My mother was obsessed with them, but I never figured out who they were.
For a while, I thought maybe they were the neighbors, but that didn’t make sense. Other than waving hello as we passed by, we weren’t really friends with our neighbors. We didn’t know each other any more than what was said over appetizers and small talk at the block party. Could their opinion of us matter that much to my mom? What would we miss out on if the neighbors knew? Patty’s signature 9×13 dish of seven layer dip?
Then I thought, maybe they were our extended family. Most of them lived out of town, and it seemed my mom wasn’t really in touch with them, save the annual Christmas letter. The ones nearby we saw two or three times a year on holidays. Like the neighbors, most of the gatherings involved small talk and dip. I would give each relative a hug hello and a hug goodbye, along with the obligatory reminder of what grade I’m in now. Other than that, I don’t recall anyone in the family having much interest in knowing anything about us. I never once heard them talk about real things. They were loud and more interested in emptying cans of Budweiser to have much of an opinion about us.
Perhaps they were my mom’s colleagues. She worked at an elementary school. Yes, that would look bad. I could understand why she would want to maintain a good image for her employer. But then she had an affair with her co-worker, which killed that theory. I suppose she was willing to risk her ability to maintain a certain image at work. They apparently were not the they she feared.
For the life of me, I still don’t know who they are. But impressing them was tantamount. What they would think was more important to my mom than anything else in the world. It was more important than the truth. It was certainly more important than keeping her children safe. They were the reason she couldn’t leave my father or get a divorce. Their opinion was what kept her from admitting he was an alcoholic, or confronting his abusive behavior. They mattered to her more deeply than any other living person. In my last confrontation with her before I went no contact, they were the only ones she was worried about. Panicked, she demanded to know what I was going to say them. Still not knowing whom she referred to, I told her I planned to tell them the truth.
And then I did.