I cut my mother off today. It doesn’t feel nice, though it is relieving. It’s like putting alcohol on a cut; it hurts and it stings, but you do it because it cleanses the wound. Of course, it isn’t entirely acceptable to refer to your mother as a wound. By rule, it makes me a bad kid. But quite frankly I’ve run out of things to call her that don’t, by rule, make me a bad kid.

My mother. In my earliest memories, she was shimmery. Like an angel. I wanted her golden hair and blue eyes so badly. To me, those two things were all that a person absolutely had to have to be beautiful. She thought so too; she was very disappointed in my green eyes. I don’t think there is anything I wouldn’t have done in my early years to make her happy. I let her dress me up, paint my face, curl my hair, and parade me around on any stage she could get me on. I grew up thinking that’s what I wanted. To be the center of attention, to be talented, to be adored. I rarely won the pageants, and eventually she gave up on them. And me.

She gave up on other things too. My dad was sick and couldn’t take care of her, so she left him. She couldn’t seem to keep a job, so she gave up on that, and we moved to my grandpa’s farm. We didn’t have a home, we lived in his camping trailer. It wasn’t much, but we were close–my mother, my brother, and I. She played “Angels Among Us” by the old, county band Alabama every night before we went to sleep. That moment in my memory feels warmer than any other I have of her.

Time moved on, and Grandpa bought us our own mobile home and moved it to his farm. With more space, we moved farther apart. I missed the camper. I still miss the camper. She went on dates, got remarried, got divorced, went on more dates. I wanted desperately to be the center of her attention again. I taught myself to sing. She said I couldn’t do it, that I was terrible, but I proved her wrong. And it worked! Suddenly, I was the star again, I was worthwhile. I was perfect. I studied hard, I got great grades, I was moved into the “Gifted Program,” I made the top choir, I got solos, I got parts in plays, I was exciting to her again. For a moment.

Another man broke her heart, but this time, the blame was mine. He lived in Kansas City, and we lived two hours from there. She wanted to move, but I wanted to stay. My father was here, my friends were here, and I felt important here. I couldn’t leave. When he left her, he told her it was because he couldn’t break up the family. So it was my fault. She let me know. Often.

For as long as I could remember, she had struggled with depression. I would spend hours in her room trying to cheer her up; eventually, I always succeeded. It didn’t matter how long I had to sit there, I never left until I had made her feel better. One particular day, her birthday, my brother and I made her breakfast in bed, we had a great day planned. But she didn’t want it, she wanted to sit in her room and be sad. I couldn’t cheer her up, and I was furious. We had a great day planned for her, and she just wanted to be sad over Mr. Kansas City. And it was my fault.

I left. I got my brother into my car, and we left. We left her there. She called me about an hour later. She told me that she had taken every pill in the house, and that it was my fault. She would die, and it was my fault. I called the ambulance, they pumped her stomach, and they saved her. But it was my fault. We never talked about it, and I never told anyone. I was too ashamed. All I had to do was to stay there and cheer her up, and I had left.

It’s been well over a decade since that day. I’ve given up trying to impress her or to be enough for her. No matter how much you give, no matter how much you love, it isn’t enough. It’s never enough. I’ve given up singing and trying to be the center of attention. I’m not really sure if it’s something I ever wanted, or if I just did it for her. I can’t tell anymore.

We got into a fight recently, because I didn’t give her everything she wanted, because I didn’t do enough. Just like that day, her birthday years before, I was furious. I finally told her how that day had made me feel, how it had eaten away at my soul and emptied it out. I wanted an apology, I wanted understanding, I wanted forgiveness. I got none of it. I got, “You left me.”

Yesterday, she tried to sell me a ring left over from one of her failed relationships. She still hasn’t learned to keep a job, she’s running out of people willing to help her, and she is in desperate need of money. The thing is, I don’t want the damn ring. I don’t want it. And I’ve utterly exhausted every single shit I’ve ever given. I think she finally broke something in me the other day when she denied me my apology, my understanding, my forgiveness. I think she finally broke a link in the chain that has tied me to her for thirty years.

I had never considered cutting her off before, but I have never felt nothing for her before. After all this time, and all of the pain and energy spent trying to make everything alright for her, I just can’t feel her anymore. I don’t feel a warmth in my heart where a mother should be, I feel a cold and gaping hole. Quite frankly, the cold is strangely comforting after the thirty years of throbbing pain. At least a hole–even a gaping, frigid one–can be filled back up again. But pain? Pain just permeates until it eats you alive.