July 17, 2018

It is so easy to be my mother. It is essentially effortless to turn around, pick up a bottle, become a functioning alcoholic starting at seven in the morning when my night shift ends, pass out within an hour of pounding liquor, waking up in the afternoon and no one questioning it. My life would have numbing, functioning alcoholic sleep. I never saw myself wanting kids, so I could easily get away with addiction. My job pays well, I live alone, and I have an elderly dog who is low maintenance. I wanted to kill myself when my mom died but didn’t have the gumption to do it, partly because I felt like I’d be a failure and I was terrified of being a failure in my mom’s eyes dead or alive, especially when she told me on her deathbed that she was sorry for failing me. Instead, I lost a bunch of weight on my own in an obsessive control-freak episode. I tried out new jobs and stopped smoking weed and limited my drinking. I began to write and write and model my writing outlet to the likeness of Augusten Burroughs’ Lust and Wonder and David Sedaris’ many-a-memoirs.

I then again lost the sense of control, so I read more about what to do when I wanted control, and how to release the illusion of control. I allowed myself to be used by men because, let’s face it, my male role models were less than stellar throughout my existence. I lacked a lot of female guidance growing up, and realized in my 20s that I’d have to do a lot of the growing up on myself. This is why I don’t like the idea of having to fix or take care of people, although by nature I am a fixer. I have a fear of dying alone, do activities with myself for the peace and quiet, but ultimately want to find someone to adventure with.

There is an intolerance that exists within me towards people who are incapable of communicating, and it hurts relationships but I admitted to myself that I’d rather have no relationship than pretend everything is alright. I don’t know if I’m happy; I don’t know if I’m depressed, either. I know I’m doing what I want in the confines of whatever financial resources I currently have. I think what I am is dissatisfied with how certain aspects of my life have turned out thus far. I want to be published and I want to have a stable, healthy romantic relationship. I fear that if I tick everything off my bucket list, I’ll just die – and that’s the last thing I want to do.

“Meanwhile, things go on.”

Charles Bukowski – poet, novelist, alcoholic, lover of all things women and sex – lived his life how he wanted, how he thought he deserved to live, and died in 1994 of Leukemia at age 73. Could he have quit smoking? Sure. Could he have quit booze? Of course. But he didn’t, because that wasn’t Bukowski. He lived his truth, however sad it may have seemed to his readers, critics, and lovers alike. Bukowski – to me at least – is someone who lived until he died, and died many times while still living.

To die over and over (and over) again is something that many of us experience but not many of us recognize. Most recently, for me, my relationship of over a year with a man I was very much in love with ended in a fireball of lies, manipulation, and the discovery (and introduction) of a woman who he had kept a secret relationship with for three months while I was walking through burning hot coals with the death of my dog, and the hospice care and death of my grandfather. Throughout all of this I maintained my life with him – made sure he was alright, listened, and still kept myself afloat the best I could under the circumstances. Unfortunately – and to my utter surprise – he took my independence (and lack of codependency) and ran away with that (and fell into other women).

When he revealed to me that he had constructed a secret relationship including but not limited to very strict date schedules and days of the week, two separate Instagram accounts, different names saved into phones, etc, I knew I would never take him back. I felt a crushing pain within me that was different from any death I ever felt – not my dog, my grandpa, or even when my mom died in 2011. It was a feeling of ultimate betrayal nestled into sheer confusion and embarrassment to know he was playing me like a faithful fiddle while his roommates (and his mother) knew what he was doing; he later tried to defend his roommates to me, saying they “encouraged” him to come clean, but honestly obligation towards one another as people comes from moral standings in my book, not longevity or proximity. AKA if you’re acting like a piece of shit I will not hesitate to call you out on it; no one deserves to live their life thinking they have nothing to worry about when the same hands that hold them at night held someone else just as passionately only hours before.

