My Mother Found The Blog

by Bill Brenner on December 9, 2011

In my slow effort to reconcile with my mother, I made it easier for her to find this blog. Given the raw emotion to be found here, I was pretty sure it would be rough.

Mood music:

I suspect it hasn’t been easy for her to read through this thing. Not at all. But her initial comments suggest she’s really trying to get it and put it in the proper perspective.

Some of my memories are not as she remembered the sequence of events, but I knew that would be the case. As I try to point out regularly, this blog is based on my recollection of things. But my recollection is never going to be the same as how others saw it.

One of my favorite rock autobiographies is “The Dirt” from all four members of Motley Crue. What I love about it is that each member writes about the same events, and while they remember many details the same way, there are other events each band member remembers differently, especially when it comes to what they think was going on in their bandmates’ heads. By seeing the four different perspectives, events become a lot more real and ironclad.

That’s why I always encourage family members to chime in via the comments section. If they remember an event differently, the reader should know about it. Then we get closer to the truth.

I suspect my mother will focus more on the bad stuff in here than the good. It would be hard not to when you’re essentially reliving family history as remembered by the youngest child.

That has to be a mind-bender.

She commented this morning that while she doesn’t remember everything the same way, she understands (or at least accepts) my need to write it all down and share. She suggested that she just wants me to be well and focus on my family.

She also noted that the post I wrote about my brother’s death had a couple facts wrong. He didn’t walk to the ambulance as I remembered, and he died earlier than I thought. She said it as an FYI, not in an accusatory, bitter tone.

I don’t think she would have been able to see things this way even a couple years ago.

I’m still not sure how far I want to go with this. I’m still somewhat gun shy about getting too close again. That’s not her fault. It’s just that I have my OCD triggers, and I have to be mindful of them. I have to set clear boundaries. I’m still going to keep my distance. But I’m at least ready to talk.

I started to feel this way at my Cousin Andrew’s wedding in August. I saw a lot of family members I hadn’t seen for a very long time, and I was admittedly feeling somewhat lost.

I give my mother a lot of credit. Despite all the trouble between us, she gave me and Erin hugs and was very friendly. That couldn’t have been easy. My stepfather kept his distance, but given the tension in the air, who could really blame him?

My Aunt Robin didn’t say more than three words to me, but that’s ok. She hadn’t seen us in a very long time and that has to create some awkwardness. I watched her being a good, nurturing and loving aunt to several cousins, and that made me happy. It was really good talking to my Aunt Dee. The two of them look great. Aunt Robin has such a close resemblance to my late grandmother that I was taken aback at first. It goes to show that the dead live on in others. Also very comforting to see.

One of my cousins was there and it was the first time I had seen her in over 20 years. She’s not on speaking terms with much of the family. She didn’t remember me on sight, but last time we saw each other I was a skinny, long-haired metal head. Now I’m a husky, bald-headed metal head.

Since she’s a black sheep too, it’s rather ironic and funny that she didn’t recognize me. Or maybe it made perfect sense.

This family has been through the meat grinder. There has been a lot of mistrust and misunderstanding along the way. There’s been way too much sickness and death. We’re not special in that regard. Every family has a deep reservoir of drama.

I don’t think the wedding did much to change the family dynamics. The people who are not on speaking terms need a lot more than a family wedding to resolve the overwhelming tangle of misfiring wires.

But everyone getting along in the same space showed that despite everything, despite the divisions, everyone still fundamentally loves each other. That’s important, because as one of the refrains in the second reading of the wedding ceremony made plain, you can have everything in the world. But if you don’t have love, you have nothing.

I’ve had a lot of love and blessings in my life in the last few years. I’ve come far in overcoming addictions and mental illness. Even the family discord has served a purpose.

My Uncle Bobby, the last of the siblings that included my grandmother, took me aside at one point and said life is too short to hate.

He is absolutely right.

But hate has nothing to do with it.

