Under here, Underwear

Today marks eight years since my mother died and I am honoring it by purchasing new bras for myself – and not just because my dog has gone on some weird, hateful, and very personal vendetta against my current collection. His kill count has reached three in three months and at this rate I’m convinced he’s a Vietnam War-era bra burner stuck in a dogs’ body. My purchase of new undergarments is strictly for the little bits of self care that go completely overlooked by so many people these days.

I used to help my mom fold laundry all throughout my childhood. We’d park ourselves on the living room floor with two baskets of clean clothes in between us and just fold away. Usually through some deeply engaging movie like The Color Purple, she and I would be matching socks and ugly crying together. I swear it would take us at least an hour just to fold a week’s worth of socks for four people because Oprah would be on screen absolutely taking my teenage breath away. I’d fold my dad’s undershirts for work, my brother’s jeans, my own clothes – and my mom would fold a little bit of everything – glass of wine nearby – but always her own underwear and bras and pantyhose. One night, she told me very indignantly, “All of my goddamn underwear have holes in them!”

Easy fix. “Mom, why don’t you go buy yourself some new underwear?”

“I’m too busy taking care of the rest of you all.”
I thought that was a very silly thing to say considering she and I both shopped in the women’s section at the local Walmart or Target. Why couldn’t she just pick up a pack of Hanes and call it a day? Her bitterness towards her holey underwear and considering the time of day (nighttime meant drunk) led me to drop my questioning very quickly. And, for the rest of her life – 20 years of my own – I probably saw her purchase underwear for herself maybe twice.

Nowadays if I get an email from Aerie, telling me they’re selling underwear 10 for $27, my ass is down at the mall faster than I can screenshot the coupon code onto my phone. Some people don’t like Aerie underwear and that’s fine, but if I have some underwear at home with a hole in the lace or a stretched out elastic band I replace it. First of all, I feel like underwear just isn’t made like it used to be; Everything is on the extremes of granny panties to lace and very little in between at times. Secondly, I love the feeling of having new underwear because it’s like a little secret of self care that no ones sees daily but it’s something I’m consciously doing for myself.

My mom’s excuse of not being able to buy underwear because she was too busy taking care of everyone else wasn’t about the underwear at all. It was about the fact that she was so far gone in her own world of self care that she couldn’t even muster to do a positive thing for herself that no one else saw. When she and I had that conversation I was about Junior High/High School age, and only a few short years later, she was gone right before my eyes. Her anger at not being able to go out and buy some basics for herself was more like a cry that she had such little feeling of self control or autonomy that something as simple as new underwear was out of the question. No one could see that she was doing it for herself, so why do it? No one could see her surrender to alcoholism either until it was too late, so why stop? She hid her vices in cabinets and behind washing machines and at the bottom of hampers, but she couldn’t have a little good thing for herself hidden.

Now, makeup, lipstick, hair dye, blush – things that everyone else could see, things that she could slap on and give the illusion of taking care of herself were fair game. Except nine times out of ten she’d send me into the store to buy it for her while she waited in the car.

“I can’t go in there like this. Here, you know the shade of lipstick, Burnt Amethyst.” It would roll out of her mouth like a junkie about to get his or her next fix. She never left the house without lipstick on. She never left the house without mascara. And god forbid her ever stepping a foot outside without dyed hair and large, impressive bangs.

We can advertise our outward self care until we’re blue in the face but what are we doing in private for ourselves that no one can see or assess? This post about my mom is pretty different from what I normally talk about, but I think it’s important to acknowledge that we are all going to face some struggle at one point or another, and it’s what we choose to do for ourselves when no one is watching that really determine where we are in our path of self care or self help. The word self is right there. If we think we’re too busy taking care of someone else (or more than one someone) to do something as simple as buying some new under garments, then maybe it’s time to assess where our energy is going.

