For years I asked her advice, hoping for a word of encouragement. Instead I'd hear her say, “I always thought sending you to that college was a huge waste of money.” Boyfriend broke up with me? Must have been because I was something of a slut.

If I brought a man home, her opinion was never in doubt. Joe, for instance, returned from a trip to the bathroom a bit ruffled to report, “Your mom just grabbed me and French-kissed me.” (He was her all-time favorite.) Upon meeting Eric, she tousled his hair and told him she thought he was so cute she could just eat him up. He dumped me shortly thereafter. She got his number from directory assistance and called him up sobbing, begging him to take me back. Needless to say, I stayed dumped.

I also got a steady stream of phone calls from strange men my mother had met in bars who seemed to think I'd be dying to go out with them. Apparently, she had pressed my phone number on them, saying I desperately needed a decent man to knock some sense into me.

Once, when my mother came to visit with friends, she took me out to a nightclub where the waiters took turns lip-synching to tunes like “Rock Around the Clock” and a gargantuan fiberglass Chevrolet appeared to have just plowed through one wall. I watched her knock back cocktails and shimmy with anyone who would shimmy back.

Eventually, I left, telling her friends I was tired. She arrived home an hour later and came through the door like a jet-propelled wolverine, grabbing me and shaking me as I lay on the sofa.

“I will not tolerate your being rude to my friends!” she shrieked, eyes bulging, fingernails digging into my arms. “When I take you someplace, you stay there and have fun!” I kicked her away, and she slapped me, hard. I fled to the bathroom, locked myself in, and sat crying on the toilet. When one of my mother's friends returned a few minutes later, I heard her ask, “What's the matter with her?”

“Aw, she's just crying over some guy,” my mother said.

The next day it was as though nothing had happened. I wondered whether she even remembered it.

Why did I never just stop and think, "Wouldn't my life be more pleasant if I interacted a little less with my mother?" Why couldn't I give up expecting her to be the parent I wanted?

It never crossed my mind. I was 28 years old and had no idea why I was so unhappy. I quit my job in book publishing to try my hand as a writer, bartending for a living. But as the pitch of my mother's disapproval became ever more shrill, I couldn't seem to see the way forward. The rock that had sat in my rib cage during the night out in Florida was now a permanent fixture. I found myself choking back tears all day long.

Fortunately, in New York people never stop talking about their shrinks, so the thought finally occurred to me, "Maybe seeing a professional is a better idea than the one I had the other night about throwing myself from the window of my 12th-floor apartment."


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