I had Cynthia take Penny out of the room. I hadn’t seen my mother in years, and really hoped never to see her again. Joanie walked in without the usual stumbling around, and I wasn’t sure how to take a sober Joan Kinney. Then Justin walked in, which means Cynthia called him. My mother looked at Justin for a second but didn’t start in on her usual fires of hell.
“Is there some reason you’re here?” I ask her.
“I needed to see you and give you this.” She tells me handing me a letter.
“What is it? Another request for me to pay for something?” I ask her.
“No, it’s a letter of apology. I joined AA.” She tells me.
“Finally almost killed someone driving drunk?” I sneered.
“Brian, don’t do this.” Justin tells me, touching my arm.
“It’s okay, I deserve it. It’s not like I ever did anything for him. I left him to take the beatings that I hid from. I’m okay if he never forgives me for not being there, and then treating him as if God disapproved of a man who still took care of his drunk mother. I just wanted him to know that I was wrong, not him.” She tells Justin.
“You mean I’m no longer going to burn in hell because I fuck men?” I ask, to see how she deals with it.
“All I can see is that you married the person you love and he loves you back. It’s more than I ever had in my marriage, one that was supposedly correct in God’s eyes. I’m just glad you were able to find happiness, even after the things you went through.” She tells me.
“Daddy, Papa, hide me.” Nathan runs in yelling. “Who’s dat?” He asks us, pointing at my mother.
My mother looks down at Nathan and smiles at him. Justin shrugged, because like me, he doesn’t know if anything she says is really the truth.
“That’s your grandmother.” I tell him.
“I have one?” Nathan asks.
“You have two but this one is my mother.” I tell him.
“Do you make cookies or cake?” Nathan asks, her looking up at her.
“I make a cake your father used to like, I’m not sure if he likes it anymore.” She tells him.
“I like cake, you can give it to me.” He tells her.
“If your fathers are okay with it, I’ll make you one.” She tells him.
“Daddy, Nathan put a candy bar in the copy machine. Who is that?” Penny asks after telling on Nathan.
“My mother, your grandmother.” I tell her.
“Kids, why don’t we go see what Nathan did?” Justin tells them.
“I just wanted to make more.” Nathan tells my mother, kissing her cheek, before walking to Justin.
“Hi, I’m Daddy’s princess, Penny.” Penny tells her, hugging her when my mom opens her arms.
I waited until they left to talk to my mom. “If this is some fucked up game you’re playing, I will make it so you are never allowed around my kids or in my life.” I tell her.
“No games, I didn’t want to die one day with you thinking I never cared about you. I don’t expect to be welcome in your life. I’d just like the chance to tell you that nothing was ever your fault. Your father was unhappy that he had to marry me and took it out on you. It wouldn’t have mattered if you were the perfect child, he was an abusive drunk and I was a sanctimonious drunk. It was never your fault that you were stuck with us.” She tells me.
“How is Claire taking you cleaning up?” I ask her.
“She’s just waiting for me to fall off the wagon. Peter and John aren’t allowed around me, since I told them not to speak the way they do about you and Justin.” She tells me.
“I think that’s the first time you’ve said his name.” I tell her.
“Most likely because I was too drunk to remember it.” She tells me smiling. “I really would like to give that precious little boy the cake if you’ll let me.” She tells me.
“You mean my demon child.” I tell her.
“Boys do all sorts of things that will turn your hair gray.” She tells me.
I walk my mom out to the cab that was waiting and try to pay for it but she tells me no. I still didn’t know what to think, but when she hugged me it wasn’t like it use to be, when she barely tolerated anyone touching her. For the first time my mom didn’t smell like sherry.
“We could have lunch tomorrow.” I tell her, giving her a chance.
“I’d like that.” She tells me.
“I’ll pick you up at eleven.” I tell her.
Nathan was very disappointed that candy bars didn’t come out of the copy machine. I pulled the bar out and threw it in the freezer in the breakroom. I wanted Brian and his mother to have a chance to talk, because I really didn’t know how to take her. It made me wonder if people really could change. My mom tends to go back and forth, so I really just don’t see it happening. Although I can’t compare my mother to Brian’s. I know my mother loves me, it’s just that she only calls when she feels neglected. I can’t say that I help much by just going through the motions with her.
When Brian and I were in bed, I decided to bring it up. “What do you think?” I ask him.