Today, my energy is going to a little bit of self care (hopefully on sale) that I can put on before my clothes and my war paint and face the day knowing I’m covering bases, even the little ones. No one’s care is worth having uncomfortable, worn out underwear over. And to broaden that for anyone who still thinks this post is only about underpants, take care of yourself, even if others can’t see it. You shouldn’t be in a competition to be the one who can put yourself out there for others the most; You shouldn’t burden yourself with folding the world’s laundry if yours are in tatters. You’ll only resent those around you if you enter the cycle of being the fixer and the caregiver. Love yourself a little bit today.

Sober September

I’ve chosen to challenge myself to a Sober September. I am not an addict, nor do I feel myself heading down a path of dependency on substance. I do, however, feel like I need to clear my mind, body, and soul. And one of the easiest ways to do that is to eliminate things such as alcohol. Admittedly I have been experience a bit of anxiety and stress that leads me to look forward to my days off – more for the socialization than anything, but IPA is almost always involved. In my head, I don’t want to condition myself to start subconsciously associating days off-with-friends-with-booze. I should also make a note that I don’t get drunk every weekend, but I have a deep-seated insecurity that forming a habit involving a substance will turn me into my mother. September 26th will be eight years without her already, and I’d like to bring an awareness to the importance of healthy, conscious decisions.  

It all comes down to simply clearing my soul. It feels cloudy right now when I close my eyes and try to look at myself. I’m not a fan of that – not going to lie. I feel like I’ve been trying so hard to do everything at once that I’ve forgotten what to be grateful for. I kicked up so much dust and then complained that I couldn’t breathe, that I couldn’t see. When I went through my break-up this winter, and all the funerals, I went into serious overdrive by applying myself to whatever my desperate little tentacles could grab. 197 job applications (no joke. Wish I was joking. Not joking.), constant travel, minimal downtime; an injured animal wildly throwing its body around at whatever unseen force it senses in a last-ditch attempt to scare the being away. The being in my situation was (is) life. I got sloppy. I never stopped once this summer to think that maybe the thing in front of me was just my life, and my healing. I kicked around whatever I could as if I could outrun myself. I just assumed that life wasn’t good to me for a while so I was going to make it worthwhile on my own terms, and as a result I forgot about all the good that’s already there. I have been “self care” button mashing for months and it’s gotten me nowhere except gifted me more anxiety attacks. Self care is a slippery slope, because sometimes the things that are best for us don’t feel so great. Sometimes you need to stop and acknowledge you are hurt, that you are scuffed up, and that you’re only going to hurt yourself more if you don’t let the wounds be for a while. 

For September, I wrote down what I’m grateful for: 

  • I have a roof over my head that I’ve sustained on my own for over three years.
  • I have a wonderfully goofy, giant, loving puppy who challenges my patience and also forces me to socialize and exercise.
  • I have a job that pays me money regardless of how little each month I get to toss into savings.
  • I have passions like writing, painting, and collecting old books.
  • I have been able to be a good friend, and I have good friends.
  • This year alone I’ve traveled to three states, gone out of the country, and have a trip booked for my birthday week at the end of October – something not everyone is able to do. 
  •  I did not become my mother, and used her tragic loss and my experience with addiction to share my story and help others.
  • I’ve been in love, even if that love hurt me. 
  • I’m a damn good cook.

I am equal parts cynicism and hope.

I Broke up with my Therapist

Jodi has been my email therapist since my break-up in February. It was when I was still sleeping fourteen hours a day, not showering, not eating, not leaving my house that I realized it was probably best to reach out to someone. I stopped recognizing myself and that frightened me, because I spent so many years trying to get to know me better. Suddenly, I wasn’t there anymore. It wasn’t being in the dark – it was being the dark. 

The break-up was the breaking point, I guess. There were the deaths before that; the stress of the relationship before it imploded and then released an amalgam of lies and cheating and false identity. It amazed me how repulsed I became by someone I loved so deeply, and the true root of it was he didn’t know who he was – he never got to know himself. He couldn’t face his past in a way that allowed him to grow upwards out of it, rather, he rolled around in the filth and tried to play himself off as polished.

