Yesterday marked one year since the day my mother left this world, and I spent much of the morning with my grief and my memories. In the afternoon, my partner and I headed out to Staten Island for an art auction, where one of his photographs was among the featured lots. On the drive, in between our waves of conversation, memories of my mother’s last months drifted in and out of my consciousness.
In one of them, I was enacting the ritual of leaving her for the night. I was arranging everything she needed on the rolling tray by her bed. Reading glasses, iPad, Kindle. Cell phone, room phone, tv remote. Altoids. Don’t forget the Altoids.
I was thinking about this especially because I’ve been thinking about her Domme persona a lot since starting this project. My mother loved to be waited on. She loved to be pampered. She loved to have things taken care of for her. But she did not love being perceived as needy, and she did not love having to ask for things. She never seemed to feel like she deserved what she was about to tell you she wanted or needed. She was the queen of the passive aggressive request, the seemingly offhand “Oooh, would you mind if we just stop at a drug store,” just as you about to pass one on a busy commercial road, and when she needed something, like cigarettes, that she knew you wouldn’t want to stop for, but that she actually desperately needed.
In the hospital she was always in need of something. And for much of that time, she was unable, for example, to get out of bed to get anything for herself. If it was not within reach, she was stuck. The helplessness was tremendously frustrating for her sometimes.
Prior to getting sick, taking the role of Mistress had clarified a lot of things for my mother. As a Domme she could be very happy giving orders. Her wishes was not requests; they were demands. Her wants and needs were not going to be judged, nor would they be rejected. The role of Domme made it safe for her to name her desires with an assurance that they would be honored.
In the hospital, though, there was only one person who could fully honor her in that role. Ironically, when her lover was the one in the hospital room, it was actually easier for her to accept her limited mobility. She could more easily retain her dignity because their relationship was founded on his providing service to her. And because my mother was one of literary leanings, if she could not wield her cane, she could still punish verbally.
Unfortunately, that persona was not useful in her relationship with me, and we would sometimes both find ourselves frustrated. I’d be frustrated because she’d wait until the last minute, as I was on my way out of the room for the night, to ask for one more thing ‘if it isn’t a problem.” She’d be frustrated because I hadn’t anticipated her need, and she’d been forced to ask.
I’ve commented before on how the utter lack of conventional mother-daughter boundaries was both a blessing and a curse in our relationship. I am thinking more and more about how helpful clearly defined roles can be. They may appear to be constraining, but they offer a tremendous amount of liberation, too. Freedom is not just the freedom to do things. It is also the freedom from need or want, or the freedom from having to do things. I’m oversimplifying a bit, here, but in a very real way BDSM freed my mother from a worry she had carried with her for a long time about whether her needs were legitimate or whether her wants would be honored. I wish there had been a way for us to define our mother daughter relationship in such clear terms.
To view the other posts in this series, click here: http://www.woodhullalliance.org/tag/my-mothers-cross/
Image of BDSM triadic symbol used under a Creative Commons license, courtesy of Wikipedia.org.