Zombies

Zombies

I didn’t know that people could be empty. Every vampire movie – every soul-sucking, weirdo zombie flick – I finally felt like I was on the same level as those creatures. Empty of blood, of soul, of life. How could I be alive if my entire being felt cold and dead like my mother?

Patricia was on the opposite side of that spectrum, actually. She requested to be cremated. She requested a closed casket, too. No one got to see her in the state she was in; partly because we didn’t want people to remember her bloated, yellow and diseased, and mostly because her bangs were flat and she would have never stood to be in public with her hair in such disarray. Naturally there were comments on how a closed casket must have meant she looked awful. But really, what dead person looks Instagram worthy? On the morning of the funeral we stuffed her shirt with childhood photos to be burned with her and headed to the church. From there, she was carted off to a crematorium, incinerated, and placed in a jar on the mantle of the house she almost died in to serve as a reminder that we were alone and addiction was real.

“Mm, the casket is closed. It must have been awful,” whispered one strange man to another strange woman. I sat in a high-back chair against a wall in the middle of the funeral home and observed them. I observed everyone. Each passing face, each person who I didn’t recognize but said to me, “Oh you have her smile! You look just like her!” But I didn’t look just like her. If they could have only seen what she looked like under that rented casket they’d have different opinions. 

“How did you know my mother?” I glared up at them from my throne. I was the one mourning. I had the power.

“Oh, well, uh, we didn’t. We’re friends with her sister.” 

“Well my aunt isn’t here. So you can either stay or go home.” 

They left.

I felt like a wild animal, protecting a dead pack leader from the hoards of scavengers, all sniffing around for a part of her name to shred off. It was kill or be killed. I couldn’t believe that even in death there were comments about how she probably looked – how she probably died. What did it matter? She was dead. Period. We just had to ride it out, collect the flowers that would also die, and go home. 

The house plants were certainly neglected back at my grandfather’s. Fall took an express lane to the backyard and everything that was once flourishing now hung skeletal and ominous. The dahlias I got her for Mother’s Day, Nan’s geraniums, and the hydrangeas were all limp; Grandma’s peace lily from her funeral in 2008 was also down to one, measly leaf. I didn’t have the heart to toss it so I just kept watering the same shitty greenery inside and hoped for the best. It drowned a little more each day but I didn’t know where to put my need to care for the dying. I had spent the first 20 years of my life trying to prevent Patricia from killing herself and, in my mind at the time, failed miserably at that. I felt selfish for going back to school, like I didn’t deserve to grow away from her. I was alive, and that wasn’t fair. 

I wandered campus, juxtaposed between the pressing social lives of my friends and the isolated void that my mind became. My priorities included meeting with professors – all of whom were wonderfully understanding that my situation was tragic, unplanned, and unfair. In particular, kudos to my social work professor who didn’t require me to shadow a hospital for six weeks following my residence at my mother’s bedside (although, I might add, she gave me a C for the semester for not shadowing a hospital, and it was “favoring” me by giving any more lenience). Post traumatic stress disorder was something I believed to be limited to soldiers and victims of national tragedies; I didn’t know it applied to my own personal disaster until the project announcement sent me into a panic attack in the middle of class.

My friends greeted me in varying levels of sympathy and awkward comments of reassurance, because none of them experienced consoling a friend who lost a parent to addiction. Anthony, in his usual silent manner, brought me in for a long albeit soft eyeball-to-nipple embrace. Most friends were silent, and simply hugged me, which I appreciated more than the words. One friend in particular, though, unsure of where to grasp condolences told me, “Wow, I can’t believe you’re back already; If my mom died I would have killed myself by now.” He meant well, and I found it pretty laughable after the exchange because I didn’t know how to react to a statement like that as much as he couldn’t control the backhanded sympathy dribbling from his mouth. 

I turned heavily into baking for some reason. Almost weekly, I ventured into town and bought dollar boxes of brownie mix, or dollar cake mix – whatever was on sale. I’d concoct delicious, although dangerously sweet, experimental desserts that my five other roommates loved and I loved eating. I thought to myself, if I wasn’t the only one eating a Kit-Kat filled brownie with melted peanut butter swirl then it was fine, right? Baking seemed almost cathartic at the time too. There is a preciseness to baking that doesn’t come with cooking meals. Baking is measuring cups and scales, whereas cooking is based off of feelings like, is this enough garlic or do I want it more garlicky? The answer is always more garlic. But, for me at the time, my feelings were so fucking catastrophic that I needed some regimented direction. Baking was a win-all – I had to follow steps and had control, and I could eat my feelings surrounded by friends who wouldn’t dare tell me I was spiraling out of control. For me there was no spiral; I was long gone. 

The isolation began to extend from within my head to my circles, especially my social work class. 

