My mother had a great deal of trouble with me, but I think she enjoyed it.
I was a rotten teenager. Not your average spoiled, know-it-all, not-going-to-clean-my-room, getting-an-attitude-because-I’m-15 teenager. No, I was a manipulative, lying, acid-tongued monster, who realized early on that I could make things gomywaywith just a fewminor adjustments. The writers for today’s hottest soap opera could not have created a worse “villainess.” A few nasty comments here, a lie or two there, maybe an evil glare for a finishing touch, and things would be grand. Or so I thought.
For the most part, and on the outside, I was a good kid. A giggly, pug-nose tomboy who liked to play sports and who thrived on competition (a nice way of saying: somewhat pushy and demanding). Which is probably why most people allowed me to squeak by using what I now call “bulldozer behavior tactics,” with no regard for anyone I felt to be of value. For a while, anyway.
Since I was perceptive enough to get some people to bend my way, it amazes me how long it took to realize how I was hurting so many others. Not only did I succeed in pushing away many of my closest friends by trying to control them; I also managed to sabotage, time and time again, the most precious relationship in my life: my relationship with my mother.
Even today, almost 10 years since the birth of the new me, my former behavior astonishes me each time I reach into my memories. Hurtful comments that cut and stung the people I cared most about. Acts of confusion and anger that seemed to rule my every move—all to make sure that things went my way.
My mother, who gave birth to me at age 38 against her doctor’s wishes, would cry to me, “I waited so long for you, please don’t push me away. I want to help you!”
I would reply with my best face of stone, “I didn’t ask for you! I never wanted you to care about me! Leave me alone and forget I ever lived!”
My mother began to believe I really meant it. My actions proved nothing less.
I was mean and manipulative, trying to get my way at any cost. Like many young girls in high school, the boys whom I knew were off limits were always the first ones I had to date. Sneaking out of the house at all hours of the night just to prove I could do it. Juggling complex lies that were always on the verge of blowing up in my face. Finding any way to draw attention to myself while simultaneously trying to be invisible.
Ironically, I wish I could say I had been heavy into drugs during that period of my life, swallowing mind-altering pills and smoking things that changed my personality, thus accounting for the terrible, razor-sharp words that came flying from my mouth. However, that was not the case. My only addiction was hatred; my only high was inflicting pain.
But then I asked myself why. Why the need to hurt? And why the people I cared about the most? Why the need for all the lies? Why the attacks on my mother? I would drive myself mad with all the why’s until one day, it all exploded in a suicidal rage.
Lying awake the following night at the “resort” (my pet name for the hospital), after an unsuccessful, gutless attempt to jump from a vehicle moving at 80 miles per hour, one thing stood out more than my Keds with no shoe laces. I didn’t want to die.
And I did not want to inflict any more pain on people to cover up what I was truly trying to hide myself: self-hatred. Self-hatred unleashed on everyone else.
I saw my mother’s pained face for the first time in years—warm, tired brown eyes filled with nothing but thanks for her daughter’s new lease on life and love for the child she waited 38 years to bear.
My first encounter with unconditional love. What a powerful feeling.
Despite all the lies I had told her, she still loved me. I cried on her lap for hours one afternoon and asked why she still loved me after all the horrible things I did to her. She just looked down at me, brushed the hair out of my face and said frankly, “I don’t know.”
A kind of smile penetrated her tears as the lines in her tested face told me all that I needed to know. I was her daughter, but more important, she was my mother. Not every rotten child is so lucky. Not every mother can be pushed to the limits I explored time and time again, and venture back with feelings of love.
Unconditional love is the most precious gift we can give. Being forgiven for the past is the most precious gift we can receive. I dare not say we could experience this pure love twice in one lifetime.
I was one of the lucky ones. I know that. I want to extend the gift my mother gave me to all the “rotten teenagers” in the world who are confused.
It’s okay to feel pain, to need help, to feel love—just feel it without hiding. Come out from under the protective covers, from behind the rigid walls and the suffocating personas, and take a breath of life.
Sarah J. Vogt
Title: Reprinted by permission of Chicken Soup for the Soul, LLC © 1997. In order to protect the rights of the copyright holder, no portion of this publication may be reproduced without prior written consent. All rights reserved.