Mom died, November 2004.
My first Mother’s Day without her is now 10 years in my rear view. However all these special days, Mother’s Day, her birthday, my birthday, all take on new and different meaning each year they continue to pass. Some years I’m better than others. This year is a low one. I think the transition that I’m in overall is making this particular Mother’s Day extra hard.
What I find in today’s struggle is the amount of contradiction present in my life. As much as I grieve my mother and celebrate her life, in reality we did not have a good relationship. I didn’t have the type of mother that showed up at all my school functions, or who baked cookies, or who I cuddled with me in oversized pj’s. I only know of those types of relationships through what I’ve seen in movies or from OPP, (other people’s postings). The new social media age gives you a snapshot into the relationships of others. It’s only recently that I’ve noticed how many women I know that have wonderful relationships with their moms. They gather over holidays or over random Tuesdays and seem to genuinely enjoy one another’s company. Mother. Daughter. Connection. Lyfe Jennings plays through my head, Must Be Nice. I spent many years after her death only honoring the wonderful things about her, and there were many. It’s only recently that I’ve given voice to the little girl within me and her experiences as a way to honor myself. While my mother was living she was mostly distant, depressed, removed. She drunk a lot, she was silent most of the time, and when she would arise from her bed she spoke sharply, harshly, she was demeaning. That was my reality.
I was not mothered after age 6. Prior to that my mom was affectionate and warm. My absolute favorite moment of the day was finishing my Kindergarten class, running down my street from my school bus, and throwing myself into my mother’s arms. She would hold me as if it had been 4 months and not 4 hours since she saw me last. Then one day I ran home expecting her embrace, she wasn’t waiting for me. She was in the bathroom crying. She didn’t embrace me at the door again after that day, but she did shed many more tears. A couple of years later there came a sudden separation and divorce in her 30 years of living. It’s only now that I understand how young she was. I became a burden to this suddenly single, abused mom now taking care of two kids by herself. I never felt like I had a home after that move from our middle/working class cozy Montbello home that my parents owned. As for mom, with all that heartache, she had no more room to be mom. Not anymore.
I fluttered around from age 6 through 11, most of it is a blur. From one school to the next, from the battered women’s shelter to public housing. I was quite, the child who didn’t make waves or bring attention to herself. At 11 when I reached my mother’s height a major shift took place. Earlier on there was just silence, this new change in her was wrapped in ugly bows of resentment. I was blooming into the young woman that she use to be and she hated me for it. She told me I was evil more times than I account for. I’m not sure the justification of ever saying that to a child, but in her case those words were on the tail end of everyday moments of childhood innocence like standing in front of the tv she was watching too long. If she wasn’t speaking harshly to me she just glared. Glares that pierced out of the corner of her eye, no words, just glares.
One day my mother’s glares turned into more. The day when she thrusted herself at me and dug her nails into my arms. I suppose she showed some restraint as she never directly punched me but her war-like attack against her oldest child was still just as brutal. She tosseled at me, pulled and clawed at my skin and slapped me repeatedly maybe to reenact a wrestling match. That moment back in 1985 was never spoken of again until some 30 years later. Asking to attend a slumber party was the catalyst for this assault. This for me began a cycle of unsafe relationships and the reactions of toxic people who could go from 0 to 60 in an unsolicited flash. My greatest battle to this day is not believing that my mere breath deserves resentment or all out attack by passersby.
My pubescent independence was in full swing as I had to emotionally take care of myself. In an effort to play the roll that no one at the time played for me, the protector, I became that for my sister, she being 8 years my junior. At age 11 I took her in as much more than my sibling. I did not want my baby sister to go through what I’d gone through. She was still in diapers when I made that unconscious decision, to mother her, not just sister her.
When I would hear my mother and her boyfriend having sex in the next room, I’d crawl into my sister’s bed and cover her ears. In her 3 year old mind she wouldn’t have understood what she was hearing, but I didn’t want her to have to figure that out. I didn’t want her to feel like a burden as I had, so I took innumerable steps to try to avoid that from happening. Understanding now that this was not my responsibility as I was just myself a child, but my efforts would not suffice as my sister would inevitably feel that same title of burden etched on her DNA, as it had been on mine.
