My mom


“You were born in a cloud of steam and frost! It was colder than usual that winter and the maternity ward was under construction and poorly insulated. You had a full head of black hair and flawless white skin, not a pink and wrinkly little pig, like the other babies.”.

That’s what she used to tell me about how I came into this world. 

Even though she frequently also told me she never wanted to have kids, I never doubted that she loved me and that I was special in her eyes.

She used to sing to me every night, my two favourite songs over and over again. She read me the same story for years about the farmer that traded his only cow for a meal and came home empty-handed but got his money back betting his wife would forgive him. I loved that story. I loved her voice even if she thought she couldn’t sing.

I was four years old when my brother was born. He was such as active baby he had caused my mother internal bleeding, and even though I didn’t understand much of what was going on, I was concerned about her. I was particularly worried she didn’t get food at the hospital. I remember my dad giggling at the two-inch thick slices of bread I had prepared to take with me to visit her and my baby brother. I thought he laughed at of me for not understanding that they serve food at the hospital, or because the bread was cut wrong. I felt stupid.

My brother continued to cause havoc on my mother’s body, and the damage and the pain caused tension between my parents after he was born. I did not realize this or understand why when she left the house crying one night and didn’t return for hours. I had nightmares for weeks that she left me, and I was chasing her through tall white outlined buildings on rolling sidewalks. Running and running, not getting anywhere, crying for her to come back.

Starting school was difficult for me. I dreaded recess and all social events. I was never happy unless I was best in class, so creative homework where ‘best’ was subjective could often lead to massive meltdowns. I remember one exercise where we were supposed to draw a labyrinth. I was 6 or 7 years old, and my maze was not as impressive as Eva’s, so I tore it up, cried uncontrollably and refused to believe I could complete the task. My mother was exceptionally patient and guided me through it. 

She was my best friend — the most beautiful woman in the world. Her hair was long, thick and shiny. She had big fashionable glasses, and she would sew matching outfits for the two of us. We got attention everywhere we went for our blonde hair, blue eyes and innocent attitude.

My father’s business was very successful, and she did all his accounting. I was extremely fascinated when she brought home a computer and did magical things that made pages and pages of numbers come out on paper. I loved coming with her to the office. I enjoyed tremendously helping her pull off the edges on the matrix paper. When I close my eyes, I can still smell the ink, the coffee and her cigarettes. We would walk to the bakery together and buy fresh buns. I wanted to come to the office with her every day and never go back to school and recess.

The summer I finished third-grade things changed dramatically. It was a Friday, and I had plans to meet a boy from school at the beach. He was the closest thing I had to a friend. We were both outcasts, and I sometimes lured him home with promises of candy. It was a desperate friendship, but it was important to me. I felt devastated and betrayed when my mom told me to get in the car because we were moving. I never got to say goodbye or tell him why I didn’t show up that day.

We moved from a good middle-class life in the suburbs of Oslo to a small farm in the middle of nowhere to breed horses. I had no idea, but the recession had hit the country, and my father’s business was bankrupt, so he decided instead, he wanted to train racing horses for a living. I don’t think my mother liked the idea much, but she wasn’t the type to stand up against my dad. She went from being an accountant with everything she could dream of and her family close by to cleaning horse dung in the stables, struggling to make ends meet, miles and miles away from everyone we knew.

She worked hard, trying to keep everything together. We didn’t have much; the horses didn’t generate enough income to pay all our expenses, and my father had pawned our house to try and save the company, so we were regularly chased down by creditors. Sometimes we didn’t have proper dinner, only dry bread because we were broke.

One winter she was outside chopping wood when the axe slipped and cut off her thumb. She could no longer tend to the stables, and her mental health was starting to deteriorate. I had to step in and take care of the farm, my brother and her. I was 12 years old.

Things didn’t get better after that. An accident at the farm resulted in my father’s first heart attack. He had his second one at the operating table. My mother’s nerves were already fragile, stretched thin from financial worries. Seeing her husband rushed to the hospital, watching them break open his chest with a saw to save his life – with 16 horses, a dog, five cats, 400 budgerigars, two rabbits and two kids waiting at home – was undoubtedly stressful.

Her ability to be a mother, to protect and support her children was lost, reduced to a small child herself, incapable of making decisions alone. My grandmother, whom I had barely seen in years, had to move in to take care of us.

After the surgery, my father was in a lot of pain and could no longer train the horses, so we had to give up on the farm and move again. To make a living, my mother took over a small convenience store. We rented the apartment on the second floor of the store. I helped out as much as I could by taking the evening shift after school. 

It was not uncommon for me at this time to find her outside in the bushes where she would hide, crying after a fight with my father. I tried the best I could to comfort her and stand up against him when she didn’t have the strength to do it herself. I begged her to take us and move away from him and start over, but he was sick, and she was afraid. Afraid to leave him, afraid to be with him, afraid he would not make it alone, afraid she would not make it alone.

After my father had another heart attack and the tax office claimed my mother had cheated on her taxes, the store went bankrupt, and we were once again homeless and on the move to the other side of the country. 

She got a cleaning job and would get up at five in the morning to bike almost two hours to work, clean for a penny and bike two hours home again. She had a driving licence, but she was too afraid to drive. 

