Creative Works

Short Story: Maybe This Is Progress

“I don’t recognize you anymore.”

Her words floated across the table, making their way to my ears, clashing with the sound of rain hitting the tall windows of the cafe. We haven’t even said hello, I thought to myself. I sat silently for a moment, stirring my coffee, carefully making sure the spoon didn’t hit the edges of the mug, a brief distraction. Dark gray clouds were parading across the sky, dimming the natural light shining through. Rain could be a good sign; rain is healing. I pictured this scene many times in my head, mentally preparing for the conversation that would inevitably take place. With a deep breath, I looked up to meet her eyes, “Hello, mother.”  

My mother held a firm face, her lips tightly pressed together, eyebrows arching, and head slightly cocked to the left. In her eyes, I could see the battle of different emotions, disappointment, anger, sadness, hurt, happiness, and confusion, fighting their way to be front and center. I was always able to read her so well. She didn’t have to do or say much I already knew how she was feeling. I felt responsible for those feelings too.

“I don’t feel like I know who you are anymore. You’ve changed. You don’t care about me anymore. I’m your mother; this isn’t how you’re supposed to treat your mother. I raised you. I did everything for you! I don’t ask for much; I just ask for my children to be available when I need them. I didn’t know I was such a burden. Sorry for trying to give you a great life. You hurt my feelings.” Her voice cracks. “I am sure you have some things you want to say, but I had to get my feelings out first.” 

My chest tightened. With every word, the air seemed to get thinner. My hands started to tremble. I expected this. Closing my eyes to calm myself, I let the sentiments sit at the table and join us. Instead of reacting, I sat there, taking it. The rain was coming down even harder. Thunder roared across the city. My legs tapped restlessly under the table, occasionally my feet sticking to the adhesive on the floor created by spilled beverages and foods. I listened, and I smiled inside. 

That person did sound very familiar. The person she was referring to would drop everything they were doing to be at her side. That person would abandon their feelings to comfort and support hers. They did not have a voice or know who they were outside of being an extension of her; they would take the blame and be responsible for fixing the situation; they tolerated many difficult things for many years. I am not that person anymore. With that thought, I felt a shift in the air.

I looked at my mother, her eyes filled with tears. She had so many open wounds from her own childhood and life. Fears of abandonment, insecurities, and trauma deeply impacted her development, relationships, and parenting. I’ve always been able to see that. She’s a whole human. It’s these same things that prevented her from seeing me as a complete person. 

I took her hands in mine, gently rubbing the tops of them with my thumbs. “I can see how much this is hurting you. I completely understand how you feel. You’re having a hard time, and that makes sense. It’s not my intention to hurt you. I care about you and love you very much. It hurts me that I feel like I can’t express myself or do things to meet my wants and needs because they differ from what you want. I have changed. You are right. I wish you would ask me more questions to try and get to know me. I want a safe, healthy relationship with you, the family, my relationships, and myself; having boundaries, direct communication, and being true to myself helps me do that. You may not like me having boundaries, but they are not for you. I know this is an adjustment. Change is the only constant in life. We need to accept each other for who we are, not what we hope the other person will be. You’re very important to me. I am important to me too. I will not do things that betray my peace anymore. It’s not a place a lot of people are ready for, but I am, even if that means disappointing you sometimes. I will always love you through it all.” 

She takes her hands from mine. “I think you can pay for this,” gesturing toward the table. She slowly gets up, kisses me on the cheek, and leaves. I sit at the table, tears flowing down my face, leaving droplets as thick as the rain on the shiny brown surface. I cried for her; I cried for me; I cried for others in the same position. I cried for handling situations better than I did in the past and staying true to my present and future self. I was upset, but underneath it, there was power, there was freedom. A feeling I can only hope the people around me would come to admire. 

I collected myself, preparing for the storm of guilt and shame that would rain upon me, but I had an umbrella. I sat in my car, taking a few deep emotional breaths before starting my drive. My phone went off as I was turning the key, a text from mom. “I’m too upset to talk to you right now. I need space. However, I think I am starting to understand now… I’m sorry.” I read the words over and over again. A big smile crept across my face. We got somewhere today; this is progress.

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