A mom-ento: Another mother’s day.

Posted on May 12, 2017

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The relationship I have with my mother is complicated, both because she was an alcoholic and because she is dead. It’s hard to have a relationship with a bag of ash. From experience I can tell you that it’s even harder to have a relationship with an addict.

This year I turn 28 and experience (celebrate is not the optimal word here) eight years since my mom stopped living. I use the phrase “stopped living” as opposed to “died” or “killed herself” because I quite frankly don’t know which is the case. Sure, it was 99% passive suicide by consensus – she knew she was dying (she wrote a ‘I know I’m dying’-type note weeks before her death) and didn’t try to curb her drinking, smoking or lack of eating to continue living. Similarly, she didn’t stab herself in the heart.

This will not be the first time I have written about my mother, about her death, or about mother’s day since her passing. It will certainly not be the last. If nothing else, it has certainly been a wellspring of inspiration (she said sarcastically.)

I suppose writing about her around mother’s day makes sense because the holiday invokes her memory on its own. But it’s also the ads everywhere reminding me to buy her flowers or make dinner reservations for her or remember to call her. It’s hard to do all of those things for a dead person. Very awkward reservation phone call. “Table for two, sort of.”

At work they were soliciting columns by staffers for mother’s day. Don’t think they’d want one from me. I’m not sure if it’s something the readership would appreciate: “My mother is dead, also she was kind of an asshole. Happy holidays. Enjoy Arby’s.”

Yeah. Not pleasant.

I could just NOT write about her. It’s not like I have purely fond memories of her. In fact, the more I’ve thought about it lately the more I’ve realized it’s more of a 50/25/25 breakdown – 50% negative, 25% positive, 25% neutral.

But there’s something about not writing about her that feels a little bit like willfully forgetting about her. Like I’m letting her just slowly become erased.

When I first started this blog in 2011, I wrote about death and how it happens in waves. That the first wave is the “oh, shit” moment, that the second is when it really sinks in, and the third is when the person who died begins to die again in little ways: their phone account gets canceled so you can’t call it anymore to hear their voicemail message, enough time passes that you stop talking to people who knew them, you throw away old birthday cards, your days become less about lacking them and more about a life lived without ever having them to begin with.

I think that’s how you remember people, too. Like the idea that you can create a god by worshipping an image or myth for long enough that it gains enough strength to become a god. In a way, remembering something religiously keeps it alive.

In that way, not remembering it kills it again.

Is it murder to forget her?

I was about 13 when my mother drunkenly stumbled back to my bedroom, called me out to the dining room where she nested for the night – phone, cigarettes and glass of wine at the ready.

I was her jester, summoned by the queen to entertain her when her advisers had all left. I came to brighten her day, to lift her spirits.

I had seven years and some change in the service. It was different from when I was a kid and could hide away in my room pretending that the extra volume on my TV somehow sent the shouts from the dining room into another dimension. I remember trying hard not to even need to pee – anything so that I wouldn’t need to leave my room and attract her attention.

Those years were so easy for me. I learned so much. I learned how to manage my own time to get my homework done. I learned how to cook my own dinner. I learned how to do my own laundry. I learned how to clean my room without prompting, how to chase away the monsters, how to tuck myself in, how to sing myself to sleep.

For a 13-year-old I knew a lot. I was independent. I was strong. I wasn’t ready for my indentured servitude.

Night after night I’d get home from school, drop my stuff off in my room, make my dinner, eat my dinner, take my shower, do my homework. Then wait.

I’d watch TV or write, but I’d be waiting. Waiting for the sound of her to get off of the phone. For her to stand and walk to my side of the house. For her to knock on my door.

“Nat? You got a minute?”

The perfume of red wine and cigarettes preceded her. “Of course,” I’d say. Always of course. Always “sure.” Always yes. Never no. I’d follow her out to the table, I’d pull the chair back and sit down. I’d lean back, press my knees into the table edge and sit with my feet dangling. It would be dark, her face would be indistinguishable in the shadows of the lamplight.

The windows would be open so some of the cigarette smoke filtered out. It wouldn’t make a difference in the long run. When we moved – when she moved – the wallpaper was yellowed.

From outside I could hear the crickets chirping, the wind rustling the grass and whistling through the wooden fence. It smelled clean. It smelled like tomorrow. An airplane would fly by, it’s wing lights drawing lines of white and red across the sky. Reminding me that there are other people out there with memories and lives on planes to see loved ones or go to jobs or do… something. Something else. That there was a day later, a future beyond what I was living.

She noticed first that I would bounce my leg or crack my knuckles when upset or anxious.

“Oh, you’re popping your knuckles. I guess you don’t want to talk about that anymore.”

No, I didn’t. I don’t know what it was – that I didn’t love you enough, that my dad didn’t love me enough, that Pam or Jeff weren’t nice enough to you, that the world was too hard on you, that I only loved your for the money, that I ate too much, slept too much, ignored you, that I treated you like I had to meet a quota of time spent with you (I mean, really, wasn’t two hours a night with no TV, no music, no nothing but us talking at each other, enough? That’s 14 hours a week. I spent less time with myself than I did with you. I didn’t need to hear about your relationship with a married man and ‘Woe is me, he won’t leave his wife for me!’ Your tragedy was my agony.)

That’s how it started.

Years later I’m threatening to run away and you’re cracking plastic cups on the floor. I’m explaining anorexia to you because you’ve dropped below a hundred pounds and you’re selling the gospel of Joel Osteen and taping “Don’t let the devil steal your joy” to the fridge during one of your many days “off work” recovering from your self-inflicted neuropathy.