Mistrust, hurt feelings and deep disagreements over right and wrong? Absolutely. But not hate.

I still love everyone, and I forgave my mother a long time ago.

So why, you’re probably wondering, can’t we just let the past lie in its grave and move on? Because relationships are deeply complex things, and it is never that simple or easy.

But I let Ma find this blog, and believe me: That was a big fucking step.

I hope it leads to something better.

Michael, left, me and Wendi, sometime in the early 1970s. The family has been through the wringer over the years.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Kyle Maxwell (@kylemaxwell) December 9, 2011 at 7:53 am

I am happy that you are beginning to find peace and steps towards some sort of reconciliation.

Sue December 14, 2011 at 2:35 am

You asked me to comment and I did’t want to because I do not want to give you something to feel bad about…. I can only say this …I love you but can not understand the you can go online and write these awful Mommy Dearest entries. I have been married to a man who I adore for 30 years. We do not yell. Divorce is awful…Put that together with chronic sick children and as you said anyone could snap…however….I remember differently than you on most entries. Not because I am blind but because children are little and see things big. I understand that. I understand that you need to write things down and that is ok. But to display for public and friends… Not right!!! For Doctors… Yes..You know your sister remembers a story of trying to close a window when I went out for milk. She said instead of taking her to the hosp for stiches right away I went to the neighbor a few doors down. The real story….I needed the neighbor to put pressure on the wound on the way to the hospital. Look I know this is how you see it.. It’s ok… But do you really have to put this out there so your friends, family and co-workers see this???? Is this helping????

billbrenner1970 December 14, 2011 at 3:06 am

I don’t feel bad and understand where you are coming from. The part about kids seeing things bigger than they might really be is an interesting point, and I think there’s truth to it. I think with Wendi so much happened that it became difficult after awhile to separate the genuine drama from hyperbole. I do, however, think that when someone is in the grip of mental illness, everything in the past becomes amplified in the person’s mind. The problem with one person’s recollections — be it mine or yours — is that it never represents what happened 100 percent accurately. That’s why I want multiple sides to be heard in this blog as often as possible. If someone who was there thinks my version of something is off, I want to be called on it.

Next point: The “Mommy Dearest” stories. I don’t see them that way. There were lots of reasons the unpleasant stuff happened, but if you look at how Joan Crawford was portrayed — whipping her kid with a wire hanger and all that stuff — that’s not how I remember you. Yes, you did do your fair share of exploding and hitting, particularly at Wendi. With me it was usually more the verbal daggers. But in the 1970s and 80s — and before that — parents hitting kids by hitting was considered normal. As such, it became harder to tell the difference between normal and stepping over the line.

The biggest point, though, is that I don’t see you as a monster. I never have. Our estrangement has been more about the triggers that come with both of us having OCD and other troubles.

Remember the story about me putting the cat in the grill? That’s a perfect example of one person’s truth and recollections not matching the tales that have been told over the years. The grill was cold when I put the cat in. I was 5 and was pretending to be a prison warden and the cat was my prisoner. A punishable activity, but over time the story became that I threw a cat in a hot grill and its feet had to be amputated. I don’t really mind that the story became exaggerated. But it’s an example of how one person’s reality isn’t the same as the next person. But that doesn’t make it a lie. Different versions of stories have elements of truth.

When I write, my mission is always to be as truthful as I can be — to the very best of my recollection.

Your other question — why I share this stuff publicly — is an important one, and I have an answer.

To make sense of where I’ve been and learn to move on, I needed to write it all down. But it wasn’t enough to write it and stick it in a drawer. I needed to bounce my thoughts off people in a public forum because I know every family faces similar struggles. I’ve always been careful to point out in the writing that I DON”T BLAME ANYONE for my past challenges. Everything happened for a reason. But I’ve had to untangle the wires in my head and find the perspective behind everything. It’s a messy process, but a necessary one.

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