“Who here has lost a grandparent?” My professor raised her hand by example to the 28 of us, all of who raised a hand – almost proudly – in response to the question. “Alright, all of you. Makes sense. Everyone in here is over 18. Now, who of you has lost a parent?” She kept her hand down.

All of the kids kept their hands down. I felt hot and cold at the same time, like a fever. I also felt like for some reason she was challenging me because I had an ace in the hole to get out of the final project. Everything about my being was sensitive and vulnerable and I resented her in that moment. I raised my hand from the back of the classroom and her eyes met mine. Like magnets, all of the students’ eyes turned to see who she was staring at. I was the only person who raised my hand. I picked up my notebooks and walked out of the classroom.

That was the first time I really wanted to die. 

I thought, if I just surrendered to the pain I felt then maybe it would overrun my body and my heart would just stop, and that would be the end of it. I barely made it a month and I wasn’t ready to face the world without Patricia. She was the strongest person I knew and all of that shattered when she died – when she proved to everyone around her that she didn’t want to live anymore. I was so angry when she died I blurted out a couple of times that she killed herself, because I couldn’t understand the hold alcohol had on her. And I was angry with myself for saying it because I remembered how fucking terrified she was looking at me the night before she went into a coma. She knew she fucked up. She knew there was no going back. The end of her life came at 51 years old and I saw her trying to undo years of abuse in her mind for a second chance that she would never receive. 

I thought back to that summer, a month before I left for Oxford. I came home on a lunch break to find her in bed, blinds drawn, dog beside her. I lay down next to her and I asked her if she was sad. 

Three words. Are you sad? She immediately began to cry – the first time I saw her show any emotion other than anger in a year. I didn’t ask her to explain herself; she didn’t owe it to anyone to feel sad. I was just relieved that she finally opened up to me. Eventually I coaxed her out of her room and we stood in the kitchen. She lit a cigarette and took a long, personal drag.

“Maybe I’ll just kill myself,” she said passively through a cloud of smoke.

I took that statement so seriously. I offered to call out of work, take her somewhere – just the two of us. I didn’t want her to be alone.

“We don’t have to tell anyone,” I said.

“No,” she said, “I won’t kill myself.” 

No, I thought, I won’t kill myself.

Zombies

I didn’t know that people could be empty. Every vampire movie – every soul-sucking, weirdo zombie flick – I finally felt like I was on the same level as those creatures. Empty of blood, of soul, of life. How could I be alive if my entire being felt cold and dead like my mother?

Patricia was on the opposite side of that spectrum, actually. She requested to be cremated. She requested a closed casket, too. No one got to see her in the state she was in; partly because we didn’t want people to remember her bloated, yellow, and diseased, and partly because her bangs were flat and she would have never stood to be in public with her hair in such disarray. Naturally there were comments on how a closed casket must have meant she looked awful. But really, what dead person looks Instagram worthy? On the morning of the funeral we stuffed her shirt with childhood photos to be burned with her and headed to the church. From there, she was carted off to a crematorium, incinerated, and placed in a jar on the mantle of the house she almost died in to serve as a reminder that we were alone and addiction was real.

“Mm, the casket is closed. It must have been awful,” whispered one strange man to another strange woman. I sat in a high-back chair against a wall in the middle of the funeral home and observed them. I observed everyone. Each passing face, each person who I didn’t recognize but said to me, “Oh you have her smile! You look just like her!” But I didn’t look just like her. If they could have only seen what she looked like under that rented casket they’d have different opinions. 

“How did you know my mother?” I glared cooly up at them from my throne. I was the one mourning. I had the power.

“Oh, well, uh, we didn’t. We’re friends with her sister.” 

“Well my aunt isn’t here. So you can either stay or go home.” 

They left.

I felt like a wild animal, protecting a dead pack leader from the hoards of scavengers, all sniffing around for a part of her name to shred off. It was kill or be killed. I couldn’t believe that even in death there were comments about how she probably looked – how she probably died. What the fuck did it matter? She was dead. Period. We just had to ride it out, collect the flowers, and go home. 

The house plants were certainly neglected back at Pop’s. Fall took an express lane to the backyard and everything that was once flourishing now hung skeletal and ominous. The dahlias I got her for Mother’s Day, Nan’s geraniums, and the hydrangeas were all limp; Grandma’s peace lily from her funeral in 2008 was also down to one, measly leaf. I didn’t have the heart to toss it so I just kept watering the same shitty greenery inside and hoped for the best. It drowned a little more each day but I didn’t know where to put my need to care for the dying. I had spent the first 20 years of my life trying to prevent Patricia from killing herself and, in my mind at the time, failed miserably at that. I felt selfish for going back to school, like I didn’t deserve to grow away from her. I was alive, and that wasn’t fair. 