Thank god your other arm could lift your glass of wine and light your cigarette.

How flat was your forehead from all the times you fell asleep face down at the dining room table?

I realized recently that I don’t remember telling anyone about you until well into high school. Did I let anyone know about you? In elementary school, when I would slide notes under your bedroom door or when I smelled like I was the one who smoked, did I know what was happening? Surely at 8 I realized that from the time I got home until the time I went to sleep the only moments we spent together were those in which you delivered me my microwavable dinner and ordered me to take a shower or to bed.

I remember communing with the “nightlights,” the city lights dotting the sky outside the bedroom window.

I guess I had no friends those nights but a Days Inn sign and headlights painting lines on a highway.

On the weekends I saw dad it was like a chance to escape, so of course I never said anything. You were my secret. How you resented me for my time spent away.

I learned well how to enjoy those times, but I see now that I was strategic. I was never fully there or I’d have felt it when I fully left. It was like slipping into a costume and playing a part. To this day I’m not sure which is true – who belongs on stage? The one my mother knew or the one that left the house?

It’s weird.

It’s weird to have a licensed therapist refer to your mother as your “abuser.” What does that even mean? She never hit me.

I was never starved, locked into my room or beaten. Sure she kept me up until late at night to fight with me, got drunk and had to be put to bed, got fired from her job, filed bankruptcy, guilted me for my lunch money and threw glassware at me, but that doesn’t mean she abused me.

Doesn’t abuse require a belt or something?

Besides, I get it. I know what it feels like to have a few drinks and get warm around the edges. To soften on the inside. To forget for a minute what’s deep underneath and remember just the top layers. I can’t blame you for that.

I can’t blame you.

I can’t blame you for being sad. You were just too sad for me. You had me, and you loved me. I felt that. I feel that. But you were just too damned sad. I was a story you weren’t meant to be a character in or vice versa.

Everything about you, every memory I have of you, you were sad. Every time we went to lunch. Every time we talked. Every time we watched a movie or you made me listen to Jackson Browne or Billy Joel’s “Downeaster Alexa” or Alanis Morisette (I hope I never have to hear another song of hers again.)

Every time I heard the click of a lighter or the pour of wine into your glass or the moments spent in the doorway waiting to see your back rise and fall to make sure you were alive after you fell asleep at the table again.

I guess 13 wasn’t as easy a year as I thought.

I wonder know what it would be like if you were still alive. Would I have graduated? Worked at the college newspaper? Got a job in journalism? Moved away from D-FW?

Would I have gotten this job? Would you have come to see me?

This mother’s day I’m reminded, I guess, more of things you won’t do.

You won’t answer your phone

You won’t email me back

You won’t have a good day

You won’t ask me about mine

You won’t have an opinion

You won’t have a favorite movie

You won’t be irritated

You won’t celebrate my next job or promotion

You won’t give me advice about my next relationship

You won’t console me when I’m sad

You won’t comfort me when I’m scared

You won’t celebrate when I’m happy

You won’t give me advice

You won’t help me pick out a wedding dress

You won’t meet my husband

You won’t see my kids

You won’t cook Thanksgiving dinner

You won’t have another birthday

You won’t wish me happy birthday on mine

You won’t get a mothers day card

 

I remember all the things you won’t do. I remember all the things you never did.

 

You weren’t sober at my high school graduation

You didn’t remember where the car was at my NHS ceremony

You never showed up to my ROTC competitions

You never did the grocery shopping in the four years before you died

You never apologized

At the end, you never said “I love you” sober

 

I will never know you happy

I will never know you free

But of all the things I’ll never know

What I’ll miss most is the time you took from me

 

I write about you every year because I feel I must. I am obligated to remember you, as if I’m paying penance for a sin committed in a past life. I’ll bear the burden of your time on earth, my shoulders seem wide enough, I suppose.

Are you my cross?

Last year stretched me so thin that when I run through the list of bullshit I sometimes forget Uncle Gordon drank himself into the ICU and almost died twice when they tried to take him off life support. He eventually lived. I suppose “estranged uncle almost dies after grandmother dies after I got laid off before friend found dead after new car totaled in flood” doesn’t fall off the tongue easily in the mind.

2016 was not kind.

Every year I remember you – mother’s day, your birthday, the day you died. Like walking through a cemetery of memories and each day is a headstone. Were you alone when you died? Scared and cold in an ambulance ride? I sometimes resent you for leaving me. For not leaving me earlier. For leaving me only after living the way you did. For leaving me before you could live a different way.¬†

I resent you because you have made me resent you.

I confront you every year. I confront this every year.

I confront you every year like I have written this every year since you stopped calling me back. Since you stopped seeing me. Since you stopped living.

I wish I knew what I did wrong so that maybe I could make it better. Was it just one phone call that could have made this right? Surely I could have fixed this. That’s what I did. I fixed it. I made it better. I fixed you. I loved you until you were whole again. I loved you until you were happy again. I filled you up until you decided to stay. I was what you loved the most. I was your everything. I anchored you. What did I do that I stopped holding you, stopped keeping you here with me?

There is no cold in the silence after your voice, just a stale nothing that clings to me like static after a storm or the smell of your Marlboro Reds extinguished in an ashtray that had seen more days with you than I had.

Anyways. Happy mother’s day.

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Posted in: Musings