm beyond tired).

Anyway. Thank you for your kind words. My neighbour says she is lucky to have me, but I feel lucky to have her, too, because she is a kind of substitute mother figure to me. It's all good. :)

Rob K said...


Jay, you explained it beautifully. I needed to hear a mother's side of this story and the fact that you don't want your children suffering over some pointless guilt after you're gone means the world to me.

You've helped pull me out this downward spiral I inflict upon myself when I think of my mother. Blessings upon you and all you love! :)

Jay said...

Now it's me that needs the Kleenex!

Rob K said...

:)