I wandered campus, juxtaposed between the pressing social lives of my friends and the isolated void that my mind became. My priorities included meeting with professors – all of whom were wonderfully understanding that my situation was tragic, unplanned, and unfair. In particular, kudos to my social work professor who didn’t require me to shadow a hospital for six weeks following my residence at my mother’s bedside (although, I might add, she gave me a C for the semester for not shadowing a hospital, and it was “favoring” me by giving any more lenience). Post traumatic stress disorder was something I believed to be limited to soldiers and victims of national tragedies; I didn’t know it applied to my own personal disaster until the project announcement sent me into a panic attack in the middle of class.

My friends greeted me in varying levels of sympathy and awkward comments of reassurance, because none of them experienced consoling a friend who lost a parent to addiction. Anthony, in his usual silent manner, brought me in for a long albeit soft eyeball-to-nipple embrace. Most friends were silent, and simply hugged me, which I appreciated more than the words. One friend in particular, though, unsure of where to grasp condolences told me, “Wow, I can’t believe you’re back already; If my mom died I would have killed myself by now.” He meant well, and I found it pretty laughable after the exchange because I didn’t know how to react to a statement like that as much as he couldn’t control the backhanded sympathy dribbling from his mouth. 

I turned heavily into baking for some reason. Almost weekly, I ventured into town and bought dollar boxes of brownie mix, or dollar cake mix – whatever was on sale. I’d concoct delicious, although dangerously sweet, experimental desserts that my five other roommates loved and I loved eating. I thought to myself, if I wasn’t the only one eating a Kit-Kat filled brownie with melted peanut butter swirl then it was fine, right? Baking seemed almost cathartic at the time too. There is a preciseness to baking that doesn’t come with cooking meals. Baking is measuring cups and scales, whereas cooking is based off of feelings like, is this enough garlic or do I want it more garlicky? The answer is always more garlic. But, for me at the time, my feelings were so fucking catastrophic that I needed some regimented direction. Baking was a win-all – I had to follow steps and had control, and I could eat my feelings surrounded by friends who wouldn’t dare tell me I was spiraling out of control. For me there was no spiral; I was long gone.
The isolation began to extend from within my head to my circles, especially my social work class. 

“Who here has lost a grandparent?” My professor raised her hand by example to the 28 of us, all of who raised a hand – almost proudly – in response to the question. “Alright, all of you. Makes sense. Everyone in here is over 18. Now, who of you has lost a parent?” She kept her hand down.

All of the kids kept their hands down. I felt hot and cold at the same time, like a fever. I also felt like for some reason she was challenging me because I had an ace in the hole to get out of the final project. Everything about my being was sensitive and vulnerable and I resented her in that moment. I raised my hand from the back of the classroom and her eyes met mine. Like magnets, all of the students’ eyes turned to see who she was staring at. I was the only person who raised my hand. I picked up my notebooks and walked out of the classroom.

That was the first time I really wanted to die. 

I thought, if I just surrendered to the pain I felt then maybe it would overrun my body and my heart would just stop, and that would be the end of it. I barely made it a month and I wasn’t ready to face the world without Patricia. She was the strongest person I knew and all of that shattered when she died – when she proved to everyone around her that she didn’t want to live anymore. I was so angry when she died I blurted out a couple of times that she killed herself, because I couldn’t understand the hold alcohol had on her. And I was angry with myself for saying it because I remembered how fucking terrified she was looking at me the night before she went into a coma. She knew she fucked up. She knew there was no going back. The end of her life came at 51 years old and I saw her trying to undo years of abuse in her mind for a second chance that she would never receive. 

I thought back to that summer, a month before I left for Oxford. I came home on a lunch break to find her in bed, blinds drawn, dog beside her. I lay down next to her and I asked her if she was sad. Three words. Are you sad? She immediately began to cry – the first time I saw her show any emotion other than anger in a year. I didn’t ask her to explain herself; she didn’t owe it to anyone to feel sad. I was just relieved that she finally opened up to me. Eventually I coaxed her out of her room and we stood in the kitchen. She lit a cigarette and took a long, personal drag.

“Maybe I’ll just kill myself,” she said passively through a cloud of smoke.

I took that statement so seriously. I offered to call out of work, take her somewhere – just the two of us. I didn’t want her to be alone.

“We don’t have to tell anyone,” I said.

“No,” she said, “I won’t kill myself.” 
No, I thought, I won’t kill myself.

The Ferryman

When I moved back into my apartment for my senior year of college, I noticed a large black spot on the ceiling. I called my mom to tell her and ask what she thought I should do about it, but she didn’t answer. When she finally did, she was angry at me, told me, “Figure it out,” and hung up. My move back to school was a couple of weeks ahead of the rest of the population because I worked for the campus. Patricia sat on the kitchen chair, her legs elevated, cigarette limp in her hand. It curled and whined upwards. She looked tired.

“I’m sorry we didn’t get to spend more time together this summer.”

