Just how much abuse should we take from our parents, our grandparents – when the abuse is as toxic to a human soul as getting physically violated by a complete stranger?
I sat there motionless with my eyes wide open; preparing myself for what I thought would be bad. My body was already tensing up, and because I couldn’t relax, I sat propped up on the sofa.
“Mom, I want you to listen to this because this is the exact reason why I don’t answer her calls most times,” my son Brandon told me as he put his phone on speaker. My mother was on the other end of the line.
Michael, my younger son, sat on the recliner with his eyes glued to the TV, not a bit interested in what his grandmother had to say. Lexus, his girlfriend, sat beside him. I envied Michael – wanting to feel as relaxed as him, but I couldn’t. And Brandon, my poor Brandon, sat across from us on the other sectional with my mother on speaker phone. He had just broken off an almost two-year relationship with his boyfriend and was in the process of moving back home. There was a fear in his eyes as she talked that I could not yet read.
“Porque Dios hizo el hombre para la mujer, y la mujer para el hombre, mi hijo! Mejor que tu hagas dejado ese cochón botao’! Que tu hiciste con las sabanas y las colchas? Mejor quemalas todita! No te quede con nada de eso en tu casa! Para afuera con todo esos diablos! Tu quieres ir para el infierno? Porque en el infierno lo que hay es pura CANDELA! Alli no hay agua, no!”
Was I really listening to this? Could she really be that reckless in telling my son these horrific lies?! As much as I’ve always known my mother has no filter when she speaks (and has always felt the need to poison people with her thoughts on religion), nothing could have prepared me for what I heard. How could she?
I wasn’t ready to process the extreme anxiety and disgust I suddenly felt from listening to her talk. None of us were and certainly not the night before Christmas Eve when all we craved was love and harmony, especially from family. What was I thinking when I allowed Brandon to put her on speaker? What was I thinking when I didn’t urge him to hang up the phone on her? What was I thinking when I didn’t snatch the phone away from him and defend my son from her verbal abuse?
How could she be shouting to Brandon that he was going to hell because he was gay?! How could she be telling him to burn all of the sheets and comforters he had kept after his breakup with his boyfriend?! I watched my son as he impatiently tried to remain sitting on the sofa. This was the FEAR I couldn’t yet read on his face.
And while all of us were becoming outraged, Brandon remained respectful to my mother, as I’d always taught him. He didn’t say a single word in his own defense. Lexus, already propped up on her seat, demanded more from Michael.
“Michael, are you just going to sit there? Why don’t you say something and defend your brother?!”
“What is she telling him?” he asked, nonchalantly. Though my mother was shouting at his brother, he had already developed the habit of blocking out her words. It was obvious Michael had no interest in listening to anything that came out of his grandmother’s mouth. “She’s telling him he’s going to hell!” Lexus yelled with a disturbing discomfort I had never seen in her. She was bruised. I was bruised. “She’s telling him to burn his comforters and sheets because of all the gay shit that’s on it!”
A conversation that should have found my mother speaking words of encouragement and of peace during her grandson’s most difficult moments were filled with nasty, repulsive words of destruction instead. In knowing everything Brandon’s been through, I couldn’t help but think that if my son weren’t the strong person he is, these words could have caused him to consider suicide. In fact, the weight of those words could havee caused any gay person to commit suicide. It’s tragic enough that there’s still so much hate in the world towards gay people, but to get it from your own family too?
For over an hour Brandon remained in the bathroom after this conversation with his grandmother. His stomach turned from anxiety he said. And tears. I’m sure he hid from all of us that night. “I will never again come down on you guys for not answering her calls,” I told my sons that night. “In fact, you don’t EVER have to take her calls again. I’m sorry this is the abuse, you too, are now dealing with.”
How would these lies shape Brandon’s spirit, I thought? I had spent my life nurturing my Brandon’s identity and teaching him that love is love, and here I was in what I felt was the worst setback. But as much as these words stung him, he would remember his mother’s nurturing love, acceptance and compassion.
Even though my sons are 24 (Brandon) and 23 (Michael) I couldn’t help but feel I had wronged them for allowing this abuse in their lives. After all, I’d spent my entire life sheltering them from even the slightest shadow of my mother’s abusive behavior.
I couldn’t allow my mother’s toxic beliefs to remain embedded in my son’s heart, and though I couldn’t get it together that night, I did the next day.
“I am so sorry for what happened last night, my dear son,” I told him. “I had no idea this was the abuse you were dealing with from her. Please don’t allow your grandmother’s words to poison you or change you. Who you are is not wrong or of the devil. God made no mistake when he created you and you need to continue to live your life with love, passion, purpose and conviction. You need to live your life in all the ways that fulfill your soul and dust off all the negativity the world will try to impose on you.”
“Don’t worry mom, I’m over it,” he told me. “It’s her opinion and I will no longer allow her or anyone to abuse me in this way. Trust me, I’m okay – I’ve developed thick skin throughout my life because of all I’ve been through growing up. And thank you, mom, for always loving me and accepting me so unconditionally – exactly as I am.”