I was born in 1974 to a nineteen-year-old, free-spirited, peaceful, loving, pot-smoking hippie chick. We lived in a small cabin off the coast of Astoria, Oregon. We had to use kerosene lanterns and milk jugs with candles inside for light because we had no electricity. Until my dad built a bathroom inside, we used an outhouse out back. I hated having to go out there in the early morning or late at night. As a kid, my imagination would often lead me to believe that every scary thing in those woods was, in fact, waiting on the other side of that rickety wooden door just for me. I was often impatient when my mom had to boil water on the wood stove and pour it into a huge metal basin for us to take baths.
My mom baked bread from scratch, canned our fruits and vegetables, and would freeze the meat my dad brought in from hunting. We had a little farm with chickens and pigs, and one time the meat came from our pet pigs, “Bacos” and “Yum-Yum.” I remember seeing them skinned and gutted, hanging upside down above barrels. I went on a “meat strike” as long as I could after that. I had two younger brothers, and we would always say prayers before bed. She homeschooled me while we lived there and would always tell me little sayings to live my life by, like “beauty is only skin deep,” “money can’t buy you happiness,” and “a woman can do anything a man can do.” These moments influenced me in a positive way.
For reasons unknown to me, we ended up moving to the city. It was there that my mom went from Betty Crocker to Betty Ford. We moved from house to house, and my parents partied with their friends day and night. They eventually ended up separating, and my brothers and I went with my mom. From there, it was like we were little bouncy balls, only landing for a split second, bouncing from my grandparents and back to my mom, then with family friends and so on. At some point, my mom just stopped being a mom. She would never cook for us, never say prayers with us, and never wake us up for school. She ended up going to jail, for breaking into someone’s house, I think, and again we went with my grandparents.
While she was in jail, I grew to resent her. I also grew up. At eleven years old, I started drinking and smoking pot. I lost my virginity. When my mom got out of jail, she headed out east to Rhode Island. I was mad at her for that. I was rebelling and needed attention. My grandparents didn’t know how to deal with my new attitude, so they insisted my mom take me. I think they were hoping it would do me some good. It only amplified the wild child inside of me. When I arrived in Rhode Island, my mom and her boyfriend were living at a campground and sleeping in a tent. There was no way in hell I was going for that, and she knew it. The next day she took me into town and introduced me to a couple of girls who were hanging outside a local pizza joint called George’s. Nobody actually claimed to know who George was. The fact that he had the coolest place in town for 80’s degenerates and rocker rebels to play pinball at was good enough for us. My mom then took me to a house and introduced me to her friend, Tracy. She told me that this is where I would be living until she found a house of her own. From there, I ran around in the streets all summer and made friends with every other street kid in town. I ended up with an eighteen-year-old boyfriend, and when I did see my mom, it was at some party where we would get drunk and high together.
My mom finally came looking for me sometime after school had begun, and when she found me, I thought she was going to beat me up right there in the middle of George’s front steps. I had dyed my hair pink and purple, and she grabbed a fistful of it and threw me in the backseat of the car. She had never taken me to a dentist while I was there, so I managed to pull off my braces with old needle nose pliers. I don’t think I’ve ever seen her so mad. She took me back to the house where she was staying and told me to get the dye out of my hair. While I was rinsing my hair under the bathtub faucet, I muttered something that sort of rhymed with “itch.” She came out of nowhere. I didn’t even say it loud, but it was like she had been around the corner just anticipating my smart mouth so she could let me have it. She got me good. I have never called her anything but “Mom” since then. After that, she made a futile attempt at forcing me to go to school. I wouldn’t cooperate with anything she tried to make me do, just out of spite. By then, I had made friends with every dropout in town, so she couldn’t find me even when she tried. It wasn’t much longer after that when she sent me back to my grandparents. I can’t tell you how or why, but when I got back to my grandparents, I became a whole different kid. I enjoyed school and even made it on the honor roll. I met a boy named Danny, who I remained loyal to throughout high school. When my grandfather asked me if I was going to marry him, I decided that second, from fear of having a boring life, that it was time to break up.
A month before graduation, my mom went back to Oregon, and I moved in with her. It was then that I watched her struggle the most. She had always had horrible taste in men but this one I truly despised the minute I met him. And for good reason. He knew he had HIV and Hepatitis C and passed it to her anyway, beat on her, tried to distance her from her kids, and, in an attempt to move her across the entire country, eventually landed her and my brother in a Michigan prison for three years. Her “boyfriend” is doing three life sentences for shooting and nearly killing three state police officers. It is hard for me to understand why she still speaks to him, but she does. That was 1994; I was twenty years old, and that is the last time my mom had a boyfriend.
After that, I watched my mom spin out of control. Instead of taking care of herself better, she destroyed herself. She began selling and doing crystal meth, stealing cars and trucks with my brother, Adam, stealing guns and breaking into houses. She acted like life didn’t matter. It was also the first time I saw my mother in a different light. I felt sorry for her instead of angry, and it hurt my heart to see her going through that. I cannot imagine how she must have felt.
I stopped being so resentful, and it allowed us to form a friendship again. She would constantly tell me that I should depend on no one. She also told me not to have children until at least the age of thirty, and all of the sudden, money was VERY important in regards to happiness. She was always bringing up “karma” and how I should always do the right thing and never ever do bad things to good people. She told me to never judge a person or I will surely walk in their shoes. She would call me relentlessly, and still does, as if she worries about me. There would be times when she would have too much to drink and she would ramble on about how sorry she was for not being a good mom. I always tell her that it’s okay. Now that I am older, I understand. We all have struggles in life, and you never know when yours may come.
I have three children of my own now, and a time did come when, as a mother, I had to struggle with drugs, jail, and unhealthy relationships. I judged my mother harshly, and I ended up walking in her shoes. I used to say I would never be the kind of mother that I had, yet I became like her in many ways. The truth is, when I thought she was influencing me in the worst way possible, she was unknowingly teaching me to be a better mother. It’s possible that had I not gone through what I did as a child, I might not have chosen differently with my own kids. I knew I did not want to put my kids through the same things I had gone through. I remember when my daughter was 7; she looked at me so seriously and said, “I just want my mom back.” I knew exactly how she felt.
I see myself in my mother, and I believe I have learned a lot through watching her make mistakes, as my daughter will hopefully learn from watching me make mine. I have been lucky that my children were not like me. They don’t shoot me with arrows full of guilt and shame. They don’t speak about that period in our lives in a negative way, or constantly remind me of my mistakes, and blame me for our struggles at that time. We can actually sit back and laugh about some of the more comical moments when I was not myself. They love me unconditionally and remind me often that they are proud of me.
The unfortunate reality is that no matter how much you think you know, sometimes you just have to learn for yourself. Some of my best lessons have been learned through making my worst mistakes. Whether she was my enemy or my best friend, she was my mother. She tried to make up for where she went wrong, and she never stopped trying to teach me what she thought was right. When I look back on those days now, I see how they shaped me into the person and mother that I have become. I may have been influenced in some pretty bad ways, but I gained so much in a good way as well. My mother has absolutely impacted who I am, and I am okay with that today. I wouldn’t change a thing.
In loving memory of Linda K. Bertrand
Nov 11, 1954 – Oct 8, 2015