When Amy was six years old she knew her mother was the most beautiful woman in the world. Her long blonde hair, her petite figure, her attention getting smile; all of them Amy admired. She never understood, however, why her mother sought the attention of men. She also never understood the illusive pattern of said men’s attention. They seemed to be so infatuated at first, then left her mother in precisely the time it took to pack a moving truck. Her mother always told Amy, “men come and go” in an attempt at sounding blasé, but Amy saw her mother broken and penniless between each enigmatic male figure.
In time, twelve year old Amy grew to hate men. Why did they love her mother one day, shower her with presents and dinners out, play dad to Amy and her two sisters, and make promises, only to drive away one day without a word? Amy’s dad had gone long before she could remember. So had the dads of her two sisters. For a while she imagined hers would come back with a long heroic tale of the demons he’d fought to get home to her. Maybe he’d have a neat scar and a pilfered treasure chest to give her. Now she knew the only demon he was fighting was the demonic soul of a man he had within him.
She didn’t know then that a lot of the men left because of her mother. When she was sixteen she began to see that she might have judged the men too harshly, or painted her mother in too bright of a light. She saw all of this through the glass lens of her mother’s hidden bottles.
Amy and her sisters went without food a lot. They came home to their mom asleep with the blinds drawn. She never had a job. When she found herself a “provider” she was all smiles and takeout dinners, and trips to the mall. She bought the girls dresses and toys, promising this man would be the one to look after them. Yet, as always, he would leave, she’d close the blinds, and the girls would be hungry again. It was like without a man her mother was a toy without batteries. She was inanimate and shut away, until someone came to bring her to life. The problem was, the girls didn’t want a provider or a toy. They wanted their mother.
The part of the story Amy hadn’t understood until now was why the men left. It was the secret of her mother’s hidden bottle. After being on good behaviour for a while at the start of the relationships, she would eventually not be able to hold off anymore. She would go out and come home stumbling. Sometimes she’d get sick on the lawn where the neighbours could see. People in the community would whisper things about her. Amy knew what they were saying. They were whispering the same whisper that played inside Amy’s head: “Alcoholic.” Amy found bottles in the Christmas wrap boxes. There were no presents to wrap that year, but apparently there had been money for the bottles.
After a man hadn’t been around in a while, Amy and her sisters got part time jobs to pay for food and rent. She dreamed of going to college one day, and she saved until she could make it happen. To her surprise, when she was twenty, Amy met a man who was unlike any she’d ever known. He didn’t leave after six months, or a year, or two years. He pushed aside the assumptions of men which her mother had instilled in her. He helped her discover what college she wanted to go to, and what dreams she had for her future. Amy built her own independent path too. He wasn’t her “provider,” he was her supporter. She was happy with him, but when they broke up, she looked back fondly. Then she continued on living. No batteries required.
After all this time, Amy is thankful to her mom for one thing. She learned from her that relying on a man to look after her leaves a hole that can never be filled. The hole in her mother’s heart was a lack of self worth. Amy learned that a combination of men and alcohol can’t fill that emptiness, or chase away your demons. Amy found out the only way to fill it was to work on herself. Her dreams, her education, her adventures, her crazy mistakes. If a good man comes along she is ready to love, trust, and share life together. If not, she will be happy with her friends and family, and on her own.
One day if she has a daughter Amy won’t encourage using men, or hating men. She will tell them: Instead of being nothing without a man, be everything without one. Be alone, be afraid, be brave, and be alive. Only then are the demons washed away. Only then are you free.