Phone ghost: falling out with my mother

— Trrrrrrrrrrrrrrriiiiiiigggggggggggggggggggger warning —

— Long ass post alert–

In the spirit of getting back to my roots and telling you stuff I’m embarrassed to say in real life (I guess this is like the Halloween edition):  I’m starting to believe the emotional fall-out from the fight with my mom is causing electronic malfunctions.

My mom and I had the worst fight I’ve ever been in around the time she moved to Oklahoma to spend a year with Little.  It began when Middle and I cut ties with a relative and my mother did not. FWIW, rest of the family-wise: Dad has always disliked the relative, Little stayed in touch.


My mom grew up with a severely disabled older brother.  When my grandmother got pregnant with my mom, her relatives pressured her to abort.  Not just, Hey honey, maybe don’t do that kind of pressure either.

The family was already poor, with an unemployed older generation living in the house, when my grandmother almost died in childbirth and then refused to send her infant son (blind, microcephaly, cerebral palsy, paralysis, severe developmental delay) to an institution.  With no health insurance, my grandfather worked three jobs at a time to keep the family afloat, but it was like bailing out a bathtub with a teaspoon.  They paid medical bills for years after the child died.  Four years after he was born, my grandmother got pregnant with my mom.

As the story goes, everyone in the extended family was so angry and scared by my grandmother’s refusal to abort, they refused to look at or speak to my mom for the first two years of her life.  When my mom learned to speak, they relented.

The people who did this – my mother’s aunts, grandmother, uncles, father.

Some of my mother’s earliest memories are people telling her she should have never been born.  Other early childhood memories include going for a walk with her mom and neighborhood children running away, screaming, “Monster!” at the sight of her brother.

Because of this, my mom came to believe: family is family no matter what.  You don’t ever get rid of someone, no matter what you or anyone else  thinks is wrong with them.  If my grandmother had wavered even slightly, my mom would have lost her brother and probably been aborted. That motto saved Mom’s life.


You can probably guess how this idea, that you don’t abandon family members ever, is pretty fundamental to my mom’s value system.

Perhaps you already see the loophole to this rule that my mother remains blind to:  A child may need this protection.  A grown adult can use it to get away with any kind of bad behavior, because ultimately, there is no consequence.

Because my mother could/would not see this, there were many times in my childhood I begged for her protection, and she told me all the classics: I had to be the better person, I was being selfish to not get along, I could damage someone’s reputation with that kind of accusation, and “(that person) always slips under my radar.”  But ultimately, it was that family is family, and we are all stuck with each other, so make nice.

After many years of discord, I lost it.  I had to tell her I would cut people out of my life, would send them away, would put myself first.  Basically, I said all the shitty things that made me a bad person according to the code.  It felt really awful and for a year I lived in the place where I knew I was right, but I was also sure I was wrong.  I had to change my code to: My family is safe, and if I don’t feel safe around you, you can’t be my family.  

Exiling a relative was a stab not just to my mother’s heart, but seemed like I must’ve skewered her from adulthood all the way back to the time she was under two and people told her she should have died.  If I was capable of doing those things to a relative, I was fundamentally dangerous.  Actually, when I put it that way, I can see the depth of my mother’s love for me, that she’s still talking to me.*

Still, most of our conversations reflect that she feels unsafe around me, and I around her.


We have uneasily, angrily, and with teeth gritted, talked since my mom moved to Oklahoma.  Of course, during this time, my father was also going through the beginning stages of dementia, which complicated things.  How can you fight with someone who is already losing so badly?

But we did.  It got pretty bad.  Once, I screamed at Mom, via long distance, “We have a crack in the foundation of our relationship!” and I meant it just so, that what had happened had broken me all the way down to the earliest years of our bonding.

Anyway, it was during those phone calls to Oklahoma that the long distance line was peppered with intermittent beeps, like a kid pressing buttons right in your freaking ear in the middle of some adrenaline-raging fight.  They were the kind of loud that makes you yank the phone away from your head.

Sometimes my mom could hear the noise on her end.  Sometimes it was only on my side with cut-out silence on hers  — sometimes she thought the sudden silence meant I’d hung up on her.  After a while, Mom thought my phone battery must be dying.

I had it replaced.  No change.  She insisted I had a bad phone, but the beeps never happened when I talked on the phone with anyone else.  I decided it must be her phone.  During the worst of our tense-hate-you-still-love-you calls, I secretly wondered if my mom had lost her mind and was passive-aggressively pushing buttons just to piss me off.

Passive-aggressive button pushing would go against my mom’s character entirely, but the beeps were so annoying, and I was so angry and frustrated, I did consider it.

We dealt with beeps for the better part of a year.  Sometimes for variety, our line would disconnect.  When you are already tense and irritated, a shitty phone line makes it seem like nothing can possibly be worth it.  Our phone calls got shorter, and the distance between them spread out.  The interference continued, seeming to crop up when we were most frustrated with each other.

Eventually, my mother upgraded her phone, and I thought, THANK GOD, because I knew the she’d taken her California phone to Oklahoma, and probably left it in her bra too long, and it was her damn phone the whole time.

New phone was shitty in different ways.  Tin can sounds, other people’s conversations cutting in at random intervals.  I decided Mom’s house in Oklahoma must be built on magnetic ore of some sort.

But when she moved back to California two years ago, there were still problems with the connection.  Lately, as my mom and I get past the worst of our fight, and are finding moments of OKness, the phone line has become crystal clear for the first time in years.  This is what has finally made me cross into spooky territory – before, whole calls were littered with annoyances.  Now, they are fine until we hit upon an awkwardness, an exposed nerve.  Then CRACKLE or BEEPBEEP….BEEEEEE… or someone else talking about what a bitch Kitty is.

Mom, weirdly un-superstitious in this matter, has listened to my complaints about the phone fuzzing out, and has come to the conclusion it’s all a matter of wireless reception.  She must sit in a certain chair, and move to a second chair  in another room when the phone gets hot in her hand. If she follows this hokey-pokey of moves exactly, we can manage an open line.  Fuzz is simply a reminder she’s still in the first chair, or that it’s a cloudy day, or that she has to plug and unplug her phone into the wall three times to clear things up.

Finally, I asked her this week, “Have you noticed the phone line goes suck when we fight?  Like the psychic connection is messing it up?”

“Oh sure,” she said, like this answer was as good as any I might pull out of my butt (and then perhaps banish like the monster I am).  “You know there’re people like that, who make electronics malfunction more than most.  I think I read a study about it once.”

I have been searching for a study like that all day.  The idea that my anger, or my mom’s anger, is so palpable it can short out a phone  seems both unnerving and somehow correct.  When I mentioned it to my husband,  he snorted. “Well that would be an interesting study… since it would defy the laws of physics.”

So maybe not.  Still, it’s been two states, two different phones, different annoyances, and it’s all only started happening since my mom and I fell out.

*I’m talking a lot about my mom’s stuff and not a lot about the drama with the relative I cut out.  The reason for this is my mom’s given me general permission to talk about her on the internet, and I’m fairly sure the ex-relative would NOT give me the OK to talk about them, or situations referring to them.  Know that sucks, sorry.