“Honestly…”

“Honestly, I don’t believe you can think for yourself.”

I was sitting behind her, on the edge of the tub, watching her curl her hair for work. She was looking at the mirror, her reflected eyes on mine, one side of her mouth curled into the familiar sneer, marring her pretty features.

Since I’d moved back in, having coffee with her while she got ready for work had become a sort of ritual. Sometimes the exchange was positive, but this morning she was salty.

Our conversation had been mostly her complaining that no one ever listened to her, never took her advice on anything, especially me and my brothers.

It was a familiar rant and I didn’t want to hear it to the end.

I pointed out that we’re all adults now, with our own ideas about how to live.

“You make it sound like we can’t think for ourselves.”

“Honestly, I don’t believe you can think for yourself.”

I studied her reflection in the mirror, the half sneer, the pointed eye contact.

“You’re serious. You really believe that?”

“Sometimes I do. I worry about how you kids are going to make it when I’m not around anymore.”

She loves to talk about death. What she’ll do if my dad dies first. What we should do if they both die at the same time. How important it is that I get life insurance so they aren’t overwhelmed with funeral costs if I die before them. It all comes up a lot.

“That’s pretty insulting. I make competent decisions all the time. We all do.” I wanted to say more but I could feel my blood heating up, so I changed the subject.

“Do you want your coffee topped off?”

She shook her head, the crooked look still on her face, like she was amused by how offended I was. She was almost done getting ready, adding lipstick and eyeliner to complete her look for the day.

I escaped to the kitchen, knowing I didn’t want more coffee but needing the mental space.

I waited for her, staring out the window into the front yard, flipping her words over and over in my head.

Thinking of everything I’d accomplished in the last few years only to have her undermine my hard work with her straight-faced hubris.

I listened to the sounds of her finishing up, the rushed click of her heels betraying how late she was, the jingle of keys being snatched up, purse and lunch bag bumping together in a swish of leather and vinyl.

She stood in the kitchen, looking around to see if she’d forgotten anything.

“Do you have your phone? Bluetooth? Charger?” I asked. Another ritual. If she forgot anything, she’d only turn around and come back, possibly pull me out of bed to run something out to her car.

She ran to grab her Bluetooth.

I waited, ready to lock the door, turn off all the lights she’d leave on, unplug the curling iron, turn off the fan.

Her words ran through my head again, pissing me off on a deeper level.

She kissed me on her way out the door.

Told me she loved me.

Told me to have a good day.

I didn’t recognize this conversation as the last straw when it happened, because it was so normal for us, but this was the day I understood the truth of our relationship.

She would choose to see me in a negative light no matter how many mountains I moved.

Her blithe critiques on my looks, career, habits, relationships, tastes, and goals would continue until I learned never to trust myself.

I could destroy myself in the pursuit of her approval and never get it.

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