“It’s alright. I was away anyway. I’ll be home for your birthday in October.” I looked at the clock, “I better leave. I love you, Mom.” 

“I love you too.” 

We hugged and I made my way for the ferry. Something felt off. I already decided in my head to come home earlier than her birthday – earlier than October 8th. And as I called her – and she didn’t answer – something felt even worse. She used to make me call her everyday the other three years, so what changed? 

I decided to report the black spot to maintenance, and they sent a crew of guys to come rip out a 2×3 foot chunk of my ceiling to address the black mold. It turned out to be a leak in the emergency sprinkler system, slowly releasing warm water for the entire summer.

“Good thing you caught this in time,” one man said to me. 

My mom still wasn’t answering her phone. Then, one night, my dad called me. 

“Don’t call your mother anymore right now.” He sounded frustrated with me, like I was inconveniencing my family’s life. I asked why the hell not. 

“Just don’t, alright?”

“What’s wrong? Is she sick? Should I come home? Is she mad at me?”

“No, she’s fine. Just call me if you need something from now on.”

I felt powerless and small. Clearly, something wasn’t right and I was purposely kept in the dark. It took only two days for my dad to call me again and tell me I needed to come home. He said she was sick; he didn’t say with what. He said to just come home; she was in the hospital. I knew Patricia and hospital didn’t mix well. My mother almost proudly toted the fact that she had not seen a doctor since I was born in 1990. Once I got off the phone, I collapsed to the floor. My gut – my deepest parts – knew she wasn’t coming home. 

I couldn’t sleep the whole night and by the time I got to the ferry, the sun had barely peaked up over the horizon. It was a chilly September morning, my first week of my senior year of college. I bathed in salt air and drank cheap ferry coffee. It was nearly impossible to sit still, as if I thought somewhere inside of me that I would have been able to swim to Long Island faster. I wanted to yell at the captain and tell him to hurry the fuck up.

From the moment I touched down on the island, every basic human instinct stripped itself away. It’s amazing what the human body does when sent into a literal crisis – a life or death situation. My senses went insane; I kept catching myself biting my fingers, crying silently, shaking my knees around. My dad hugged me – then my grandpa. I remember everything like it was on a hyperrealistic recording in my head. The flowers were still in bloom in my grandpa’s backyard; Nana’s geraniums still lined the driveway. The half hour drive to the hospital took longer than the ferry home. Everything around me pulled like taffy and mentally I couldn’t keep up. I just needed to see Patricia. I needed to see my mommy. 

It was so horrifying and real. It smelled. It was dry and asphyxiated me as I entered the ICU. Uncertainty. How could any of this be happening? I saw her there, yellow. Simpsons yellow. Egg yolk yellow. Yellow eyes. Yellow everything. Stringy, limp, matted hair. No makeup. She always wore makeup. No cigarette. Impossible. It couldn’t be her. I needed to snap back into reality. It spoke.

“What the hell are you doing here?”

Oh God, it was Patricia. I let out a forced laugh, more so of disbelief than anything, that my own mother was so worse for wear. The conversation was minimal as I described her view outside the window. There was a 7-Eleven, KFC, and Pizza Hut.

“I want vanilla ice cream and a fountain Coke.” 

She said her mouth was dry, which I found difficult to believe especially with the insane amount of swelling in her legs and abdomen. She looked like someone who was nine months pregnant with the calves of an Olympic cyclist. I kept looking at the wall. The woman before me, demanding Haagen Dazs and fast food soda, was impossible to place in the same category as the woman who viciously dragged my hair every morning, who took care of all the kids in the neighborhood – who cursed out my principal. She was laying there, unable to move, shitting in a diaper. The person in front of me was the foil of Patricia.   

I quickly noticed that the room she was in had no clocks and it felt appropriate. Time didn’t exist in a place like that. We sat in the room, stale and stagnant; it smelled like chemicals and had a metallic, sticky taste of pending death. There, in the space of crossing over, I watched my mom slowly drift in and out of toxic hallucinations and call out for our family dog, Duffy, who sat home, unsure where she’d gone. By the time I reached the boat at the end of that weekend and gave my ticket to the ferryman I knew it wouldn’t be long before I returned. Everyone gave promising, half-smile reassurance on her condition, but I knew – Patricia had burnt out. 

I was right. It was only four days before I decided to get on the ferry again and see her in the hospital. She deteriorated quickly, and it was clear she wasn’t well because instead of insulting me when I walked into the ICU she told me my hair looked nice. I leaned in to kiss her forehead, bangs matted down to her yellow shell. My dad, brother, and his girlfriend had been there most of the day. They were all puffy and swollen from crying. It was 8:20 PM, and suddenly, time mattered, because the ICU nurse told me I had to leave.

“Can you stay with me tonight, just in case?” She rolled her eyes at me to lighten the overtone that “just in case” meant, “if I die tonight, I don’t want to die by myself.” 