She was exhausted, but the local authorities in our new town recognized the family situation and stepped in and helped us, taking some of the burdens off her shoulders. Our relationship improved; she became my best friend again. Her relationship with my father, on the other hand, withered to a point where I begged them to separate. 

I did everything I could to help her. I studied cognitive therapy and read every self-help book I could find. It took another ten years working with her to rebuild her strength and faith in herself before she finally contacted a lawyer. All grown up and just coming out of a bad breakup myself, we decided to rent an apartment together. 

The divorce was brutal. My father didn’t want to let her have anything, claiming the little we had was his inheritance. I stood by her and told my father I would have nothing more to do with him if he didn’t treat her better. They finally settled. 

After the settlement, she told me about that night she left the house, the one I had nightmares about when I was four. He had beaten and raped her because she no longer wanted sex with him due to the pain. She had been too afraid to tell anyone and carried the burden alone for more than twenty years.

The next few years were incredible. I watched my mother come to life again, like a lily in the spring. She started caring about her looks, she wore makeup, cut her hair, bought new clothes and looked twenty years younger. She dated much younger men, smiled and laughed a lot and agreed to go to the cinema out to restaurants, things her anxiety had prevented her from doing for years.

A few years later, after she had moved in with her boyfriend, I decided she no longer needed me. I felt free to follow my dream and move to Canada to work in the game industry. She was happy. I was happy.

Then she suddenly started to show signs of anxiety again, convinced I was suicidal and lying to her about doing well. She told me my brother’s wife, whom I had not met while living abroad, was manipulating him for money and trying to create conflict between them. I know my brother well enough to know he would never allow that. It was curious.

I was supposed to come home for Christmas. I had booked tickets to go with my boyfriend at the time. Out of the blue, she emailed me and said we couldn’t come after all. When I asked her why she said that her partner had evidence that my boyfriend was a terrorist. She showed me a picture of someone’s eyes behind a mask, claiming they look exactly like a picture of my boyfriend. She said they had sources in the government of the Ivory Coast confirming that my boyfriend was wanted there. 

My boyfriend, Cherif, a black Muslim from the Ivory Coast, with a masters degree in macroeconomics from Paris, owner of a successful business in Montreal and a foundation that builds schools and grants free education to kids in his home country – a terrorist – or a victim of racism? The answer was evident to me. I started seriously questioning the intentions of my mother’s new love.

Step by step, day by day, he initiated new conflicts with my brother or me, setting us up against our mother. He had full control of her email server, watching and listening to everything we talked about with her. I discovered that the story about my sister in law was upside down; she was not the one trying to create conflict. Our mother didn’t see it. I was frustrated. After all these years supporting and comforting her, she was about to choose a man over me. I didn’t even know how much anger and resentment I carried towards her for not being the adult in our relationship. I told her. I let it all out.

I could no longer reach my mother directly after that. All communication went through him. He told me that she was crying endlessly, suffering from terrible anxiety after what I said to her. 

I was about to move home to Norway with my one-year-old son and my fiance, and they had promised we could stay with them for a while until I got a job and we got settled on our own. Suddenly I’m getting threats that they will call child protective services to have my son taken away from me the moment I land in Oslo. He told me they agreed that I am a psychopath, a danger to my child and that my mother is afraid of me and don’t want to see me again. 

My brother takes my side, hoping our mother will come to her senses, but they continue to claim I have brainwashed him and refuse to have more to do with him either.

Three years later, we learn through public records that they sold their house and moved to Spain. I do some searches and find some videos he has posted from their new home and of her swimming in their pool. She looks frail but healthy. 

Her story ends abruptly on March 29th 2019, at the age of 65, only four months after she moved to Spain with him, but we don’t learn about it until nine months later through a series of coincidences. 

We still don’t know why she died or where she lies buried.

She never met any of her three grandchildren.

***

TAKEAWAY 1

Don’t let fear decide

My mother lived her entire life as a slave to her fear and anxiety. She died alone with a man that worked tirelessly for ten years to isolate her from her friends and family. We don’t know if she was the victim of a crime or if she died naturally. Who knows with a man like that. 

She won 220 000 EURO in a lottery and earned good money in her final years before she retired, yet she was always worried about finances. She was paranoid, hateful towards immigrants, buying into her partners lies about people. She believed him over me when he claimed to be a psychic, knowing things about me on the other side of the world.

All we know is that she died suddenly in the hallway in a hospital in Spain before she could get treatment. She was probably terrified.

I have committed never to make a single decision in my life based on fear again. My mother taught me that if you give in to it only once it snowballs. You risk dying alone and afraid, never having lived at all.

TAKEAWAY 2

Put on your gas mask first

My mom was a loving, attentive and patient mother, but she tried to carry every burden alone while she was never powerful enough to do that. She never took the time to rest and recover; she never asked for help. She wanted to stay strong for us, but she couldn’t.

I learned that to be able to help others; you need to help yourself first. 

Taking time for you is not selfish, being a martyr is.

Trying to pretend you are okay when you are not, or being too ashamed to tell people your story, will not just hurt you, but also the people that depend on you. It will hurt them threefold,- first, because they have to witness your pain, second because they lose you as their guardian and third because they have to carry you instead when you fall.

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