Nobody gets to call my mama weak for staying.
In the first place, when push came to shove in 2012, it was autumn in Western New York. You don’t leave the safety of the roof for which you have paid a great deal of your salary when a New York winter is coming. You fight for that roof because the real enemies here are winter and the mortgage companies, not a wayward spouse. She did not budge; she asserted her right to that roof. He went to live with the other woman for a few months instead.
That is, for many women, strength — the right to a roof.
Under that roof she grieved, but she clung to everything remaining. Including me. One of the reasons she stayed was her broken, broke-ass daughter. I did all I could to be worth it. We drew closer than ever before. That winter I went back to work on my degree. 2011 had wreaked havoc on my body; I needed all of 2012 to heal. This she understood. I would finish. I just needed time and a safe place to land.
We grieved together, because this was my daddy I no longer knew. This was the man she married and loved through so much of his own pain. I will never understand why he has been some of the men he has been, but I understand that pain warps a human being into someone even he doesn’t know. And we grieved still for my grandmother, my mother’s mother, who had only died in February. A long, full life is not always comfort to survivors. Sometimes that means there’s more to miss.
We survived. It’s what you do. She survived.
Sure, she could have gone back to Germany. Left a job that was still viable at that point (RBI/Everest didn’t go under until 2015). Left the house to Dad, left me to kill myself, because to be honest the prospect of living in this country without her was worse than death and I couldn’t travel even then. He would have moved the tart straight in; her apartment was a shithole, possibly a literal shithole given the state of him when he did come back. Then, because my dad was also not functional, we would have lost that house. So much for twenty years of mortgage payments. I’d have ended up in a shelter somewhere, the cats… God knows who’d have taken them. There were still three. Bodie had a piddling problem, Trixie was too shy to respond to anyone but me or Eleven (whose partner is too allergic for that to have been an option) — and Adalyne? At her first overload fit, when she bit someone or clawed them, she’d have been put down. No.
It is tremendous to realize that you are the pivot point. So remarkable when you can, in the space between yes and no, decide the outcome of five other lives. That was my mother’s power.
She stayed, and I had the continuity of care I needed to become insured again. I had that safe place to get my BA. I did get to meet the Barony of Thescorre. I have been so fulfilled.
She stayed, and when my father came home, it was to a clean house that wasn’t slowly killing him. He got better; he got real help and is finally healing from a lifetime of damage.
She stayed, and Bodie and Trixie lived out their allotted spans in feline paradise. Adalyne doesn’t have to fend for herself aged fifteen; my Dowager Countess will rule her roost just as long as she’s given, among people who understand her.
She stayed, and she is living. Not surviving. Living. She has work, she has friends, she has weekly phone calls with her sister, she has murder mysteries on demand. She isn’t sad. She told me the real tragedy would’ve been to throw it all away, after so long. Our family doesn’t do that. She comes from a huge clan with its own quirks. She understands that people are stronger together than scattered on the breeze.
Like my mother, if I should face the same question, I will decide based on the circumstances. It is a matter of self-respect: can you live with yourself given the repercussions of your choices? Humanity is interdependent, Ayn Rand be damned. The act of existing bumps us into other people and changes them.
My mother stayed, “and that has made all the difference”.