What’s crazy about all this is I did forgive him. I didn’t forgive him in the sense that, “It’s okay, we’ll work through this together.” Oh no. It was a more, “I never needed you. I cannot help you. This is unhealthy. You betrayed me beyond any repair. I can’t hate you because, honestly, no one hates you more than you probably hate yourself. Best of luck, mate.” He sobbed (I sobbed much, much later once I got over the shock and nausea that the man I saw as a potential soul mate was lying to my face).

It hasn’t been very long at all since I last saw him – since we lay together on my couch crying, watching the clock until he had to leave for work on the morning he brought me back my house key. It hasn’t been long at all since our last kiss, since he rested his head on my chest and his tears burned straight through to my fucking soul. “I love you,” he said as he turned around and grabbed me to hug and kiss me one last time in the doorway. I wanted to tell him he didn’t love me, that he didn’t know love, but I know better than to assume that someone doesn’t know what love is just because they aren’t capable of loving with the same capacity as I am. He loved me (maybe still does love me) with his perception of what it is to love another. The fatal flaw is he doesn’t love himself – that he may be a little bit of a sociopath – that he compartmentalizes things to such an extreme extent that when he walked out of my house I probably no longer existed, but when he looked at me after telling me he had been cheating he burst into tears.

I will never know if the sobs and wailing were from genuine guilt or genuine displeasure at being caught. I’ll never know how deep his love really ran (although I don’t think it was too deep regardless of his claims). I won’t be able to see inside of him to believe the things he told me in earnest. But what I do know, is that things go on. I died that day, but I died a lot of other days too. I died when my mom died in front of me. And I am grieving now, like I did with my mom, but the waves are different. There is no linear movement to grief, that I know. I just know it’s happening. And even with the sadness, I tell myself, “I survived worse.” I still wake up everyday in my own two-bedroom house. I have eight, very happy houseplants. I have a book collection that only continues to grow. I have groceries, a job, and I don’t stop writing. And again, after all this, I am living how I think I deserve and I am dying and will die again and again until I die and don’t wake up. Until then, though, I will reinvent myself, I will live, and things will go on.

Fail Forward

This is about failure.

This is about the inevitability of failure, the understanding and acceptance that sometimes your work may just not fit into the criteria of what an agent is looking forward. Does it mean your work isn’t good? No. Does it mean you have more work to do? Always. Failure is not infinite and improvement should never be finite. This rejection email – my nth one – doesn’t make me cry in the dark, wondering why I’m not good enough to have my book published. It doesn’t make me want to give up writing; it makes me want to write more. Failure and rejection makes me realize just how much this means to me, and how much being an author and a writer means to me.

In a technological world, my phone has become the hub of games, social media, various apps, texting, email – whatever I could imagine. There is no escaping social media if you want to be a known writer in 2019 and I am noticing more and more how I have to mold my image on the internet to become acquainted with other writers and readers of the world in order to share my stories. I’m not a huge fan of social media, but what I have noticed is, the more serious I’ve become about writing, the less serious I’ve become about maintaining a social media image. My output has gone from posting a photo (or more) a day on Instagram to writing something everyday – whether it is a poem, an essay, a thought, or a handwritten entry in my journal. My energy has shifted from image through immediate visual stimulation to providing a story that allows someone to create an image for themselves. And honestly? I love it. I feel like the “me” I write about rather than the “me” I post about is the more genuine form of who I truly am. I feel like I am living a better and more sincere life by letting my words define me than my carefully taken photos of moments in my life I’d rather hold onto than moments I need to express in order to be a healthier version of myself. So yeah, in a sense, in this email, I failed to meet whatever this agency was looking for. And that’s OK, because whoever comes across me and selects me will select the genuine me, the real me, and the business aspect will be a much more enjoyable one. I’m grateful to each agency who read my words and whether or not they want to take on my projects is relative to whatever impact my words may have. I can take the failure because it isn’t really failure. And any failure is a forward failure as I stumble towards the future I want to create for myself.

