A short story by Mina Wong
When her mother passed away from a stroke last fall, Maggie Galanis suddenly felt surreal without Diana’s presence. But after thirty-six years with melancholic and volatile Diana, Maggie’s life would turn a new page. She wanted to reset regretful moments lived in Diana’s shadow, and start anew from decades of grief and turmoil.
Maggie’s only shared these thoughts with Fran Holden, her friend from college. In turn, Fran’s support has given Maggie tremendous courage each day toward a calmer and happier life.
Both Maggie and Fran have worked for law firms after college, but their lives are so different that many people wonder how they can be friends. Maggie’s never sustained an intimate relationship, but Fran’s been married with children for almost a decade. And while Maggie obeyed Diana, Fran enjoyed equality with her mother, and always fosters autonomy in her children.
Maggie knows almost nothing about her birth father because Diana never mentioned him. Rather ignorant of family secrets, she did witness savagery at the hands of Diana’s only boyfriend ever, lasting all of two weeks. Ten-year-old Maggie screamed as he pushed Diana to the floor and kicked her many times before disappearing from their lives. Bandaging her injuries, Diana forbade Maggie to ever mention the incident: “No one would care about us.”
Diana never dated anyone again, but when Maggie talked about young men from college, she raged at her: “Where’s your self-respect? You should be studying so hard you have no time to think about men!”
Seventeen years later, Fran says about Diana’s hostility, “Mag, you did nothing wrong. Diana was thinking of her own unhappy experiences”. While Maggie agrees with Fran, she can’t forget how her mother shamed her into rejecting male friends, and how that self-denial left her deeply frustrated and depressed. Still, toward the end of college, she signed up for a mentoring program, fully aware of Diana’s cynicism: “Mentoring? They should give you a job or don’t waste your time.”
When the mentor, a gentle alumna with career success invited Maggie to professional activities instead of handing her a job, Maggie remembered Diana’s sneer and left the program. To this regrettable setback, Fran says, “Oh Mag, if you just wanted a job, you could’ve gone to an employment agency. Mentoring’s more enriching and career-building than getting a job.”
Maggie admits Diana bullied and misguided her then; she’d give anything now for a kind supporter.
Fran also knows about Maggie’s covert efforts to meet male companions: she signed up a year ago with several introduction services that promised true love and lifelong happiness. But she tentatively asked for “casual dates, going out for drinks” when what she desired was a committed relationship that could lead to marriage. As a result, Maggie’s phone rang non-stop for one week with invitations. She excitedly accepted three consecutive dates, only to discover all three men were already married; they simply wanted something “casual” for fun.
Fran empathizes, “Mag, dating agencies are expensive and complicated. You were paying a broker for a match when they knew nothing about you”. She adds, “But if you actually wanted a serious relationship and maybe marriage, asking for casual dates might’ve given the wrong signal.”
Maggie knows Fran’s right about matchmaking services. If she tried them again, she’d honestly ask to meet someone like-minded, for a chance to build a sincere, long-term relationship. But first, she’ll allow herself to “think about men” or anyone she wants, in contrast to Diana’s contempt that such thoughts were shameful.
Wistfully, Maggie remembers Diana’s tyranny: “As a kid, I felt powerless because she was my mother. As I got older, she turned into this sulking and shrieking brat. Sometimes her anger was out of control. We were also isolated because she didn’t trust anyone or anything. She just wanted her welfare cheque and smokes, and later, she only cared about my paycheque that paid our bills.”
Now on her own, Maggie’s starting a new chapter as she closes an old one shrouded in her mother’s gloom. In 2023, she’ll meet new friends in healthy and self-respecting activities. It’s hard to totally erase Diana’s toxic imprints, but each day, she’s building more confidence through positive self-acceptance, and from supportive friends who care about her.
With new insight, Maggie takes each day as a brand-new opportunity to make mistakes and learn about life. But these experiences will be her own choices to make. Their consequences will be completely her personal responsibilities. To Maggie, that’s a major step toward her happiness and inner peace.