I crumbled in front of her, saying I wasn’t allowed but I loved her, and walked away as her lip quivered and she called out for the dog. 

When they called to say she fell into a coma that evening I felt a bizarre combination of relief and panic. I didn’t have to rush to the hospital, but I felt an obligation to do so. She lay in the same bed, eyes closed, writhing around in pain and I sat next to her and just put my hand on her arm. I told her I wasn’t going anywhere and she moaned and turned her head to the sound of my voice. We were met with a doctor who told us she had a ballpark 12 hours left to live. The finality of that – the time put on life – sent me into a spiral and I had to walk out of the room. What the fuck was happening? Why was this happening to me?

I wrote her eulogy, my head splitting open in a way that I never imagined possible. I thought I was dying too. I hadn’t showered in days, I saw people coming in and out that I barely recognized; my own family seemed like shadows. Someone brought brownies, another sodas, another baby wipes – I was in an alien environment and suddenly needed to be taken care of by everyone around me. I lost function. I became sub-human. There was a point where the only thing I could perform was the writing of Patricia’s eulogy. Talking about who she was made it easier to forget that she was technically no longer there.

We tried to swap funny stories and reminisce of her self-proclaimed title of “real estate slut” as opposed to being a broker. She rarely cried. She had a sick, dark, wonderful sense of humor. She fed everyone. She loved our family dog more than us – I was relatively confident of that. She didn’t deserve to die the way she was. 

A somber tone hit the group at once. There were about ten or so of us sardine-canned into the hospital room, some seated in the window will, a couple tossed onto chairs like old clothes, the rest of us stood, myself included. We looked around uncomfortably, mostly avoiding eye contact although the stench of sadness hung over all of us like a fog. Miraculously, Patricia began to move in her bed. Everyone jumped at the sight of a comatose, technically brain-dead woman rolling around and we all began to collectively panic. We realized quickly that someone, in their awkward, depressed shifting around, leaned on the bed controls and pressed down on a lateral lift, causing my mother’s body to pitch hard to starboard while we all looked on helplessly, trying to figure out which button made it stop.

“Oh my god! Oh my god,” my mom’s friend shouted out as my father threw himself onto her body to prevent her from rolling onto the floor. Hands went over mouths and people began to gasp until one of our family friends, an EMT, stopped the roll and lowered her back to a stable, flat position. It took all of five seconds for me to burst out into laughter after witnessing the dumpster fire that was my family. 

“She would have laughed at that.”

Her death was far less climatic than her accidental resurrection. I actually woke up to a phone call from my best friend asking me how she was coming along. When I rolled over, she took her last two breaths. There weren’t angels to come take her soul away; no soft sound of harps and horns. There was only the buzzing fluorescent tubes above us and the hiss of an oxygen machine. She and I were alone together. It was 12 days before her 52nd birthday. 

Self Actualizing Shit Show

The phrase, “I really love you,” in American Sign Language is awfully similar to the sign for the Shocker, which is funny because that’s the same phrase my ex kept telling me while we recounted all the ways he fucked me over during the span of a year. He, like other uninformed hearing-abled people who might not understand what a person is signing to them, got the phrase, “I really love you,” confused with fucking me over. It’s the twist in the ASL sign that throws people off, I guess.

The day after the Super Bowl, my boyfriend texted me to tell me that he wanted to hang out before he had work that night. I welcomed it, because he went home early from his brewery job the night before and I didn’t get to spend much time with him. He said he’d felt sick that whole weekend. I felt bad for him. He worked so much we’d barely seen each other – I even wrote down in my journal that most of our time spent together in December was asleep in bed. So, I welcomed his visit. When he showed up he looked like he had two black eyes and like he hadn’t slept. I asked him to tell me what was wrong, but he just held me. 

“I haven’t been honest with you, Kait.” 

Weird, how I almost knew it was coming. Strange how I have a habit of stuffing down bad vibes because I find difficulty trusting myself, even though I knew I should have walked away from him the first time he “lost his phone,” or, “didn’t really use Facebook that much,” or even, “I don’t know why my mom didn’t accept your friend request; maybe she doesn’t remember your last name.” Funny, those rose-colored glasses that make all red flags look like flags. Hindsight being 20/20, I should have broken up with him when he returned one of my Tupperware containers before washing it out. Disrespectful.   

I sat next to him on my bed and found myself unable to cry. As someone who can practically cry on command, I couldn’t understand where this physical response was coming from. His whole explanation felt rehearsed. I realized it when he blindly handed me a tissue.

“I’m not crying.” I handed it back and he looked at me with giant, wet eyes and blew his nose with it. I saw a tinge of disbelief on his face; he knew I was a crier.

