It was 2 years to the day that I cut contact with my mum. In my defence, it’s kind of hard to have a relationship with a mum whose friends want you to get smote from the face of the earth by a wack job cult leader with bad hair. A cult leader who literally hasn’t done anything notable in their entire lives, yet somehow has such a big following that we can only hope they don’t go into politics.
And yet a letter from my mum, handwritten on beautiful cream paper with a stamp for next day delivery that now sat on my kitchen counter and read:
“Dear Hayley, It’s been two years since we had a falling out, and it weighs heavily on my heart. Can we talk? Clementine, xox.”
I half walked, half waddled over to the kettle to make a cup of tea while I mulled it over. At 8 months pregnant it was more of the latter by this point. Had Seth, the cult leader finally asked something of his followers? Had he asked for money? For a recruitment drive? For...there wasn’t about to be a mass suicide right? On impulse I opened my phone and searched for any recent news relating to the House of Seth – aside from some weird ‘alternative facts’ site calling Seth the second coming of Jesus, they were staying out of the news. Estranged or not, I’d still prefer it if my mother didn’t drink the Kool-Aid with them.
I ran my fingers over the paper and sighed to myself. It wasn’t like I enjoyed being cut off from my mum, but what else could I do? I had to protect my husband and soon-to-be-born child from their cult, and it wasn’t like my mum had been fighting it. She’d wholeheartedly bought in to their ideals, including every terrible thing that they promised would happen to non-believers.
I poured the hot water into a mug and watched idly as the decaf tea spread its inky tendrils across the cup. Alternatively, maybe there was a chance of reconciliation? Maybe mum was going to apologise and say she’d left the cult? A powerful kick inside me knocked the breath out of my chest, and I had to steady myself. Someone clearly hoped that was the case.
We were in agreement. The chance at a family was something worth hoping for. I unblocked my mum’s number on my phone and sent a very short message, saying we could talk. The phone buzzed almost immediately, and with shaky hands I answered the call.
“Hayley! How are you? It’s so nice to hear your voice again. Oh, I’ve missed you so much.”
“I’m fine Mum, how are you?” I missed her too, of course I did. But I had to be cautious, saying it out loud would only get my hopes up. I wanted the apology first.
“I’m doing so well Hayley. I’ve been getting out and about, staying fit and healthy; I’ve even been trying out jogging! Can you believe that?”
“I-” it actually was a surprise to be fair. “That’s great Mum. I’m very pleased for you.”
“Yes, Seth has helped me manage money so I can be part of the jogging group and have a personal trainer from the House.”
My heart sank. Even with low expectations just hearing that she was still part of this insane cult was like a kick in the stomach, and this time it wasn’t from the baby.
“Are you ok?” She asked, and I realised I had been quiet for longer than I thought. I steadied myself and tried to formulate what was going through my heart.
“I’m fine. I’m just not sure what prompted the letter,” I said. It clearly wasn’t to apologise about the things that had been screamed at me the last time we spoke, and if it was about money then she should just ask for it already.
“I just wanted to speak to my daughter again,” she paused, “It’s been two years to the day since you blocked me.”
I ground my teeth, biting my tongue and stopping myself from getting immediately defensive. Starting a screaming match wasn’t going help anything.
She didn’t stop talking, “I heard from a friend of a friend of Jenny, she mentioned you were pregnant?”
“How exciting! Do you know if it’s a boy or a girl? Do you have names already?”
I sat down on the nearest chair. Yes I’m having a baby boy. Yes, we’re going to call him Noah.
“No, it’s a surprise,” I lied. I was feeling sick, and apparently my rapidly increasing heart rate was affecting the baby as well. I could feel him kicking and rolling so hard I could barely breathe.
“Well isn’t that lovely! What are the names you’ve chosen?”
“We’re still deciding.” Another lie. It was easier than saying I didn’t want her to ever meet Noah until she left the brainwashed cult. A cult that she was clearly still part of. A cult whose threats were the very reason we didn’t talk.
“I always liked-“
“Mum!” I cut her off. If she wasn’t going to say it then I wasn’t going to sit and listen. “What do you want?”
There was silence for a long moment. “I just want to see my grandchild when he is born. Anything I know about you is from friends of friends now. And I hate being so cut off. I just want you to talk to me again, to be a family again.”
I wanted that too. Of course I did! God damn it, why was this sounding like my fault? How was her new leader calling for me to be killed something that was my fault? No. Absolutely not. I wasn’t doing this. Noah was kicking me hard, if he was outside of the womb he would be screaming his lungs out. I closed my eyes and remembered our last conversation.
“Mum, do you remember why I blocked you?”
There was another long moment of silence. When she finally spoke I could feel the pain in her voice. “It was two years ago. Shouldn’t we be able to move on?”
I broke, and with a voice that must have been as sharp as a scalpel I reminded her of what happened. “Your ‘chosen family’, your House of Seth said I was a heathen who was holding you back and that you were better off without me. They said your new god Seth was going to burn me alive for trying to stop you from joining that damn cult. Do you remember that? Do you remember Seth himself saying that he would smite me for not joining you when you converted?” There was silence. “Because I remember. I remember you hearing that and still joining them. I remember you nodding along as your new home group proclaimed that I would be consumed by fire. I remember getting phone calls from those people telling me what would happen if I didn’t join your congregation, and I remember you defending them for that.”
I had to stop and breathe; I was choking up just remembering everything. “You can’t call me up two years later and ask to meet a grandchild who wouldn’t even be here if Seth had followed through on the threat, on the wishes of those you were so keen to join. So tell me mum, what do you have to say?”
“The House does do a lot of good. I really think we should move past that one thing.”
“Including calling for your daughter to be burnt alive?”
She stammered for a moment. “Both of our sides-”
“No Mum. There are no both sides in this. I said you should be careful and do your research, and they called for your daughter to be killed! That isn’t some both sides thing, that’s something you need to apologise for before we can move past it!”
She didn’t answer. Five seconds passed, then ten. There was complete silence where even Noah had stopped moving around. I waited. I could have sworn I heard a sniffle, a gulp, a crack in her breathing. It might have been my own.
Please Mum. Please just tell me you don’t think I should be killed. Tell me they were wrong to say that. Please, come back.
“Can we not find middle ground?” she eventually said, her voice strained. I didn’t answer. I could barely stand. “Hayley?”
I took a deep breath and managed to hold my voice long enough to speak. “I don’t know if you don’t understand, or if you’re just not allowed to say it. But as long as you are in agreement with people who would see me dead for caring about you then our definitions of middle are a long way apart. Goodbye Mum.”
I cut the call and immediately blocked the number, then turned off my phone for good measure, and then seriously considered smashing it with a hammer for even better measure. I didn’t want her, or anyone in that god damned cult to have any way of reaching me. The cold tea went in the sink, and I curled up on the sofa. And I cried.