Coping

Death is a matter of perspective. As I’ve gotten older, I accepted that dying is an inevitable and unavoidable occurrence that unites us as people just as much as breathing. Each person’s encounter with death is relative (as are all things in life) to what they have already experienced, and what they are mentally and emotionally prepared to experience when the time comes. Death is a wave that, if not learned to be ridden, will pummel whoever it encounters.

From the ages of 17 to 20, I lost both of my grandmothers, as well as my mother. My first grandmother succumbed to her third bout with breast cancer on Christmas Eve morning of 2007 after learning it spread through her body, into her bones, and left her in excruciating pain. I was still in high school, and it was the first “real” death I experienced. Before my nana passed away, I didn’t see her for several days. I missed her, I was sad, however I realize now at that time I didn’t have a solid grasp on the finality of it all.

My dad’s mother left the world July 1, 2008, after complications from an otherwise routine stomach surgery. I saw her the day after I graduated high school – she apologized for not being able to make it, but couldn’t wait to be home again. The following day, she aspirated on a bottle of water as she lay in bed in the hospital. When my parents were called, we learned that she flatlined for 17 minutes before she was resuscitated, and was waiting for us – brain dead – on a breathing machine. It was the first time I saw a lifeless, living, person. I remember my dad telling me to say “goodbye” to her, although she wasn’t there. I remember shrieking as I approached the bed because the oxygen that was forced through her body pushed her chest up and made it look like she was jumping at me. Eventually the children were taken from the hospital room, the plug was pulled, and she died within a couple of hours.

I remember being angry. I didn’t think it was fair that she died in a way so stupid and avoidable. She was supposed to be home that week. She was supposed to come to my graduation party; she was supposed to be alive. It wasn’t fair to her or any of us, especially after losing Nana only six months earlier. At the time, it was like no one could catch a break. I remember my mother being absolutely inconsolable. She sobbed into her pillow on my parents’ bed one morning that she was her mother too. It was that weekend where my mother hit a turning point for the worst with her drinking habits.

My mother died September 26, 2011, at 9:45 in the morning. I know the time because I watched her die. I was in the first semester of my final year of undergrad, when my dad called me to tell me she was in the hospital. My mom suffered. She suffered for years with alcoholism, and eventually it became an extension of her as well as an extension of our family. Wine every night was normal, rum on the weekends was expected, and her chain smoking was since birth. I knew nothing different, and it wasn’t until I was older and more aware that I began to challenge her addiction, only to lose in the end.
We all lost in the end. My mother suffered a very painful, very long death. I learned that when a person dies from alcohol consumption, the alcohol is what does the consuming. She had ammonia poisoning in her brain as a result of her liver and kidneys failing to flush out the toxins in her body. Her skin turned yellow, and her corneas looked like egg yolks. She stopped eating from the lack of appetite that comes with severe alcoholism – and while she only weighed about 80 pounds, she carried roughly 30 to 40 pounds of water weight due to edema swelling. I remember seeing her the first time and thinking she looked like she was in her third trimester.

As her liver broke down inside of her body, a process known as necrosis, I watched helplessly while she reached into the empty air, clutched her stomach, moaned, and furrowed her brows. She was unable to open her eyes and sat for a day or two in a weird coma limbo, where parts of her worked, and others did not. Eventually, the poison overtook her body, and she lay for several days stripped of any medical equipment except for an oxygen mask that forced air into an otherwise dead woman. It didn’t scare me as much the second time around, to see a body lurch upwards at unwelcomed oxygen. I stayed with her morning and night, praying for her death.

Her addiction to me was the embodiment of Pestilence, War, and Famine rampant within her. She was wrought with disease, would not eat, and fought an internal battle of mental illness that she lost. I watched the Apocalypse of self in my mother. In the end, the thing I feared most – death – was the only thing I could have wanted for her.

When she finally died I felt an overwhelming wave of relief that I didn’t expect, and it eventually turned into guilt for having a sense of joy at her release from mortality. I didn’t want her to die, but at the same time I was glad that she wasn’t suffering any longer. She didn’t have the emotional turmoil, the addiction; she didn’t have to fight so hard. It was then up to me to learn how to live without her, how to cope without any female figures in my life, where to place blame, and where to learn no blame was ever to be placed in the case of her death.

