Confessions of an Angry Sister on the Verge of Becoming Her Mother

Apparently, Jerri and I aren’t speaking right now.

On Thursday, I had a mandatory Diversity training class at work. This is about the fourth one of these I’ve attended in my 17 years with the company. They always throw me into a foul mood. Maybe because I don’t like being reminded how much the world sucks sometimes or how despicable people can be to each other. Maybe because I always leave more fully aware of what a rotten person I am and that no matter how much I hate it, I still stereotype and I still have biases. Maybe because it brings back memories from childhood of the nasty racist sentiments vocalized by my parents and grandparents who lived in Birmingham, AL during the heyday of the civil rights movement. Sometimes I cringe at the sewage contaminating my gene pool. It makes me want to gargle with chlorine and take a long, scalding shower. Or maybe because there is always some squeaky white male in the group acting all shocked and horrified that anyone in this day and age would discriminate against women or people of color at our company. Pa-leaseeee!

So when I left the meeting in my foul mood, I checked my phone and found a message from Jerri. (Mental note, never call your sister when you yourself are in a bad place. Just don’t.) Jerri has had a number of teeth pulled—when you’re not in your right mind you tend not to brush—and she’d had the final one, a front tooth, pulled that day. The other teeth have been in back so aren’t that noticeable. She will be getting a partial—Medicaid covers this if you’ve had 5 or more teeth pulled—and last I heard, she’d planned to wait on the front tooth until the partial had been approved. I called her back to ask what’s the deal?

I could tell by the way she answered the phone, Jerri was in her own black cloud. Her mouth was hurting and there was a man in the background which is never a good thing. Jerri has the absolute worst taste in men. If I had to describe her “type” it would be unemployed, homeless, substance abusing ex-cons.

In the course of the conversation, I reminded Jerri that she had a $35 bill from the Ophthalmologist due on November 2nd.

“I can’t pay it. I don’t have any money left.” She just got paid on Tuesday.

“How much did you get paid?”

“$200. Why?” She said this defiantly, like its none of my business. And it wouldn’t be except, if you’ve been following the blog you’ll remember how Dr. Bryant treated Jerri with respect and compassion, giving her free samples and discounting her costs by over half. Is there any wonder there’s such a lack of civility in the world today? Whenever someone like Dr. B does a good deed, she gets kicked in the teeth for it. You’ll also remember that Dr. B is MY Ophthalmologist too.

“And you’ve already spent it ALL?”

“I’m going to pay her just not by the 2nd. And I can’t pay her next pay day because I’ve got that big phone bill due. And I need the rest for groceries. But I’ll pay her by the end of the month.”

What had she spent the money on? She spent half of it at Walmart on things she wanted—a Netflix box, crochet supplies.

And the rest? She was saving for groceries. Catherina was taking her tomorrow.

“I TOLD YOU I would pay it. What do you WANT from me? I forgot about the bill. You only told me about it ONCE. This is what I do. I don’t pay stuff on time but I EVENTUALLY pay it.”

What a freakin’ lie. That’s why she doesn’t have cable or Verizon. She just stopped paying them.

At this point she stopped giving me the chance to talk. Every time I tried to say something, she talked over me, getting louder and louder, never taking a breath, drowning out anything I wanted to say, filling the airspace with twisted justifications and somehow making out like it was as much my fault as hers that the bill hadn’t been paid. And in the background is this guy yammering and I can’t understand the words but it sounds like he’s egging her on.

And I snapped. I started screaming back at her, talking over HER and now neither one of us was listening. When I hung up (and have you ever noticed how unsatisfying it is to end an angry call on an iPhone—I just wanted to slam down the receiver and there wasn’t one) my first thought was, God, I’ve become my mother.

My anger stemmed from at least three things, probably more, but these are the biggee’s: 1) diversity-training-inspired self-loathing. 2) hurt from being totally disrespected by Jerri’s incessant over-talking which, BTW, I also experienced from work colleagues this week and it makes me feel smaller than a pimple on a bug’s ass. Sorry. Anger brings out the profanity in me. 3) concern that Jerri’s late payment would cause friction between Dr. Bryant and me.

The way I blew up and started screaming is exactly like my mom. The way I thought, “I wish I’d never gotten Jerri an appointment with Dr. Bryant because now she’s going to embarrass me” is exactly like my mom. The way I put 2 and 2 together (bad temper, guy in the background, $100 unaccounted for) and came up with “using” is exactly like my mom.


I guess it goes without saying that we haven’t spoken since . . .


