Underneath my yellow skin

A matter of perspective

Eminem, the rapper, has a notoricously difficult relationship with his mother. He’s written several songs about her, including one that he now doesn’t sing any longer, Cleaning Out My Closet. Which is a banger, by the way. The song that really struck me, though, was Headlights, ft. Nate Ruess, which I have included below.

Dang. I just Googled it. It’s ten years old. I still think of it as his ‘new’ song, even though that is most undoubtedly not ture. It really struck me for several reasons. One, it’s a really good song. Two, people took it as an apology song to his mother, which was not my take on it. Three, it got me thinking about my own troubled relationship with my mother, which is not good for my head space over time.

It got me thinking how we bring our own point of view into art. It’s part of what makes it such an evocative experience. If you have no inner tapestry, a painting is just a painting and a song is just a song.

I could not understand how people thought it was simply an apology/I forgive you song. I mean, it’s partly that. He said that he undrestood that she was mentally ill and did the best she could. He told her that he was ashamed of his earlier song and no longer played it in concerts. He told her that he still loved her because she was his mother.

But. He also said the following lines:

“And that’s when I realized you were sick and it wasn’t fixable or changeable,

And to this day, we remain estranged and I hate it though.”

“‘Cause you ain’t even get to witness your grandbabies grow”

“Now the medication’s taking over and your mental state’s deteriorating slow

And I’m way too old to cry; that shit’s painful, though”

“And although one has only met their grandma once”

“I hope you get this message that I will always love you from afar”

All these to me says that he has gone no contact with her. The fact that she showed up suddenly one day and the security questioned her (in the video) while checking a clipboard before shaking their head and watching as she drove off made it clear to me that she was not allowed into his house. Yes, that is conjecture on my side, but it’s pretty obvious to me.

I heard so often that it was a heartwarming song that I wondered if I was that off-base about the song. Yes, he said that he forgave her, but that was because he had given up hope that she would change. I know how that feels because at some point, you have to lay your burden down and stop hoping that your parent will change.


He’s accepted that she is who she is. He can love her for being his mom AND want nothing to do with her in his daily life. The latter is what people don’t seem to get or they don’t understand the context. Or they have good relationships with their mother ard are happy taht Eminem has ‘reconciled’ with his mother.

I know that I am looking at things through a dirty lens, but it seems so obvious to me. The worst thing you can do when you’re being abused is hope. Hope for change, hope that things will get better, hope that iths isn’t the way it’ll always be. Abusers rarely change. And if they do, they first have to recognize that they are being abusive–which rarely happens. I mean, most people do not want to be abusive.¬† Some do, no doubt. There are people who take glee in being abusive to other people. Those people are true sadists. Other people, though, are acting out their own dysfunction, misguidedly think they are doing it out of love, or are just that fucked up.

You cannot make someone go to therapy. You can’t make someone see that they are being harmful to someone else. All you can do is set boundaries, but that’s really difficult to do. Because someone who does not believe in boundaries will constantly push at them. My mother did not like my last therapist because she (my mother) believed that she (my therapist) was putting a wedge between us (my mother and me).

“We used to be so close!” My mother said mournfully. which was bullshit. We have never been close. In order to be close, she would actually have to know the first thing about me and acknowledge that I am a human being in my own right. In her mind, we’re close wehn I listen to her endlessly complain about her marriage without saying anything remotely negative. My therapist encouraging me to set boundaries was offensive in my mother’s eyes.

“In the Taiwanese culture, family is utmost important,” my mother proclaimed with a sour look on her face. I hated that she always trotted that out to excuse her bad behavior. Family is important, but only as long as it’s her that’s family and me that is making sure she is attended to. I’m family, too, but I’m not important.

I have had to accept this. It’s hard to swallow, but it’s better tahn hoping that it’ll changee. It’s better to let go of the faint hope that at some point, my parents will see me for who I am and appreciate me as a person. This is what I get from the Eminem song. He’s resigned himself to the fact¬† that his mother is a hot mess and will not change. He loves her, but he knows that he can’t allow her in his daily life.

That’s so sad to me. This is not an upbeat reunion song in which everyone hugs and lives happily ever after. It’s Eminem saying goodbye. He even references that he hopes his mother will get this message if he dies, which to me means he’s cutting off all contact. To her, he might as well be dead. I tohught it was telling that he had gotten Nate Ruesse to sing on the song as that’s his brother’s name. I’m not saying that’s the reason Nate is on the song, but it would add some extra poignancy if it’s true.

To me, it’s him closing the book on that part of his life. He’s made his peace with the fact that his mother is, in essence, dead to him. He can move on as long as he keeps her at arm’s length.

I understand this. I have to think of my parents as old people who are on the last leg of their journey in order to interact with them and have compassion. It’s the only way I can not lose it when talking to them.

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