These three situations taught me that the act of dying – and coping with dying – were all matters of relativity. There was no right or wrong answer for why my nana had to have recurring cancer, or why my grandmother had to drink water laying down, or why my mom chose a bottle over her family – and more importantly – herself. Eventually, I stopped blaming death. I stopped questioning why the world took people from me, and instead looked at what I could do to better understand the way the world worked. The following work of fiction is from the perspective of Death, the immortal. Its purpose is to show different sides to the workings of the universe, and to allow interpretation and understanding through fantasy. I truly enjoyed writing this, and I hope they help those looking to see deeper than simply the loss of life.

If you are Grieving

I wanted to write something about grief, because I am grieving now. Because it’s hard. Because I’ve been through this too many times in the past ten years.

• everyone grieves in their own way so try not to take a change in their behavior personally. Also, try to be conscious of what is *your* grief and your own expression.

• you will be achy, cranky, oddly calm, have an anxious mind, and feel like your brain is a rocky ocean because all the dust is settling from a whirlwind of change. Don’t fight it, just batten down.

• don’t be afraid to take an extra nap. Don’t fear being a little impulsive. If you feel impulsive, try a productive impulse like hanging a picture, cleaning something, planting a house plant, cooking, buying a $5 book (or two, or three like I did), cleaning out your closet for donation… things that won’t cause any self damage.

• if you feel the need to damage, go to the gym. Or eat a bag of chips, just remember they’re grief chips so the calories don’t count, but also that they – like your feelings – are temporary and should not be a permanent daily helping of grief chips. May I recommend Doritos?

• don’t be afraid to tell someone you don’t have the emotional/mental energy to help them with something that may seem overwhelming to you because you’re grieving. We all have a set amount of energy and grief takes a lot of it out of us.

• it will get easier. It may always be there like a crack or a stain or rust but hey – people call that vintage and you’re popular with hipsters and gastropubs.

• you’re loved and not alone. Some people don’t know how to console a grieving person. It doesn’t mean they don’t care.

I am not done

I have been turned down by – if I’m keeping a vague count – probably 50 or so literary agencies all over the country. I’ve been writing – or if I’m being honest – trying to write books for the past seven or so years. I’ve grown accustomed to rejection letters and passive “we’re so busy here or else we’d give you better feedback” emails that I feel like recently I submit my work just to pass time. I have filled out countless applications, wrote query after query, prayed, hoped, cried, and sometimes practically begged for a chance. I want an agent to take a chance on me and be pleasantly surprised in the same way I took a chance on myself in my early 20’s. I want someone to see me and say, “Hey, she probably works well under pressure, ” or, “Hey, she probably takes criticism well,” and I want to shake that person’s hand and look them in the face and say that I won’t let them down.

In the end, I’m doing what I’ve been doing for the sake of getting out my story. I take years and years of suppressed memories and thoughts and regrets and throw them down line after line for no one other than myself, and I think realizing that what I’m doing is for me is what encourages me to continue filling out query after query and expecting a hearty “No thank you.” The market is over-saturated and the world is over-populated and for some reason I hold onto a shred of hope that something I say will help someone else somewhere even if I’m never published because I’ve seen it happen on more than one occasion just by verbal interaction. I’ve been writing since I could write and I’ve been talking non stop since I could form a sentence. Some people are simply born to be certain things and I think I was born to be a writer.

I’m not sure if my mother’s addiction, my abusive household, her death, my father’s mental illness, or my own personal turmoil was destined to happen because I was somehow destined to share my stories, but I am sharing my stories and my life regardless of my platform. My soap box has not yet caved in. My heart is still beating. I am not finished. I have learned in this process and cycle of application and rejection that I own my past and my truth and I am no longer ashamed of where I come from because I see exactly who the fuck I am and honestly? If that’s as far as I’m meant to go, so be it. Just let me know if I helped someone. 