2 Comments on “Confessions of an Angry Sister on the Verge of Becoming Her Mother”

  1. Rose says:

    I can certainly identify with how you feel on all levels… especially with the “I’ve become like my mom” thing. Anytime I notice an idiosyncrasy or behavior which is anything close to what she displayed, I recoil in horror. My displays of anger used to be like hers as well; sometimes they still are, although I’ve worked hard to keep my anger under control.

    The self-loathing then begins, including eye-rolls, slapping myself in the forehead, and promising never to “do *that* again”. But I’ve learned not to beat myself up when these things happen. I mean, my mother is a good woman and intelligent as hell. She’s also incredibly talented. Not only did I inherit my temper from her, my intelligence and talent for music and art came from her, so I have to give her some credit.

    I also understand she did the best she could with what she had, and she didn’t have much when it came to raising kids. She had her own issues to contend with, and was a child herself when she had me.

    I won’t excuse her behavior, but I understand it now. We get along well enough these days for me to accept her supportive nature… as long as we’re not living in the same household. That would be a disaster, but otherwise, she’s been a great source of support for me on the phone. She’s gotten better as she’s grown older; that’s helped.

    I suppose the point of my story is not to beat yourself up about this situation. It’s not your fault. You’re human. You’re not perfect and you can’t expect yourself to think, feel, and behave like a perfect angel all the time. You had a right to be angry. Perhaps you didn’t express it in the best way, but do we always? No.

    You’ve taken on a lot, Terri, and you’re doing one hell of a job with everything. Pat yourself on the back, take a deep breath, and speak with the Doc on your behalf, not Jerri’s. Perhaps ensure that whatever actions, or lack thereof, on Jerri’s part haven’t hurt your relationship with the doctor, but don’t take on the responsibility of paying Jerri’s bill unless you absolutely have to do so. You’ll be enabling her if you do. That issue is between her and the Doc.

    As for the man who was with her, keep an eye out on the situation… as you always do… but you can’t live her life. The most you can do is ensure she’s still taking her meds and she’s safe. If he’s using her, taking her money, you can do something about ensuring he doesn’t stick around if you find out he is an ex-con; her safety comes first after all. But there’s only so much you can do.

    I wish we were Super Women, but sadly, we’re not. We’re just women taking life day by day.

    Remember, you can’t take care of others until you take care of you first. I do hope you take some time for yourself on occasion. You deserve it.

    Sorry for the long missive and I know you didn’t ask for my advice, but I see myself in this post… and I know where I am now. Take care of you.

    • Rose, feel free to give advice at any time. I need it. I don’t have a clue what I’m doing here.

      It’s good that you can see your mother in 3D, as a complex person with both desirable and undesirable traits. I know it’s not fair to her, but in my mind my mom is two dimensional. When I try to come up with positives, all I can think of is she met our physical needs. She made lunches for school, cooked dinner every night, did laundry, bought clothes and other supplies, cleaned the house, etc. Granted that’s a lot. But I can’t help believing her motives weren’t pure. Most of what she did was not because she loved us but because she wanted others to see her as a good mom. My mom has spent her entire life trying to control everyone around her. By doing this, however, she’s ended up herself controlled by what others think. In the worst of times with Jerri, my mom would say, “what is everyone going to think? They’ll think this is all my fault, that I’m a bad mother. They always blame the mother.” Not to say that other mom’s might not have entertained this as a passing thought, but they might not have vocalized it to their kids and perhaps they’d have quickly replaced it with “what can I do to help my daughter?”

      And while there is part of Jerri’s illness that is biological and can’t be blamed on Mom except maybe by way of bad genes, Jerri’s inability to advance toward recovery is in a large part due to the psychological damage Mom inflicted. It is extremely difficult, on the verge of impossible, to overcome years, decades, of being told you will never amount to anything because everything about you is wrong.

      Granted my mom received the same treatment from her own mom. I can step back and see how she got this way. But unlike your mom, there seem to be no redeeming qualities. A therapist once told me my mom has Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Jerri’s former psychiatrist told Mom she has Borderline Personality Order. So it’s safe to say my mother is sick but she refuses to accept the diagnoses and seek help.

      I wish like you and your mom that we could get along. But the relationship is completely one-sided and honestly, it wears me out trying to maintain it. When I stopped trying, it ended. Just like that.

      Didn’t mean to go on and on about Mom but as you can see, your response also struck a strong chord with me. I’m trying to give myself a break and not beat myself up – but it’s hard; it’s become what I do. Perhaps it’s a learned behavior. Trophy daughters do try to be perfect all the time; in absence of parental love growing up, we settled for praise or at least criticism prevention. Earning praise is a lot of hard work and when you come up short, you do beat yourself up. Old habits die hard. Please don’t get me wrong, I’m not supporting Jerri in an effort to earn praise – she’s my sister and I truly feel compassion for her – but my reflex is still to beat myself up when I fail.

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