As I started middle school my girlfriends would tease me on how I could never hang out as much as they could, my excuse always was, “I’ve got to go check on my sister.” There were countless and overlooked days that if I didn’t cook her Ramen noodles or bring her food from my McDonald’s job, that she wouldn’t eat. There were those days that it be best that in case mom brought a new man home, I would be there to give him a good side eye of “dont start nothin, wont be nothin.” There were those times when if I didn’t go to meet the teachers, or chaperoning the dance, or chauffeur to the events that no one else would, so I played that role. I always felt like she was unsafe unless under my watch. I’m not really sure what it is to be carefree child, teenager, or young adult without responsibility levels outweighing my years. It made me feel good the few times I received Mother’s Day cards from my sister. The weight of responsibility without the joys of celebration or acknowledgement were oftentimes a great source of sadness for me. With this young mother role I played and all our moving from one home to another it’s no surprise that to this day I struggle with social awkwardness and sometimes struggle in friendships as all I’ve ever known was to be protector and mentor.
So I have experienced a great deal of redefinition in recent years. As if this all couldn’t get anymore complicated, I no longer have any level of relationship with the sister who I loved endlessly, and still do. While mourning the loss of my mom, along with mourning the reality of the relationship I never had with her, I now have to also find new titles for myself. My entire role and purpose in this world has shifted. This coat of Mom/Sister that I wore for 3/4 of my life is no more. And by my own choice. I was the maternal presence for one I didn’t birth, yet mothered anyway. In life’s way of transition and outcomes I couldn’t have imagined the relationship that defined me the most, that of mothering my sister would be no longer part in my life, but this redefinition is necessary nonetheless.
My decision to no longer have this relationship with my sister was after a series of painful occasions roughly over 10 years. One day the toxicity levels reached an unbearable boiling point. She was in no way to blame for the neglect of her parents, but as an adult and while I continued to mother her into adulthood, my relationship with her became mortiferous. The phrase hurting people hurt people comes to mind. To take that phrase further, hurting people hurt people who are closest to them.
I’m grateful to be an encourager. I’ve started support groups, and websites, and church circles, and bible studies, all in the name of encouraging others. I’ve been blessed to have had many pour their hearts out to me as they sought advice and direction in difficult situations. I’m happy to play that role, it’s just part of who I am. I find it interesting though that the one person who received this more than any one else was my sister. It’s been called the curse of familiarity, I suppose it’s human nature to take for granted what has always been there. I spent hours of mundane days on the phone offering uplifting words, I served as advocate to her no matter the situation. I would go to battle for her. India Arie said, “you fight for your sister when you find that somebody dissed her”. I battled for her regularly, walking away from relationships for her, loosing jobs for her. I played referee, lawyer and counselor in moments cemented in chaos, common days and life changing days. I wanted her to know who she was, that she was beautiful, capable, talented, and I told her so, and often.
I have somehow in my sister’s eyes become the reason for her suffering instead of her greatest cheerleader. Today I sit in astonishment that as Bishop TD Jakes said I am, “on the receiving end of something I have not sown,” this is a hard place. This was never been more clear to me than that day, just short of two years ago, I ended our relationship, and with good reason. My sister, just as my mother did so many years before, plunged herself at me. With nostrils flaring and fist balled, she planted a right hook into my left cheek. In the same 0 to 60 fashion that I’d seen so many years before in my mother, this attack while my back was turned came from no where, in a moment of calm as I said nothing and gathered my things to move from my grandmother’s home, she went hauling through the air. I am very clear that she was not operating under her own control in that moment. The punch heard across Denver was enough of a violation, but it was done within a foot of my 2 year old son. My anger in reaction to this attack was increasingly fueled by the screams of my baby boy who cried in agony not understanding what was happening to his mommie. At which time I was only beginning to understand the developmental delays we were up against, in his non-verbal ability he screeched at high octaves in this moment while his mommie was attacked. My heart broke for him and that sent me into a hysterics.
It’s truly amazing to me how God is present even in the ugliest of environments. That sucker punch that came while I wasn’t looking knocked me to the ground where I nestled partially underneath my grandmother’s dishwasher door, which was being held down by heavy pots and pans out to dry. My sister planted herself on top of me and wouldn’t get up, she repeatedly stated, “I’ll let you up but you have to calm down.” I think she was aware of the threat and potential of what could happen if I was allowed to my feet. In the couple of minutes I was planted there I spouting more cuss words upside her head than any sailor on a bad day. I dont cuss under normal circumstances but clearly I can. All my BC (Before Christ) was ever present. It was some time later that I realized that I actually was being protected in those moments. The perfectly placed dishwasher door acted as a force field against my own retaliation. If I would have gotten up from the floor I would without a doubt be typing these words with a case on my record. And the child that I was attempting to protect could be suffering from a decision his mommie made that day. I’m forever grateful that I didnt get up. God is perfect in knowing what we need, and in even protecting us from ourselves. My sister scurried off of me, I was then held down by the tag team of my youngest niece and grandmother. Note this attack took place in my grandmother’s home, I’m Googling now to find out who starts fights in their grandmother’s kitchen, I’m still not sure where they do that at.
