Mother and Child


"Mother and Child" by Mary Cassatt

I had to hand it to Tanya. As I’d related to her my brief exchange with Edward at the bris, she somehow managed not to look at me as if I’d ruined any chance I had for a reconciliation. She didn’t need to. Hearing myself say the words out loud again more than drove the point home. Edward wanted nothing to do with me.

“What now?” she asked.

“I don’t think he can forgive me.”

“You do realize what you are asking him to do, right?”

“Yes. I need him to understand that I was scared and I panicked. I never intended to hurt him, though now it’s fairly obvious I did.”

“You want him to forgive you for leaving him.”

“Yes.”

“Have you forgiven James for leaving you?”

“He never asked me–.”

“That’s irrelevant.”

I sighed. “No, I haven’t forgiven James.”

“Have you forgiven your mother?”

“No.”

“You ended your relationship with Edward because you didn’t want him to have the power to hurt you, yet you continue to hand that exact power to two people who have proven themselves completely unworthy.”

“Neither my mother, nor James, has any power over me.”

“But they do. They have been gone from your life for years, yet you still let them control you. When you run from your emotions, when you shut yourself down, every time you believe yourself unworthy of happiness, you let them win.”

“I don’t understand how it’s possible for them to win a game they ceased playing years ago. Neither of them have anything to do with me. I doubt James even remembers I exist, and my mother only does on a good day.”

“So why do you continue to  forfeit to them?”

I couldn’t answer Tanya’s question, but I spent the next week thinking about it. I still had the letter I’d written to my mother. In it, I outlined how her selfishness had hurt me. One morning, I took it from the bottom of my underwear drawer downstairs to my living room. I opened the flue of my fireplace and set the paper ablaze. As flames consumed the anguish-soaked paper, I felt oddly cathartic. When there was nothing left but ashes, I sat down at my dining room table and began to write a second letter.

Dear Mommy (Renee),

I’m not even sure what I’m supposed to call you. I know you prefer that I use your first name, but I never liked calling you Renee. It made me feel as though you were ashamed to be my mother, even though on an intellectual level, I understood that I’d never given you a reason to feel that way. Emotionally, I felt completely at fault.

I don’t understand what kind of woman would abandon her six-week-old child, and I doubt I ever will. I thought it had to have been me, that I must have done something to make you want to leave. I’m finally understanding that it wasn’t. I don’t know why you didn’t love me enough to stay with me, and quite frankly, it no longer matters… I just know that whatever it was that compelled you to go, it wasn’t my fault.

I spent my entire life feeling as though I were unlovable. It may have been true, but not because you deemed me so. If anything, it was because I didn’t love myself. You don’t know me, so you won’t know what I mean when I tell you that I am worthy. I’m bright and funny. I’m loyal, almost to a fault. I’m compassionate. I have a way of putting people at ease in very uncomfortable situations. I’m capable of loving with such intensity that I feel physical pain when people I care about are hurting. I want to make it better for them, even at my own expense. Sometimes I fail, but my intentions are always pure.

I’m a good person. I believe that now, even if I didn’t always. You may not have stayed with me long enough to know that, but others will. You may not love me, but it doesn’t matter to me anymore because I love myself. I’m letting it all go – the anger, the unmet expectations, and the crippling fear that I couldn’t survive being abandoned again. I’m stronger than I thought I was. I’m no longer going to punish other people for your mistakes. I’m forgiving you, with the hope that in doing so, I’ll somehow learn to forgive myself.

Isabella

I put it in an envelope and before I could change my mind, I stepped into my shoes and dropped it in the mailbox on the corner. As the blue tray flipped shut, I felt a twinge of panic, which was soon eclipsed by a feeling of tremendous relief. It wasn’t the end of my issues, but it was a good start.

Spring slowly grew warmer, and though I missed Edward more than I could express,  I made no attempt to contact him. I wasn’t sure how. I didn’t want to call him because I doubted he would answer the phone. Writing him a letter or an email seemed cowardly. I just went on with my life, hoping that I would run into him at some point. I worked, read, and helped Rose with the baby. Somehow, I even managed not to mention Edward to her, until one afternoon in late May. As Rose and I took turns pushing the stroller on the jogging trail surrounding Newton Creek, my curiosity overwhelmed me.

“How is he?”

Rose answered after a moment. “How is who?”

“Edward. I know you see him regularly.”

“He’s doing well…now.” Her implication that he hadn’t always was no doubt intentional. “He ended his first semester on the Dean’s List.”

I smiled. “He’s so gifted.” We walked in silence for a moment. “Does he ever ask about me?”

