Everybody needs something to hate. Even the most selfless people. Even those who would jump on a grenade to save strangers. People like my mother-in-law. She never speaks a negative word about anybody. And she always puts herself dead last. If you even try to advocate for her, she’ll be the first to argue with you.
“Oh my gosh, Jeff, you haven’t had anything to eat! Get yourself something before it all gets cold!” She’ll plead (after slaving for hours to make the meal).
“No, I’m okay. You need to eat—you’ve been running around all day. Why don’t you sit down?”
Leaning forward. Eyes peering. Knuckles on table. “I said eat.”
To give you one example of how completely selfless this woman is: Three years ago, she was hit by a car. She wasn’t in a car. She was walking. She was pushing her one year-old granddaughter in a stroller. The car was a vintage Cadillac driven by an ancient asshole. This asshole was backing out of his driveway just as my MIL was passing by. When she saw the huge chrome bumper coming for her, she gave a mighty shove to get her granddaughter to safety. But that didn’t give her enough time to get clear. The car knocked her nearly 70 year-old body 15 feet into the street.
She spent months in agonizing pain. The pain medication they gave her made her unbearably nauseated. She endured multiple surgeries on her shoulder and for the first 6 months of her new grandson’s life, she couldn’t hold him. She couldn’t cook, drive, eat, sleep, laugh cough, or find any comfort whatsoever. Her entire world was turned upside down as she spent two years in hell.
And still she had to be talked into pursuing legal action.
We all begged her to recover money for her expenses as well as a modest sum for the agony that the asshole inflicted. When she did sue, she stopped asking for damages beyond what the asshole’s insurance covered. She didn’t want to take any of his money. I told her she should at least take his weapon away from him—the sweet vintage caddy—and then park it in front of his house (he is actually her next-door neighbor) and have someone take a sledgehammer to it (she couldn’t do it obviously, the man had rendered her shoulder useless) while he watched.
But no. She took his insurance money, minus her attorney fees, and still was neighborly to this guy—giving him a smile and a wave with the one arm she could raise whenever she saw him.
And the man never apologized.
Someone willing to take this much abuse and roll with this many punches must have a bottomless well of tolerance. You’d think that you’d have to be an absolute MONSTER to reach deep enough in that reserve of patience and love to find one small burning ember of irritation or animosity.
Yes. You’d have to be a monster. Or a mulberry tree.
Nothing sets her off quicker than a mulberry bush. They’re actually trees, but she won’t have any of that—when she talks about them she automatically demotes them to bushes. Or weeds.
“Those fucking things grow everywhere.”*
She’ll point out that you can cut them and cut them and cut them and cut them but you’ll never cut them down. You’ll never cut them deep enough. You’ll never be able to cut them until they fucking learn. Why won’t one of them just learn?
She’ll tell you about all the filthy animals that they attract, inviting squirrels and squirrel shit everywhere. There’s also a pear tree in her backyard that is under constant assault by the squirrels in late summer, but that’s okay. She’ll never say a word about the half-eaten pears all over. But mention the mulberry. Go ahead. I dare you.
“Did you fucking say mulberrrrry?”
She’ll warn you that you can’t sit within 50 yards of one of those goddamn jungle-fucks without staining your clothes all to hell. With its poison berries. Berries that, if eaten, will make you blind before eating away at your brain like the parasitic fruit of the goddamned devil.
I think she has to hate this tree. Some part of her understands that all that repressed rage, all that frustration accrued over all those years of working tirelessly and selflessly for others, all that pent up hostility centered on her unspoken plea of “GODDAMNIT! WHAT ABOUT ME?!” had to go somewhere. It needed an out. And I like to imagine the moment her brain locked onto this tree. This innocuous tree, stretching its limbs to catch all the sun it can, making berries and spreading shade. I can see her there, standing in her yard. Maybe she’s on her way to corral her husband from the garage so he could eat the dinner she prepared. Maybe it’s shortly after wrangling the kids to wash up and sit down. She’s got an oven mitt on. She doesn’t realize it, but inside that mitt she’s clenching a fist. And that’s when she sees it. And she knows. Her wrath has a focus. Her enemy has a name. Mulberry.
*Okay, so she’d never use language like this. In fact, I can’t even let her read this post because of all the profanity. But that doesn’t mean she doesn’t think this. That doesn’t mean she doesn’t feel this strongly. I know she does. It boils. It boils deep.