Over days prior to this incident, my sister sent me several threatening text messages. I remember laughing to myself that she sounded like she had been possessed by Nicki Minaj. With all the craziness she was raised around, that I too suffered, she was not from the streets, but here she was being some thug girl that I no longer knew. Addiction ruled her and she was now a stranger to me. I knew that the relationship was over. The idea of being attacked by her in the middle of my divorce has a category of cruelty all to itself. Unbelievable because when her life spiraled out of control during her divorce I was her biggest support, her greatest coverage. And I’m not just talking emotional coverage but real tangible food, shelter and transportation type of coverage, for months… for free as she relocated to California where I resided. She is now just “someone that I use to know,” as I ponder her thought patterns that not only disregarded me but disregarded my baby boy who had just lost his two parent home as his mommie fled for his safety only to be met with the same disregard for it now with his auntie. She could no longer be in our lives. She was much too dangerous to remain.
A few minutes after my sister’s attack, there was another moment where God was very present. You can imagine the chaos still thick in the air, but somehow I heard my sister, some distance from me, whispering on the phone. I of course didnt know who she was talking to but I heard her give her full name, her date of birth, and then my full name, and my date of birth. The thought screamed across my mind so loud I swore everyone could hear my thoughts, “is she calling the police… on ME?!” Even in spite of all her deception and new level of instability, I initially didn’t believe she could stoop so low, to call the police on me. But recently she’d shown how masterfully manipulative she was, so I had to believe what my eyes were seeing, she was setting me up for something.
I made a decision. Conflicted as I still wore that “protector of my sister cap”, I dialed 911 and gave a report of the incident. 20 minutes later two officers were at my door. My sister had fled. As I opened the door and thanked the officers for coming, I could not start to tell them the events of the morning before I was cut off by one officer, “are you ______? (He gave my sister’s name). I paused in confusion, no I’m Tiffany, I’m the one that called you. He then said “well we got two calls, and the first one was from _____ (sister’s name). She said that you hit her and we’ll have to talk to you about that outside.” Whoa, my sister was really on a roll. She’d done some spiteful things before but on this day she was out doing herself. In that moment I didn’t know if I’d be cuffed and dragged away. I stood outside for another 25 minutes attempting to convince these officers that I was the person who was attacked. They were not convinced and alluded to MY arrest, that part is still unbelievable to me. But God, (insert another God moment), I remembered that I had those text messages. Scrolling through obscenities and threats, the officers was astonished at her words, she exposed her intentions for that day through her texts. It was in that moment that the officers believed the truth, that I escaped arrest. Wow. If I had not heard my sister on the phone earlier I would have been in jail that day for something she did, then lied about. Selah. The person who was going to be arrested would be her, she needed to face her actions. If I had to do it over again I would make the exact same choice. Love is a verb that sometimes calls out wrong doing. I’d hope this arrest would serve as a wake up call for her unpredictable and violent behavior. I would not be rescuing her from this one.
She was arrested a couple of days later, ironically on her birthday. She tells a very different story but the definitive police and court documentation states that she was incarcerated for a few hours in county jail. Word on the suburban streets behind those hardened gated community walls, lol, she claims she was there for days, maybe weeks depending on who’s listening, and that she was brutally harmed while she was there. The art of deflection from responsibility is something that some do very artfully. Someone may be watching Orange is the New Black on binge as they may not know the clear distinction between fact and fiction. Her claims never happened, ever.
One thing I know for sure, (in my Oprah voice), this incident has become part of my strength board. It’s starting to give me springs into some newness in my life. I think they call those testimonies. In the days and months after one of the worst days of my life, the day where my Sister/Daughter physically attacked me after jumping over my son to do it, all I saw was pain. The dagger in my heart was pushed deeper as the entire family ostracized me for having her arrested. No one spoke to the physical attack, no one spoke to her prescription drug abuse, no one spoke in truth. No one. The only voices in the atmosphere were ones of accusation that somehow I was in the wrong. These Jesus professing people said nothing, offered no comfort, just further attack. But within me I possess a certain set of skills, (did you hear Liam Neeson?), I can walk away from crazy. I happily silenced those accusatory voices in my life. With heart bleeding but still pressing on, I got my baby in tow and moved into my cute condo. I’d returned to my hometown post divorce from an abusive man only to be among those who were blood but not family. I walked away and to this day I have very little to do with anyone from my mother’s side of my family. It’s a strength that I hold, to be able to walk away from what is not good for me, even if it means walking alone.