It was You all along

It’s kind of messing me up, as I sit here at 4AM, to re-read the last email I ever received from my mother in which she describes me as being the way I am from the influence of my two deceased grandmothers.
“You’re kind to others, but you don’t take shit.”
I always saw that email and thought it endearing, because she used curse words and praised me. It has since been a point of reference I go to when I’m feeling low, or want reassurance that I made her proud when she was alive, so I can continue to strive to make her proud of me even in death. Call it melancholy, call it cynical, but I noticed something missing from the email last night: her.
My mom was the person I always tried to be, not my grandmothers. While I loved my grandmothers dearly, they were not the image I saw. My mother had a razor tongue and a wicked sense of humor. She was stylish and stood tall. She was an entrepreneur and a philanthropist. Most importantly, she didn’t judge others, but saw no hesitation in pointing out someone’s bullshit. I realized last night, though, that she didn’t credit herself for how I turned out as a young adult, when she was all I was trying to embody as I was growing up. At her funeral, so many passersby commented on my smile, and how it looked just like hers – but dear God let me have her sense of humor. Let me have her businesswoman prowess. Grant me her sarcastic tongue. Let me hear a roaring laugh from my friends and see her sitting in the crowd smiling at me, throwing her head back with everyone else.

Addiction – alcoholism in this case – made her lose her confidence to the point that her know-it-all “You’re not the parent” mentality eventually turned into, “Don’t judge me” as she looked down at the floor, vodka in her hand and the hot August sun showing truth against the living room walls. My mother showed me what not to be through her addictions. She showed me that I couldn’t allow the future of my existence to be controlled by any outside forces, and to only give control to myself. She showed me that even the toughest people can be small and weak. Ultimately, she showed me all the facets of a human. For all of that I hope to be her. For all of that, I credit her wholly for who I am – negative, positive, complete.

The End Game

Today, an acquaintance asked me what my “end game” or “end goal” was with my life. As in, what am I doing? What do I want to do? Why am I at a job I have no experience in and why have I stayed for over three years? Six years ago, at the major turn in my life, I would have stopped and pondered and probably had an existential crisis. I had nowhere to go, no money, and no emotional backbone. During that time (and if you follow my blog you already know), I just read my mom’s eulogy, returned to school in a haze, and felt like my world was ripped into shreds in front of me by Death himself; the being I blamed for my misery.
I blamed Death for so much. I blamed him for my predicament, and pain, and for making me witness my mother’s last breath. I felt like he was a purveyor of destruction, and that his goal was to ruin me. I had so much anger and resentment – and confusion – writhing within me that I needed to put the blame on someone else other than my mother or my family. It took me a solid year to admit that my mom was responsible for her death. Her addiction is what brought on Death. Her internal blame; her inability – or refusal – to address her own demons head-on called her final moments to her bedside, and I was merely a witness. After she died I no longer feared Death. I hated Death. I felt he was evil. It turned out, however, after much reflection that Death is neutral. He does not discriminate, nor does he pick people out. People are all products of their circumstances, and he just collects. He does his job, and that’s it.
Maybe it’s a coping mechanism for me, maybe it’s a weird fantastical denial of the uncertainty and horrors that could hide behind each of our final breaths, or maybe I just “get it.” Regardless, I have survived – and in my opinion thrived – with the thought of dying as negligible in my mind and second nature as playing with my hair when I’m bored or breathing. My brain has been opened to other opportunities, to more “now” moments, and to actually living. So, six years later, when my acquaintance came to me asking about my end game and what my plan was, I didn’t hesitate to say the end game is death.

The end is known, so why are we spending our time worrying about it? I worry about travel, making money in order to spend it and save a little. I worry about writing what I want, painting when I can, working out when I am motivated. I think about dinner with friends and falling in love, and how to deal with heartbreak better each time it happens. I fear not living my life the way I want. I fear monotony, complacency, and merely accepting what’s in front of me if I have the means to change it for the better. I do not fear removing myself from negative energy – from people who are constantly finding problems in everything, because they can’t see how much control of themselves they truly have in their own lives.
My end game may be death, but at least I know what I’m currently doing. I am living for myself, and not hurting others, and listening to stories, and creating stories. I am happy.