Polished shit is still shit.

I just didn’t think I was able to have my heart broken further than it already was. I didn’t think anyone could hurt me after seeing the hurt I had been through for sixth months prior. But that’s what’s funny with people – selfish people – they do what they want, oftentimes devoid of conscience. And I still loved him for a time after. I wanted him to be alright because I knew I was stronger than him and I honestly thought he broke himself in the process. I knew he didn’t break me, because I already know me. I just became afraid of myself in the end. That’s when I reached out for someone to talk to. 

My counselor was at the tips of my furiously typing fingers for months. I was reaching out to her multiple times a day, lost and wandering around in the shell of myself. I had zero guidance and for the first time in my 28 years I truly was unable to figure out how to unlock my torment. Things came out of me that I thought I cleansed years prior; moments and experiences that unfolded like a flower and I realized that no, I was not completely OK to begin with. But that was OK. I needed an unbiased third party who I could tell my darkest secrets to without having to look them in the eyes. It was critical for my healing to say things that I never said to anyone, for some weird Catholic fear that I’d be punished if the words existed in the open. I whittled myself down – once again – for the sake of un-becoming the dark that I took on in the winter of this year. I realized too, unfortunately, how many awful things I’ve endured in my life. I know I’m not the only one, but there were so many moments that peppered my youth that I thought at one point were normal. The stupid saying panged the back of my head, “God only gives you what you can handle. Remember that!” I chose to remind whoever that I can also handle an abundance of good. 

Therapy made me question if I’m truly grateful for the things I have, or if I’m selfish for constantly wanting more. It helped me to establish for myself a boundary point of striving beyond my means and living beyond my means. I have felt less materialistic in the last few months. I haven’t tried to reach out for disingenuous connections with men who couldn’t care less that I’ve seen death or that my youth molded me into a person who is hardened while maintaining an unbelievably sensitive core. Therapy made me look at myself in a way I wasn’t able to alone. 

Then I woke up today and realized the last email I sent my therapist was a four-month progress photo of my rescue dog, Randall, who I took into my home this April. That was twelve days ago. My mom’s eight-year anniversary is coming up next month and I don’t feel overly anxious or depressed about it like other years.  I am no longer ashamed to say that I resented my mother – not for who she was – rather, for the choices she made that destroyed who she was. Her reliance on alcohol fueled her belief that she could not function as a human without ether as a catalyst. Booze was her God and her Devil – her Heaven and her Hell – and she just existed somewhere in the middle. And while I don’t find myself reliant on booze to be someone in the world, it scares me to be like her one day. It’s why I ask for help even if I’m embarrassed or afraid because, yeah, sometimes we can’t handle it all on our own. That’s when we get sloppy and selfish in a way that is detrimental to ourselves as well as those who care about us. 

I emailed Jodi and I thanked her for her help. I told her that I’m me again. I’m not the dark anymore – not completely enlightened either – but I’m balanced. I unfolded upwards and I look down at all the dirt I came out of, and I am appreciative of how the mess below me nurtured me to be the person I grew into – someone my mother would be proud of, more importantly someone I’m proud of. 

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. 

Trunk space

I’ve lived with anxiety and depression for the majority of my adult life. Rather than say, “I’ve struggled” with either, I’ll take away any controlling factor and simply state, “I have lived.” They are like annoying roommates who mostly keep to themselves and then one of them clogs the toilet and doesn’t say anything, so it just overflows until I find it and then I’m stuck with the mess. I use the analogy of the toilet because a clogged toilet both makes me anxious and also a little sad. Feel free to insert whatever analogy works for you.