Maybe, at the time, my mind simply couldn’t process enough of what was going on in order to make appropriate reactions. Maybe it was shock; maybe I could see through his bullshit and even my subconscious knew he was undeserving of the same tears I shed for my grandfather only three weeks earlier. I truly believe for a while that night that I was just cried-out from all the heartache I endured in January. All the vulnerability – all the trust – I allowed someone to see me in a light that very few people witness, and he accepted it and moved onto others with the same goal of emotional conquest in mind. I felt betrayed, let down, defeated, and foolish. He lied about Pop. In that moment, his deceit held the upper-hand on my self-assurance. And that’s when I cried.

I hate not understanding things, on a whole. People, though, absolutely blow my mind and I am in a constant internal struggle about understanding and trusting them. Back to my extreme frustration in math class; to what motivated my mother to drink herself to death. Not knowing how or why a thing operates always dwelled on me. It took years to accept that I’m just destined to write and not worry about calculus; I still have not fully accepted why people do the things they do. 

Loyalty though; honesty, commitment – should be clean cut. That I understand. If I tell someone they can trust me with something, it’s because they can. If I don’t think I can be trusted, I don’t accept the responsibility. It comes down to morality. With my ex, it made me question my own judgment and how bad I thought I was with trusting who I thought was the right person. Eventually I took my head out of my hands and wiped my face. 

“How am I supposed to trust someone again?” The question was rhetorical. I stared off into space as I said it. He stupidly answered.

“Don’t worry. You’re an amazing person and someday you’ll find -”

“Shut the fuck up.”

His clammy, guilty hand retracted from where he placed it on my knee and he recoiled into himself. Something deep inside me snapped in that moment and I swear to God it’s what a Pokemon must feel like when it’s evolving. I turned into a motherfucking Charizard. I inhaled a room full of hot, gross lies and self-doubt and sadness, and exhaled and absolute hellfire bitch-rage of done with this. He started to sob. I felt the veins in my neck pulse as I screamed and shook the walls and maybe a light bulb blew out I don’t really remember. He kept crying and turning his head away from me. I didn’t care.
“I can’t look at you. I can’t look at what I did to you,” he said through sobs. That made me angrier. This escalated inside of me to something that surpassed just my relationship with him. It was a dissemination of my self-doubt. It was a double barrel, sawed-off shotgun point blank at my past.

“Look me in my fucking face.” I was met with the eyes of a terrified boy. I suddenly felt disgusted. He was scared. He had no idea what he caused but he still caused a whole pile of shit. I didn’t feel bad for him. I pitied him – someone who was almost 30 years old and clearly never had experience in one of the greatest gifts on this earth – a genuine human relationship.  

“Who the fuck are you?”

The evening disintegrated. There was so much crying and him begging me to not leave his life – me foolishly considering taking him back because I still couldn’t entirely believe that he did all the things he did. After he left my house that night he told me he really loved me. I went back upstairs and sat on my bed, alone, with the stench of regret and the death of our relationship hanging in the air. The girl he cheated with reached out to me. He left her a two-minute voicemail on his way back from my house, begging her for a second chance too. I got my house key back three days later; he wouldn’t respond to me for fear or shame – I don’t really know. More tears, more anger – but most of all, confusion, and I was rid of the situation. I never deleted his number. I couldn’t. No one could hate him more than he hated himself, and it felt good to know he knew I was still there, existing in the world. His actions were unforgivable. Then again, even Mark Twain asked, “But who prays for Satan?”  

Why Write

“Do you ever feel the urge to drink to the point of poisoning yourself?”

Never.

I want to be everything she could have been. Before the demons. Before all of her horrible fucking decisions. I want to wake up at 52 years old and think to myself I did it. I dragged her memory as the weight of her corpse along with me to a point where she never got to tread. I feel like I’m in a constant battle of honoring her and being burdened by her. I’m at a crossroads where – seven and a half years later – I still get asked if I ever feel the itch; I don’t ever feel the itch to suffer like she did. At 28, I’ve already suffered enough.

I just got back from a destination wedding in Mexico. It was a beautiful ceremony; I wrote it for my friend, and was so humbled and honored to do so.  I was a bridesmaid. The tequila was flowing, there was zero drama, but I had my little demons. My spies who sat back and watched these beautiful intimate moments between the bride and her mother and scratched on the chalkboard of my mind and said, “You’ll never have this. Ever.” And I just suck it up, smile, excuse myself as to avoid crying and stuff it down because I don’t want to look like I’m making one of my best friend’s weddings about me. I watch their moments like a sappy movie. Everything is romanticized. I look away. I don’t want to. I want to feel what they feel. I want to experience the love of a sober mother.

