"THE FIRST BITCH I EVER MET"
-Bitches aren't born, we're made. Sometimes, by divine intervention
Growing up, I loved my mother as much as I feared her. Being on the receiving end of her anger and frustration was rough, and I felt poorly for anyone unlucky enough to find themselves in that position. It was like being caught outside during a 5F tornado you never saw coming. All you could do was hide, freeze, or, lock yourself up in an underground room hoping the storm wouldn’t find and destroy you as it passed through.
Any time she lost items she just had, like her keys or sunglasses, she’d declare them “GONE FOREVER!!!” in a panicked scream after having only searched for sixty-seconds. It was how she passively aggressively asked us to start a search party and help her locate them right away. If we conducted any sort of investigative questioning we thought might help us in our search beforehand, it was met with supreme irritation and a threatening glare. For instance, “Where did you have them last, Mom?”
“If I knew, I would have them, wouldn’t I?!” she’d seethe in no way concerned with hiding the fact she clearly thought we were idiots. And when I say seethe, I mean, imagine her as a snake hissing at you just before it's about to strike. Her voice would drop six octaves, the words managing to escape her mouth despite her jaw ever moving a muscle. It made it hard to want to help her, but you were too afraid about what might happen to her, you, or the house, if you didn’t. I usually trailed behind her as she tore it apart, returning cushions to the disheveled sofa, and giving areas she’d just ransacked a quick scan before returning things to their place. Ten to twelve minutes later she announced she'd found the glasses. They had been on her head.
When it came to driving with my mother you needed an emotional seatbelt in addition to the physical one you were hopefully already wearing. She'd weave in and out of traffic, interrupting the Ace of Base lyrics playing over the tape deck, ironically, informing us that Linn Berggren “saw the sign,” while screaming at commuters she felt hadn't. In our vehicles, airbags were strictly there to cushion the impact of words like "Peckerhead," "Dickhead," "Douchebag,"
“Asshole,” “Fuckface,” (in reality, anything pertaining to the genitalia was up for grabs) these commonly flew out of my mother's mouth, thereby providing the real soundtrack for our drive to Elementary School (to get a sense of what I was dealing with, watch the above video reenactment).
Once automated systems started replacing real life humans on the telephone, THAT'S when my mother truly shined. Memories of her screaming “GIVE ME A HUMAN, MOTHERFUCKER!!!!!” while holding the receiver five inches from her flushed face and furiously slamming her finger on the same numerical button prompt, really warm my heart whenever I find myself waiting for a customer service rep to pick up and unflag my account for fraudulent activity.
Suffice it to say if you had ever run into my mother during a meltdown or witnessed any of this behavior first hand, you’d likely write her off as and/or call her “a bitch.” A lot of people did. But, we knew she was simply misunderstood because of what the average person couldn’t know or see. To them she was just disgruntled, reckless, miserable and irate but to those of us who knew her, she was merely a prisoner of her circumstance.
What circumstance am I referring to? I'll tell you.
According to all of her friends and family, my mother was a different person before I met her. She was innocent, patient, well-mannered, and polite. She never swore, drank, did drugs (unless you count birth control), or had premarital sex. I’m not sure how much of that is true given the birth-control-despite-not-having-premarital-sex inconsistency. I’m told that was only to alleviate bad period cramps but, come on, I think we’ve all used that one. Regardless, the consensus is that my mom was something of a straight and narrow. Perhaps it’s clever PR spun by her friends for the influential benefit of her offspring; sort of like how she told me at a young age I was allergic to tobacco and nicotine, so I would never dare try it. Or, considering how she acted after having mistakingly eaten an edible of mine for the first time, maybe it really is the truth.
Nonetheless, the person my mother was painted to once be apparently died the first time she did. Maybe it was her family, my father, my older sister, or my firm grasp on her bladder and uterus which I took with me down her birthing canal once she went into labor. Whatever the cause, about a month after I was born, my mother had a stroke. In a coma long enough to miss her own father’s passing and funeral, she was eventually pronounced dead at twenty-seven only to be revived minutes later a different human being.
Behind a partially shaved head and half paralyzed face, my mother woke up a complete contrast to the woman she had previously been. The trauma had been on the right side of her brain which, in case you are unfamiliar, is responsible for all the good, calming, creative stuff that balances us (see diagram below). With it damaged and even parts missing, she had no filter and was full of nothing but expletives, anger, and angst.
Further damage included: left side paralysis, loss of her left side peripheral, and long term effects on her short term memory and patience - which explained beating my dad with a shoe when my mom felt he wasn’t tying them on her fast enough when they were getting ready to leave the hospital.
Before sending my parents on their way the doctor told my father two things; 1. Because it could rupture the clot in her brain, she was never allowed to go on a roller coaster again and, 2. To avoid relapsing, my mother’s stress levels were to remain at the lowest possible. With that, my dad moved our family out of Chicago to Phoenix, Arizona, where the only rides of any kind were on horseback and our closest family was nearly 2,000 miles away.
Presently, you’d never be able to tell my mother once suffered from a stroke. Unless you were to sneak up from behind her on her left side like the bicyclist who once did just before she turned into him with our van. Don’t worry - he’s fine. She’s worked hard and been successful in regaining some of what the stroke stole from her, as well as having adapted to the few things she’ll never get back, like the aforementioned restricted eyesight. Nowadays, if ever she finds herself being impatient or forgetting things, she’s quick to ask for help and remind everyone, with a laugh that, “Hey, half my brain is sitting in a garbage can at a hospital someplace in Chicago. Give me a break.” It’s then I’m just as quick to remind her she’s bad at fractions before offering her some of my KitKat. Though a part of her brain has definitely moved from the trash to the landfill by now, the best parts of her, including her heart have always stayed right where they belonged - with us, unscathed, and growing stronger everyday.
What people might never care enough to stop and think about are the actual events in someone’s life responsible for slapping them with the "bitch" label in the first place. If their experiences were known, understood, and met with empathy, perhaps the term itself would not exist, or at least, not in the same way. To be clear, I'm not looking for people to make excuses for someone's actions; in fact, quite the contrary, I'm merely looking for people to refrain from writing others off with such a trite label, or alternatively, looking for them to give “bitch" the definition I always have.
I’m never offended by someone calling me a bitch. In fact, I’m flattered by something I’ve always considered a compliment. Perhaps the reason is because the first "bitch" I ever met I knew to be as loving, passionate, and caring, as she was strong, smart, and persistent. My mom was always fighting to overcome external obstacles that stood in her way or the way of the family, and all of that was despite having to also overcome the internal obstacles of her readjusted brain neurons. If a woman with that kind of strength and endurance was described as a “bitch,” then that was the kind of woman I wanted to be, too.