“Bella, don’t.”

“Don’t what?”

“Don’t ask me to betray him.”

“It’s not a betrayal unless he specifically asked you not to tell me.”

“I disagree. Look, I’m not trying to be a bitch here. I have a friendship with Edward outside of my friendship with you. I don’t tell him about you when he asks, and I’m not telling you about him. If you want to know how he is, grow a set and call him.”

Whoa.

“Edward has asked about me?”

Rose rolled her eyes. “Did you not hear a fucking word I just said? I’m not involving myself. I’m a litigator, not a freaking mediator.”

Even though Rose was stressed and sleep-deprived, it wasn’t like her to snap like this. It couldn’t just be me. I wondered how frequently and with what intensity Edward pumped her for information.

“I’m sorry. I would never dream of compromising you. You’ve been nothing but wonderful to me, and I value your friendship. I won’t ask you about Edward again.”

“Thank you. I’m proud of you, by the way.”

“For what?” I laughed. “For recognizing that I was behaving unfairly just now?”

“Yes, actually. Six months ago, you wouldn’t have been able to see this from my perspective.”

Ouch.

“That stings.”

“I’m sure it does. Take it as a compliment; that’s how I intended it.”

I shifted the conversation to David’s most recent check-up, and if Rose had been upset with me for grilling her, it was forgotten the moment I mentioned her son.

Time was my perpetual enemy. Each day dragged on endlessly. Despite this, I was amazed at the speed with which they collectively flew. Soon it was my last class of the last day of the school year. My ninth graders cringed when I plunked a handout down on the front of each row and asked them to take one and pass the rest behind them.

One of my students whined from the back row. “Oh, come on Ms. Swan. No one does work today.”

I smiled. “What makes you think this is work?”

“It’s a poem. How is it not work?”

“It’s a gift, from me to you. Who would like to read it?” I scanned the class for volunteers. Of course, there were none. “You do realize I haven’t turned in final grades to the office yet?”

Roughly a dozen hands shot up.

“I’m kidding. This doesn’t count. Like I said, this isn’t work. Would anyone like to read anyway?” There were no volunteers. “Fine, then.” I leaned against my desk and recited The Road Not Taken. When I finished, one hand was raised. Looking forward to getting a discussion started, I gestured for her to speak.

“You didn’t look at the paper.”

I should have expected this. They were, after all, freshmen.

“These words are very special to me, which is why I wanted you to have them. The most worthwhile course is rarely the easiest. You can go with the crowd, or you can make your own way. It’s never easy, but it’s far more rewarding than the alternative.”

“This poem could just as easily be about avoiding the bridge traffic on Route 70 during rush hour,” another student called from the back.

I laughed. “True. The great thing about poetry—and art in general, really—is that it’s all open to interpretation.” The bell rang, but I gestured for everyone to wait. ” I enjoyed teaching every single one of you. Good luck next year, and feel free to stop in and see me. Take care, and be safe.”

The class shuffled out, but one student lingered by my desk, nervously shifting her backpack from one shoulder to the other.

“Robert Frost makes it sound so easy,” she said.

“Everything sounds easy when it rhymes.”

She laughed, but exhibited no joy in doing so. “So what do you do when you have to make a decision, and the options aren’t presented in ABAAB?”

“You do what you think is right, and ask for help when you need it.” Something about her reminded me of me. I remembered how much as a teenager, I’d longed for any adult to take an interest in me. I’d wondered if my self-image would have been better heading into adulthood if just one authority figure had given me an occasional pep talk. I took a post-it note from my desk and wrote my school email address down on it. “I check this periodically during the summer. If you need to talk, I’m here to listen to you.”

Her relief was palpable. “Thank you, Ms. Swan.”

As she left the room, I sank into my chair and exhaled slowly. Another school year gone.

On the morning of Edward’s eighteenth birthday, I found myself drawn inexplicably to the Art Museum. I settled myself into our bench and lost myself in how I could still feel so close to him even though I hadn’t seen him in months. Even though he wasn’t here, I felt as if I could say the words I needed to say to him out loud,  and somehow he would hear me. My eyes scanned the crowded exhibition hall, and I realized that even though such an exercise would be extremely beneficial for me, the people around me would think I was insane. I remembered writing the letter to my mother, and how it made me feel to put the words down on paper. I’d never heard from her, but I still found comfort in saying what I needed to say. I took out my iPhone and began to type. It was a cowardly electronic cop-out, and I knew it. Still, he deserved to know the truth.