I never thought my mother didn’t love me. Even at her worst, at her angriest, I never questioned her love. There is a serious influence, though, when a person is so unwaveringly discontent with their own existence that it affects everything and everyone around them. My mother’s self-loathing and resentment left a black spot on everything she came into contact with – including her children. Especially her children. Each time she extended herself to help another I could see a little more of her cup empty out. The closer she got to the bottom of her emotional well, the fuller her wine glass became. And it took almost 21 years before wine no longer did the trick. She opted for Absolut hidden behind the washing machine, in laundry baskets, behind the coffee. The day after she died, the basement flooded with sewage and empty bottles of vodka floated out from behind the dryer. It was like she was communicating from beyond the grave just to say, “You stupid fucks. I was doing it right under your noses. Have fun dealing with the shit show. XOXO, Patricia.” I laughed to myself that day as my dad sponged up a lake of shit knowing my vindictive mother was rolling somewhere in the veil between the dead and the living. She probably heard some of the angry comments he made towards her while she was in a coma and thought, “Let me put a pin in this.” She was always so creative. My dad was certainly experiencing his own inner turmoil; his father died from alcohol related complications in February of 1991. I never knew Grand-pop but from the stories, he was an angry son of a bitch who took out most of his rage on his five children. I always wondered what compelled my dad to continue in that cycle. He doesn’t drink at all, but that’s because of his heart and bipolar disorder medication.

In the midst of literal and metaphorical raw sewage, I existed, suspended, in an unfamiliar ooze that may or may not have been a mental crack. One of my mother’s favorite sayings was, “Murphy’s Law! If it can go wrong, it will!” She said it so fucking much that I believed for a long time that she just cursed our family. I know now – obviously – that her choices were what created the Murphy’s Law. I spent the months leading up to her death studying abroad at the University of Oxford. It was one of the best summers of my life; I had every intention of going back.  I was invited to apply to earn a Master’s in Critical Literary Theory. But Murphy’s Law happened – it was too good to be true. Those dreams imploded the moment I saw her die. Literally everything in my life lost its value in her last two breaths.

I’m afraid to search for home videos with her voice on them because I don’t know if I’ll find what I’m looking for and the expectation feels daunting. My dad deleted her message off the answering machine because he couldn’t stand to hear her anymore, not thinking that maybe I still needed my mother. I’m not mad at him – not anymore. Grief is really good at fucking people up. Death is the easy part, I learned. It’s the aftermath that’s torturous. The old photos, the dust coupled with blame and anguish – a disgusting stew which we are forced to eat because, ultimately, it will nourish us. Grief nourishes us. Pain heals us. Those who refuse the meal of reality become emotionally starved and that hunger leeches off people brave enough to swallow the stew. That’s why families become so turbulent so often after a death – not everyone has had their fill. And that’s just an exaggerated metaphor of the saying, “The only way out is through,” or Churchills, “If you’re going through Hell, keep going.” It’s cliche as ever, but who honestly wants to dwell in that type of pain? It’s why I write so much about those experiences; I don’t want them living in my brain, starving me of life. I write about my mother’s addiction because it’s cathartic; because it helps me cope with my PTSD; because I want to help others feel less alone in their burdens.

I turned to writing as a result of one therapist constantly asking me if I was suicidal and another telling me I seemed very self aware and she didn’t think she could tell me something I didn’t already know. It still feels good to vent to a professional every once in a while but I have found for myself that introspection reigns supreme. I notice my energy becomes volatile if I don’t get out what I have to. There’s this little internal battle where I question if I truly have a story to tell of if I just didn’t get enough attention as a child. Insecurity is a friend to the offspring of an addict because people like my mother are professionals at imposing their own shortcomings onto their young. Like an abused animal loyal to its keeper, I knew no different in my house. I knew I was loved, but I also knew I was fat, I’d never get a boyfriend with hair like mine, I looked like as sausage, and I was a fucking pig. But she was also proud of me; I was an academic. I was kind to everyone but I didn’t take any shit. But I took her shit. I took it because, how could she mean any of it? I could just go hide in the closet with a sleeve of Oreos and get straight A’s and she would still drink, but maybe less if my hair was better. If I was skinnier. If I took up another extracurricular.

The harsh reality comes when it’s revealed that people – even our parents – won’t change for anyone but themselves. My mother steadily increased her intake year after year, and no amount of community service, college education, or Oxford admittance made her want to stop. I became a bootleg psychologist trying to learn and understand what makes an addict work, mostly because I was absolutely fed up with blaming myself, and asking what else could I have dont to make her want to continue on. The harsh reality is she woke up each day a little less herself while I woke up each day a little closer to who I’m meant to be. The cards and drawings and memories together decayed in her rotting mind and she slowly succumbed to a monster she didn’t even know she let in until it became her. Photos meant nothing and her life turned into a theoretical experience rather than an actual life, and while she wandered aimlessly I sat opposite her and her curling cigarette smoke still believing she’d snap out of it. Because she loved me. But she hated herself more. Then she died. Nothing fit together anymore and I quickly realized how much she held me together. If she only knew how vital she was. Suddenly my world went dark and my degree meant nothing and I had no home and I felt abandoned and unloved. Her phone number no longer worked and her voice was gone and the contents of my life fit inside a 5×5 storage unit. Then one day, before my fifth move in four years, I open a box to see a card addressed to “Boop,” my nickname from her. And the card says, “You are the Author of Your Life.” And it says, “I love you with all my heart, Mom.” And I hear her voice again. And I go to my fifth home and I write.

