No Mother’s Day For You

The Disinherited. That would make a good title for the next Tarantino film. This week many have reacted to a comment Quentin Tarantino made while a guest on The Moment with Brian Koppelman podcast.

Tarantino said that his mother has never enjoyed a penny of his success based on a scathing comment she made about his writing dreams. One day, concerned about his poor grades, Tarantino’s mother Connie Zastoupil lashed out when she found he was spending more time on his writing than his schooling. “She was bitching at me about that and then in the middle of her little tirade, she said, ‘Oh, and by the way, this little ‘writing career,’ with the finger quotes and everything. This little ‘writing career’ that you’re doing? That shit is fucking over.”

Tarantino vowed then that his mother would never receive “penny one” from his anticipated success. And he says, he has kept that vow. No mansion or Cadillac for Connie. I can relate to Tarantino.

I always hate it when those who have never walked in their shoes berate celebrities for holding a grudge against parents who hurt them. When I see Meghan Markle criticized for distancing herself against her father, for example, I’m simply enraged. We weren’t there for Markle’s childhood, but I accept her description of being abandoned by her father as true, because we plainly see Thomas Markle emotionally abuse his daughter on a regular basis, to this very day. Even just recently when he moaned to the press that she never thanked him for a bouquet of $287 flowers he sent her upon the birth of her second baby. He never misses an opportunity to share private details about his child, revelations designed to expose her to ridicule and embarrassment, while he’s egged on by a press that is eager to attack her. He gives them the fodder. That’s not a father. He’s a fiend.

In her place, it would not have been enough to cut my ties with him. I would implored the monarchy to have him extradited and thrown in The Tower. The public wants to impose a notion of family upon some celebrities who never experienced one. No filial obligations can exist, where parental responsibilities were abdicated.

When Tarantino says, “There are consequences for your words as you deal with your children,” I agree wholeheartedly. I received cutting taunts from my own mother which go unhealed. I never got over her yanking me out of a high school that I loved, because we were moving to a new neighborhood. I attended a magnate school and was not required to live near the school to remain a student. I pleaded with her to let me commute to the school by bus, pointing out that I’d soon be old enough to obtain a driver’s license and could drive there myself, in a few months.

I reminded her of how she told me high school would be one of the most cherished experiences of my life, when I started 9th grade. How could she ruin it, now? I told her that I couldn’t bear to leave the friends I’d made. “You don’t have any friends,” she shot back. That was not true, but unlike herself, I was slow to make friends. That’s why it was so important that I did not lose the ones I had. She only scoffed. I went to my father (divorced from my mother) and he promised to transport me to and from school himself, if she’d let me stay where I was. Feeling her authority challenged, this made her angrier. She pulled out a dictionary, circled the word “custody” in red ink and told me that my education was her decision, not my father’s.

I had been chosen to perform the title role in our high school rendition of Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s The Little Prince. We were already in rehearsals, having been invited to City Hall to present the reading. With her dander up, my mother refused to postpone my transfer to a new school long enough for me to participate. As he searched for my replacement, my perplexed drama teacher exclaimed, “Why is she doing this to you?” I wish I knew. At the height of my heartbreak, I tearfully promised my mother, “I’ll never forgive you for this.” She sneered, “Stop being so melodramatic.” Thinking back on the incident, I still feel as wronged as I did then. Like Tarantino, I would never give that woman “penny one” of any success I achieved.

The thing is, my mother is no longer that woman. She’s changed. I’ve changed. She’s never apologized for the pain she caused me then or the sharp words she dealt me on many other occasions, but the concern and compassion she shows for her grandchildren suggests to me that she would not have them treated the way I was by her. She would do things differently, now. Heck, even then, she did some things right. I recall writing short stories in long hand. When I read them aloud, she and my grandmother praised my masterpieces as if I’d been a budding Hemingway. They encouraged me to send the stories off to the many publications I’d earmarked in The Writer’s Digest. We did not have a typewriter, so my mother paid to have her legal assistant at work type the writings for me and gave me the money to copy and mail the stories to multiple magazines, all of which promptly rejected them.

I knew my mother cared about me, though not always, not often, in the way I wanted. I get the feeling that Tarantino’s mother cared about him, too. That’s why she was so mad about his grades. And the fact that she knew he was brilliant enough to excel academically probably only made her angrier. She was mean, but she was not apathetic. She may deserve to be punished for her harsh words, but what about the kind ones? Do those earn her a measure of forgiveness?

Once he recounted a moment with her: “I remember, like, literally saying – watching some cowboy and Indian movie with my mother, and I go, so, if we were back then we’d be the Indians, right? She goes, yup, that’s who we’d be. We wouldn’t be those guys in the covered wagons. We’d be the Indians.” Hmmm. Connie Zastoupil does not get the house, the vacation or the car, but doesn’t she get kudos for being the woman who said that? She’s a person who taught Tarantino that they should not be on Christopher Columbus’ side in any battle, no matter what the schoolbooks said. Maybe she’s the person who got him to thinking about all the ways The Bride could kill Bill and avenge herself. She helped inform his view of the world. That must be worth penny one, or two.

For myself, I’m not the forgive or forget type. I remember. I hold grudges. But I hold them against the woman my mother was in that moment she defaced my Webster’s. That woman is not the same woman who now frets over her young granddaughter’s hurt feelings (when she seldom fretted over mine), who shares memories of my deceased brother with me, who needs help remembering to take her Parkinson’s medication. If I could turn back time, I’d go back, confront my mother of yesteryear and give her a piece of my adult mind. I don’t have that option. My old high school was bulldozed down in 2011. I can’t go back.

More importantly, I don’t need to punish my mother for what she did by denying her luxury gifts. Life has punished her. I’m the child she raised. The product of her petty moments and selfish lapses. I’m the person on the other end of the line who doesn’t speak when she says, “I love you.” I’m not silent to hurt her. I’m silent because the words would rise up stiffly and stick to parched lips, parched for the tenderness and empathy I needed during my formative years, but didn’t receive. My mother loved me, but she didn’t express it in a way that taught me to express love back to her, without falter, today.

Remember Cat’s in the Cradle by Harry Chapin? True story, man. The constrained relationship that forms is its own retribution. It’s not the Cadillacs withheld. It’s the bond that is taut, not tight. The warmth that’s cooler, less fulfilling than an elderly mother might want. It’s the difference she feels when comparing her friends’ interactions with their children to her own.

So, I understand where Tarantino is coming from. I agree that there are consequences. I just think he’s wrong about what they are, mistaken as to how they’re suffered.

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