Dearest Edward,

After everything I’ve put you through, I fully expect you to delete this without reading it. And I would deserve that. I don’t deserve for you to read this, to enable me to unburden my soul. If I carried my guilt and shame of how I treated you eternally, it would still be less punishment than I deserve. If I were bound to a rock like Prometheus, if an eagle were to tear my liver out of my flesh each day of eternity, I would still think my punishment lenient.

I lied to you on Thanksgiving, Edward. I loved you, then and now, more than I can possibly articulate. I’m not going to make excuses for my actions, because there are none. I do, however, want you to know that I am in therapy and working on my issues. I can’t take back what I said to you that night, but I can let you know I will regret hurting you as long as I breathe.

I’ll love you even longer.

Bella

I sat on our bench for hours after I pressed send, equating leaving with admitting defeat. When the museum was about to close, a security guard approached me and quietly asked me if I was lost. I admitted that I was, but assured her that I was slowly finding my way.

In the early days of summer, I checked my email compulsively, feeling a rush of excitement each time I had received a new message, followed by mind numbing emptiness when I realized it was wasn’t from Edward. His silence notwithstanding, somewhere deep in my soul I knew we were far from over. I was prepared to bide my time. As the warmth of June became the steam of July, I knew I was done waiting. I picked out colors and painted the interior of my house. I finally bought living room furniture and hung art prints on the walls. If the austerity of the plain plaster walls and lack of comfortable seating previously repelled visitors, the rich warm colors now present in my home encouraged guests to linger.

Alice and Rose encouraged me to begin dating again, but it held no appeal for me. I found the value in my life even if I chose to live it alone, and I was eternally grateful for the love of my friends. I celebrated my twenty-sixth birthday by hosting a dinner party for Rose, Em, Alice and Jasper. I presented each of them with a card detailing why I was thankful to have them in my life. It was more than enough for me.

Three weeks into the new school year, I opened my laptop to four new email messages, one of which was from Edward. My hands trembled so much as I clicked to open it, three windows appeared with Edward’s words.

Bella,

I’ve never lied to you.

Edward





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  1. on 26 Feb 2010 at 5:26 ammadmomof4

    Ahhhhhh I have to read Chapters 39 – 42 again, your killing me. Love it!

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  2. on 26 Feb 2010 at 6:00 amGreenie

    Thank you so much for posting this. I needed this after reading chpt 33 of Counterpoint.

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  3. on 27 Feb 2010 at 11:23 pmAngi B.

    Thank you for posting these chapters. I love to read and re-read as AA5 and Counterpoint are really my favorite fics. You are so talented and I look forward to reading any and all of your works.

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  4. on 28 Feb 2010 at 6:38 amshonla

    Thank you for this! When I read Counterpoint I always want to compare! I love them both!

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  5. on 04 Mar 2010 at 11:26 pmJenn

    My heart breaks for her reading this again. Even though i know what she did to Edward was wrong its sad to see her inner demons coming out about her mom and James and how that effected her life still. Please post chapter 39!

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  6. on 05 Mar 2010 at 5:33 amcccullen

    I too want to thank you for posting this and ask if you would please post the chapters that correspond to counterpoint. Here chapter 39 to 42. PLEASE!!! Thank you!

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  7. on 12 Mar 2010 at 4:43 amkng1986

    Bella needs new friends. No one ever has her back. It's a good thing she's messed up because they might not have any reason to feel so good about themselves. That includes Edward.

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  8. on 01 Oct 2010 at 2:29 pmlisa89

    God, I feel sick. WHAT ARE YOU DOING TO ME, WOMAN? Such an amazing story.

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  9. on 25 Nov 2010 at 5:10 pmBooksgalore/Bookishqua

    Way to go throwing me a curveball that is making me scratch my head with Edward’s email.

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  10. on 09 Dec 2010 at 7:21 pmNKubie

    It says it all, doesn’t it? Edward doesn’t waste words.

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  11. on 23 Dec 2010 at 2:02 amrosy

    One break up, but eventually she broke his heart so many times…
    Especially after that Thanksgiving, everyday , everytime he checked his email only hope he had that there might been any words from her.
    That was so heart-breaking. So much hurts…and knowing there won’t be any responce for good…. And then that hospital elevater, and David’s bris, and finally the birthday email…sigh…. I really wish she will be able to know everything what Edward had to through…
    Yes I am in love with edward too much…haha….

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  12. on 30 Dec 2010 at 11:58 amFancastride

    You have me in tears.

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  13. on 06 Jan 2011 at 12:12 amSea4Me

    Can’t cope. What an excellent, excellent chapter! Damn. I’m so freaking tired, but will push until I can’t. You’re awesome!

    [Reply]