When my anxiety creeps up, I want to impulse eat. I want to yell. I want to run away. When I feel depressed, I want to hug my dog and live in my bed under the covers until dark and never come out. Luckily for my dog, I have extreme issues with guilt and an overwhelmingly responsibility to take care of others so it never lasts long and he inspires me to go outside, or for a trail walk, or to play fetch.

Tonight was a little different, though. I just really wanted to take a nap. I really wanted to drift off for a couple of hours and wake up a little less drowned in my own thoughts. This didn’t happen, though. The universe – and nature – decided a flash flood would be scheduled for 7 PM and I was woken with what sounded like a tornado running down my street. My dog and I both shot up and I heard my phone going off to the emergency alert system. I looked out the window and saw my neighbor Joan’s car parked with the trunk wide open.

Joan is elderly. She’s sweet, the right amount of nosy that any old woman should be, and my dog is her number one fan. She always forgets to close her trunk. Her husband had major surgery recently and she’s been inundated with helping him. There have been nurses and family members in and out of the condo next to mine in order to make sure Joan’s husband has the proper care. It makes me think of my grandpa and how rough the medical care was on the family and him for the last few months of his life. Her husband has improved, though, which makes me happy to hear.

So back to Joan’s damn trunk. I don’t even think about it, just say, “Dammit, Joan!” I throw on some pants and a tee and run outside like a mad woman and slam the trunk before the rain gets too bad. I don’t tell her. I don’t make a scene; just prevent a soggy trunk and run back into the house. When I closed the door it hit me – no matter how stuck I feel, regardless of how fucked up things may seem, I (or you) always have a purpose. There is always a purpose to do even the smallest thing for an unwitting person. I (you) always have a place in this world, even if it’s just closing some old lady’s trunk in a flash flood.

Leeches

The more I’ve stepped away from people not vibing with my life the better I’ve felt. I’m a textbook empath and I had a conversation last night with a friend about how, if I’m in a social setting with too much going on, I feel absolutely drained and exhausted and want to just go home and take a nap. I’ve written once before somewhere that I feel like people’s energies siphon off of me and I can’t make it not happen but I don’t know why. It’s frustrating to be self aware but not understand how to protect my energy from other people.

The easiest remedy has been to walk away from certain people. The biggest obstacle is my weird-ass form of guilt. The, “But what if something happens to them?” That reaction. It’s super unfortunate that it took for me to be cheated on, for my grandfather’s name to be marred, for some ultimate betrayal by one person I loved so much for me to realize, “Oh wait, they don’t really care how any of their decisions affect you.” The decision then comes to just nut up and move along. Honestly? Feels great. I have been on this wild uptick for four months. Even with the unwavering denials from literary agent after literary agent, I’ve felt the most alive since winter. Some people with literally suck the life force out of us and it’s kind of scary because I’ve realized that we, as humans, are almost too advanced in the sense that we rely so heavily on logic we tend to forget energy exists. There are things we cannot see that exist that have control and influence in our lives. I don’t mean Law of Attraction stuff. Not if I believe it and call to it then I’ll get it. Law of Attraction is great when you choose to also apply yourself to the thing you want. You can’t declare you want a thousand dollars and then spend all your money every week. The good things come, but to those who try. To those who ditch the bullshit people who want a piece of whatever will benefit them. Drop those people. They aren’t people. They’re leeches.

Anxiety

I feel like part of my anxiety is stemming from the fact that I am 28 years old, and when my mom was 28, she was already more than halfway through her life – she just didn’t know it yet. And I’m writing this book about my grandparents and literally sitting in history each day reading love letters and transcribing. I’m stuck in multiple eras. I feel everything. I’m being pulled in every direction. I’m old and young love, I’m middle aged and a child. I’m my mother and I am myself and I feel spread out among the universe. I don’t know whether or not I have feet in the mortal plane, the immortal plane, and the theoretical plane. I feel everywhere. It’s frightening. Because everywhere long enough just becomes nowhere and that’s the last place I want to be.