When I Dream of my Mother

I often wonder what moment

for you was the pistol

and what moment

was the decision to pull

the trigger.

It’s usually a split

decision that moves like

an indiscernible

brush stroke, uniform –

An obvious beginning

and end but no sign

of the climax.

I often wonder what life

you would have led

if you didn’t stay –

If you didn’t say yes

to a rock that was below

your worth –

If you didn’t measure

your life in poorly

assembled dominoes –

A uniformity doomed from the moment

you began self-medicating.

You were never meant to fall straight.

Would you have

remained

in the Native Land

with red clay to call

home and ground yourself

to ancient beings who never fell from the sky?

Who would you have become

if you stopped

holding on so hard?

I may have never been

but I speculate the sacrifice

would have been worth you knowing

old age.

For who she was

It was never a question of whether or not I wanted to be like the woman my mother was, but rather the fear that I would fade away into darkness like she did. The person I came to know was someone I hardly knew at all, and by the time she died I felt like I watched a stranger die. Her last breaths before me were foreign and unforgettable. It was a strange disconnect to feel like I stopped knowing who she was long before I ever lost her. Seeing her in the hospital bed, the shell of the fabled Super Woman all her friends talked about, but the shell that I learned to accept as my mother. I knew that who she became was someone I never wanted to be. But who she was – that was someone worth knowing.

The older I got, the stronger the hold alcohol took on my mother – the more sheltered she became. She projected a lifestyle onto me that was shrouded in projections of physical insecurities and gaslighting that I didn’t understand until my mid-twenties. Growing up in a household so toxic groomed me to believe that I didn’t know what I wanted – or needed for that matter. It was as if nothing was ever good enough if it was of my own design. No matter what I suggested, I was met with resistance and aggression; I told my mother I signed up to take Spanish in school and she was infuriated that I wasn’t learning French. When I was a teenager, I expressed the need to go to the eye doctor and she was insistent that I only “wanted” glasses to look cool, as if she forgot I had to wear an eye patch as a baby for issues with my vision. I didn’t get glasses until I was 17 and now I wear bifocals for my astigmatism and nearsightedness. And even when I was in college and separated my shoulder playing rugby, my mother told me my injury was superficial and as a result I lost the range of motion in my left arm from never receiving physical therapy. No matter what the issue was, if she thought she knew better then her word was bond. I was compliant because I was the child, I didn’t know better. She was queen because she was mother, she knew best.

My mother wasn’t always like that, though. She wasn’t the woman who was afraid to drive more than 30 minutes away from home and refused to drive on a highway. She was loud, funny, sharp-witted, and adventurous. She was a real estate entrepreneur who spent more than ten years making a name for herself in the industry as a broker. Her childhood friends – who I am still very close with – described her as a talented writer, a comedian, a partier, a road-tripper, and a wonderful, honest companion. The woman I got growing up was overbearing, sheltered me, body-shamed me, and eventually just expected me to do well for the fear of being met with something else that might trigger her to drink more. Part of me wishes that I grew up beside her and got to know the person her friends missed so much; When she died, so many old friends approached me saying how “like her” I was. I couldn’t believe that I was anything like the woman in the casket. She was angry and refused to take credit for me being successful in anyway. “You’re just like your grandmothers,” she wrote in the last email I ever received, when I was sitting in my bedroom at Oxford University. She never said, “You’re like your mother.” I hated that. I hated that we were so disconnected, especially towards the end of her life when I was growing into a woman who wanted nothing more than to relate to the one who made me.

After her death and following my graduation from college, I tried to learn a bit more about who my mother was before she became the alcoholic recluse who raised me. I knew she was skilled operating a sailboat. She learned to waterski barefoot when she was a teenager, something I never learned. When she was young, she told her mother that she was going to visit girlfriends in Florida but instead moved to the Southwest for three months to live with a boyfriend. She snuck out of her bedroom window enough times that my grandfather silently nailed her window shut from the outside. She went to concerts, smoked weed, and hung out late. Who was this person?  How do I become closer to someone who isn’t here?

Now, at 28, I learned the best way to honor a relationship I never had is to live my life as the person she was before her disease consumed her. I experience life as if she was young and next to me, and living through me. I have traveled the world, gone on spontaneous, day-long road trips. I’ve encountered strange people in interesting places. I’ve been too drunk, up too late, and I’ve also gone to bed too early. I made a name for myself like I saw her do when I was younger. I forgave her for my childhood. I embraced her adventurousness and created my own adventures.