“I don’t know.” Brian tells me.
“Did you read the letter?” I ask him.
“No, I guess I didn’t want to find out she didn’t change.” He tells me.
“Do you want me to read it?” I ask him.
“No, I want her to show me she’s serious. I invited her to have lunch with us tomorrow. If she hasn’t changed she won’t make it through lunch.” He tells me.
“Reading the letter won’t change anything if she hasn’t.” I tell him.
He hands it to me and I held it for a minute, almost not wanting to open it and find out that she was screwing with Brian again. I opened it and started reading.
There are so many things that you should have had and didn’t because of my drinking and thoughtlessness. You should have had a mother first and foremost, but I was too busy hiding in a bottle; drowning my sorrows, and your screams for someone to save you. For that I will never be able to forgive myself.
Your father threw in your face that he never wanted you, and I made sure you knew my religion saved you. Know that when I found out I was pregnant with you, that I wanted you, for no other reason than I wanted you. You were not a mistake on my part, but a mistake because I stayed in a marriage for all the wrong reasons and you were the one paying for my mistake. I know it’s hard to believe but I loved you from the minute you were placed in my arms. I just wasn’t strong enough to do what I should have done and leave your father. He hated that you succeeded when he did nothing but fail at everything, including being a father.
I used my religion as a reason you weren’t good enough, but I no longer believe God views the way you love as wrong, it’s just how he made you. Father Tom and I talked about this and he told me that love isn’t wrong, but the hatred that comes from others judging what only God can, is wrong. I think hearing what he said sober, and seeing my life for what it was, made me see how little I did that my God would approve of, in the way I lived my life. I honestly believed you couldn’t be happy married to a man instead of a woman, but I don’t really have any room to make judgements when I married someone who hated every minute of our lives together.
You never gave up, and made a life that no Kinney ever managed. A happy one. A life where there aren’t hundreds of empty bottles in the basement because you didn’t want the neighbors to see the reality of what our life was. You never let us be the excuse for living a life like ours, and that shows us all that you were the better person in this family, which wasn’t much of a family.
I’m happy to see that you aren’t letting the life you had with me affect the life you have with your husband and children. I heard about your children through Deb, who seemed to want me to see that you were going to be the kind of parent you never had. You’re going to be a parent that your kids will always want in their lives and that’s amazing, considering the example we gave you.
I know you hate apologies but I owe you at least that much. I hope one day that you can think of me and not see the passed out drunk who forgot things like birthdays and never once said I was proud of the man you became. You owe me nothing, but I want you to live the life that makes you the happiest.
I love you.
Joan Kinney or Mother (you get to choose)
I put the letter down, not sure if Brian would really need to read this. He picked it up and wiped the tears from my eyes. I put my head on his chest as he read the letter. I felt the tear when it landed on my cheek, but didn’t say anything because he needed to deal with this without having to talk about it, unless he wanted to.
“I want Gus, JR, and the girls to come tomorrow. I’d like to introduce them to my mom.” Brian tells me.
“I think they’d like to know the woman who wrote that letter.” I tell him, laying down with him and letting him sleep.
I called Lindsay to let her know who we were meeting for lunch. She tried to tell me this was a bad idea. I told her about yesterday and the letter, to get her to give Joan a chance. I wanted Brian to have this, it would be the first time he ever wanted his children to have a grandmother.
Hope can cause you to want things that will never happen. It’s why I tried never to have it, until Justin. I spent my life hoping that one day my parents would wake up and realize they were killing me with the version of love they gave me. I remember telling Justin to accept that some people will never love you the way you want them to, but then saw it happen when Molly realized that Justin didn’t cause their parents to divorce. Molly could have hated him for letting her deal with the mess she helped cause, but instead she faced up to what she did and loved her brother for not letting her out of trouble.
When Justin opened that letter that I wouldn’t, I almost tore it up. I waited while he read it and then realized it couldn’t be fire and brimstone, because he wouldn’t have let me read it if that was all it was. I read something I never thought I would, that she loved me. That she wanted me, and was proud of the fact that I got my ass out of the gutter we lived in. I said a silent prayer to the God I stopped speaking to that maybe my mom could change, and that I could love the person she tells me she’s becoming.
When Nathan and Penny crawled into bed with me, I realized that even if she isn’t changing, my children won’t ever have the life I lived. They’ll only have the best days.