Abandonment, #4,121,943 (or, “life lessons”)

My relationship to abandonment is like economists’ relationship to recessions: I always see it lurking around the corner, even when it’s nowhere in sight. Of course, unlike economists and recessions, my actions have a direct relationship to whether abandonment actually/eventually occurs, and there’s an iterative, dynamic process in which my reaction to perceived abandonment leads to actions which, in turn, make abandonment all the more likely.

I respond to perceived abandonment with a desperate, cling-y neediness that’s out of keeping with my general way of being. I whine. I moan. I complain. It’s unsighly. Undesirable. Un-hot.

And it takes… nothing… for me to perceive abandonment. A text unanswered for a few hours. A question un-responded to. A minimally misattunded response to something I’ve said or done.

It doesn’t take me long, generally, to make meaning of such a situation: when Marina would disappear on a camping trip with W, it’s no wonder I felt abandoned; I was. But when she didn’t – when any woman doesn’t – respond to a text promptly? Well, then, it’s not “abandonment” that I’m experiencing. It’s fear. [Note to self: write a post or three on how “abandonment” isn’t a feeling, any more than is “rejection.” Those are verbs that locate me as the object of another’s actions; the feelings associated with those experiences, the subjective experiences associated with those feelings, are what I really fear; not the verbs, the actions, themselves.]

In that latter circumstance – an unanswered text, a text not responded to as quickly as I might hope – I’m being reminded of my childhood experience of my mother‘s abandonment of me. That abandonment – the template for all others – was complicated. She didn’t, actually, leave my life at all, even though it felt to me as if she was doing so.

When I was four, she left the home in which we had lived, and, from then on, I was to see her, essentially, on weekends.

When I was five, there was a brief period when my father and I lived 3,000 miles from my mom, and when (although my father tells me this memory is distorted by time and by my age), I wasn’t sure if my mother ever would return.

When I was ten, my parents had a low-key custody fight; my mother, somehow, lost. In spite of my father’s homosexuality. Somehow, I think I knew that this was a sort of abandonment, as well, that, had she really wanted me, she would have won custody of me.

And then, when I was nineteen, my mom died – the ultimate abandonment.

No wonder I’m sensitive to perceived abandonment.

As I grow older, as I get more experienced, I’m better able to remember – in (or at least really close to) the moment – that often, when I’m feeling all the sensations and emotions I associate with abandonment, what’s happening is something more akin to a memory than to a contemporary experience. In those moments, I often find it paradoxically soothing to revisit the memories I have of my mother’s disappearance: turns out, doing that causes me less pain, both in terms of quantity and acuteness – than does (unconsciously) using my contemporary experiences to revisit, to remember the feelings associated with that experience.


  1. Our mothers are essential to our self-worth, our way of viewing the world, feelings of safety and also creating the feeling no matter where we go, we always have a home.

    It is unfortunate that you had your time with her truncated. But none of it was your doing.

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