The more I reflect the more I see how God protected me that day, I am overwhelmed with praise. I’m amazed at how He had my back. I believe that my sister’s rage is deeply embedded in addiction, but I also know that I can choose to no longer be the punching bag in that addiction. The level of deception she operates under, and the justification of her actions are also signs of addiction. What’s also clear is that every addict has enablers around them to edge on their addiction, I would enable her no more.
The cycle of lies continue now these two years later. People who weren’t there the day of the incident add their commentary at their frequently attended Deception Receptions. This one incident now reaches further than my relatives as smear campaigns against my character and integrity ensue. While God really doesn’t care for it, the devil loves ugly, he thrives on lies and anyone who will participate in them. One as of late that she is spreading as a way to deflect from her actions, is that I abused my ex-husband instead of being the recipient of his abuse. The hilarity in that, I dont think my ex-husband himself would support that falsehood. But her lies must continue so they can cover up the previous ones, the ones before the previous ones. I’m not sure how she sleeps at night after having said something like this.
If all of that was not enough this has now hit the church. The lies that have been shared and recycled and then redistributed are not going through strip clubs and race tracks, but across church pews and pulpits. There were very few who did not jump on the bandwagon of lies set against me, but I’d have to rent a new bandwagon for the passengers on the attack, that sneered, that stop speaking, that rolled their eyes. Yes I see you, you in the church. But much more importantly God sees. I hope they are comfortable on their wagon, mine is headed in a completely different direction than theirs. The lies of a sister have been served in stews and mixed into the minds of many. It’s all pretty unbelievable to me, the level of manipulation that she offers up, but that is how a spirit of Jezebel operates and she is not the only person among my relatives that is operating under it . . Yep, I said it, I’m exposing it, I see it. Anyone who’s ever experienced it knows exactly what I’m talking about. They can have it, I want no parts.
I’ve been silent about my sister’s attack up to this point, but my silence ends now. As has been reported to me, my silence has led many to grave misconceptions of me. Taking a high road is not recognizable by those who are not already on that road. It’s assumed that I have been silent out of some type of shame over my sister’s arrest and that this shame is the reason I know longer come around my relatives. That is a laughable untruth. I wish I could send trampolines to some folks homes and help them enter the Olympics of jumping to wrong conclusions. I removed myself from crazy. She did that! My silence is how I honored myself not because I’m ashamed of a thing. I have nothing to be ashamed of in the least. The shame should fall solely on the person who launched a physical and character attack against me and with those who went along for the ride. Shame should live deep in their pours if only they put their sense of entitlement down long enough to feel conviction. My silence was actually honorable under these circumstances as I choose not to be part of messy gossip circles, I only shared this incident with my dad and my counselor over two years, and those were two very limited, short conversations. It was really all too painful to even talk about. My silence was a result of being broken by this incident and taking the time to rebuild from it. Lastly my silence was partly because glimpses of that protector are still present in me. I still wanted to shelter my sister from what people might think about her, all while she slandered my name. Can you spell amazement?! Now I am interested in affirming myself, affirming the truth, affirming my character, affirming my God…. thus honoring myself. All things done in darkness eventually make it to the light, I just pray that the folks involved in any level of my attack get right with the one they really waged war with.
So Mother’s Day is new. I choose to stay in forgiveness over what I’ve been through. I choose to focus on the mother that I am. The sacrifices that I have made for my son. My son will not be raised in neglect, in secrets, in lies, in deceit, in abuse, in resentment, I removed him from harm, I removed myself from harm… and I’d do it again. I choose to acknowledge the mother that I had in preschool, and the mother she became to me just before her passing. I choose to acknowledge the motherly love I gave my sister in countless intangible ways. I choose to acknowledge the mother that I am being to myself as I grow and become daily. And most paramount of all, I choose to acknowledge my Heavenly Father that has been the only reason that I have not lost all parts of my mind as people and possessions were lost. I know that I’m parented by the only One who really matters and the One who heals all wounds. One thing that I have known in seasons past and now I know on a whole new level, that the Lord alone vindicates. When people attack either with fists or with words, and when we stay in right standing with God, He has miraculous ways of using these episodes as footstools to our future. I’m so excited to get there, I see it in part and one day I’ll see it clearly. That future, It’s really bright, it’s more than I can imagine, that’s what I believe, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.