Last weekend, I was invited to join my mother and my sister and her husband for lunch on Saturday. I haven't done that for 6 years. It felt good being invited, but left me feeling shaky and nervous.
I joined them at the restaurant - the first moments were - awkward.
My stomach was in knots so I ordered something light and then sucked down my large diet Pepsi like my insides were on fire. Quickly, the conversation settled into "normal". It began to feel like old times - before they all knew about the abuse I suffered at the hands of someone they still want to call their friend (lucky for me he's dead).
Then, out of the blue, my mother says to my sister, "Know what seems odd every time I look at her?"
My throat constricted and the diet Pepsi's fizz threatened to explode all over my brother-in-law. OMG, what was she about to say? OMG, it's too late to dive under the table and pretend I don't exist! OMG, the sky is falling! The sky is falling!
My sister says, "What? Who are you talking about?"
I was about to let my neck muscles relax, but then my mother began talking.
"Her hands. Look at her hands. She's never had fingernails before. It's just look funny on her, that's all."
WHAT? WTF did she say? Is she kidding? Is she nuts?
My sister's eyebrows fold into a uni-brow and she replies, "Mom, she's had fingernails for years and years! What are you talking about?"
So Mom repeats it. My sister repeats it. Yeah, they are talking about me and yes, I'm still sitting there. I'm not under the table (where I'd rather be sucking used gum off the bottom of the tabletop with my tongue), nor have I fled, and I'm pretty sure I'm not f-ing invisible.
Finally, Mom looks at me and sort of shrugs her shoulders and mumbles something like, "Well, I guess I never noticed before..." The topic hangs silently in the air for a moment, and then pops like a liquid bubble in the middle of a pine forest.
You might think I'm upset about that conversation. Well, I was, at first, but what it means is that after months and years of patiently just learning how to BE with my mother and my family again, my mother finally SAW me. She looked at me and saw ME. She didn't see someone she despised, she saw her daughter.
That is a huge step forward, HUGE - because I have had fingernails since 1975. Baby steps.