Conflicted

Next month will be six years without my mom in this world, and for some reason I still find myself becoming anxious, irritable, and melancholic in the weeks preceding her anniversary. Honestly? I wish sometimes that it wouldn’t happen this way. I’ve gotten over the pangs of Mother’s Day; holidays seem easier than most other situations. My birthday approaches in November, following her anniversary, and I have found solace in spending time alone, getting a new tattoo, or just living my life as another day. It’s usually the week after my birthday, though, where I feel lonely. And now, as I approach September 26, I feel those heavy, painful reminders of what was happening to me emotionally and physically leading up until her death.
I begin to question a lot. More now than ever, it crosses my mind as to whether or not I am / have been putting my mom on a pedestal when I write about her, ignoring all of the horrors and negatives that happened to me over the course of my upbringing – a lot of which was brought on by her heavy drinking. Now, obviously, I don’t take it all too personal that she had these demons. I accepted that her drinking was no my fault, that her addictions were her own battle, and that she was the best parent she knew how to be. Then, on the other hand, I look at a lot of the emotional and personal struggles I have now with who I am, my image, my anxiety, and almost deny the fact that her words and actions towards me were what sculpted my thinking into what it was – and what I sometimes struggle with today.
I refer to them as emotional flare-ups. Like a chronic condition that never really goes away, I get these feelings that are initially indiscernible to me in origin and I spend days, sometimes weeks, trying to target exactly what I am feeling and why it’s happening when it is. All I’ve wanted to do since her passing was better learn about myself, better understand this brain inside my head; I lived the first 20 years of my life for her – trying to heal her, trying to save her, trying to make her proud of me. In reality, I should have been making attempts at being proud of myself and my accomplishments. Now, I have no problem admitting when I feel accomplished. I don’t see it as cockiness or arrogance, rather, recognition of things I’ve worked hard towards achieving.
These anxieties and insecurities were ingrained in me from a young age when my mom insulted my pajamas, because she said I was getting fat and needed to go on a diet. Her micromanaging of my image, of who I was (or was to become for that matter) was definitely a reflection and projection of her own insecurities and desires that she had when she was younger but never got to live out. I noticed that a lot of times, parents tend to blur the line of what they want for their child, and what they want for themselves to be carried out by their child. These pressures gave me a loss of identity at a young age, only recognized now when I look at the plethora of various clubs and activities I was submerged in. Partly to stay out of a toxic home, and partly because I was so unsure of what I liked, what I was talented in, that I tried everything and became a master of none.

What I’m getting to in this roundabout trip down a traumatic memory lane is, I get anxiety and questionable feelings, because I obviously miss my mother, and I would give almost anything to have her back. Alternatively, do I make her memory less ….memorable…. by acknowledging that her pressures and style of raising me were large contributors to the things I struggle with today by way of identity and self acceptance? I inquire to myself some nights: if she did make it out of the hospital that September and sobered up,  would she have remained sober? Would she have relapsed? Would she have killed herself? I wonder to myself if she lived, would she have continued on her path of berating me for my appearance, my hair, my style, my likes? Would I still be on this slow, backwards-moving path of self-undiscovery where my decisions were essentially made for me to be produced in the image of her?
As soon as I graduated college, I spent the money and took the classes to get my real estate license in order to be like her. I put so much effort into earning a piece of plastic that allowed me to sit in the desk in front of where she used to sit in order to make deals and sell houses. I quickly realized that I would never be like her, and part of me was relieved. There was something inside of my soul that reminded me I possess something unique only to me – something I ignored for so long, because I was conditioned to be what my maker told me to be. It makes me think, am I an asshole for being grateful for my circumstances? I’m obviously not happy for the death of my mother, but if she was still here, would I ever have found my spark? Would I ever have gone head-first into writing? Would I have ever learned to love myself?