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?”  

Life Meal

Has your life been good or bad ?

Ask if someone lived

a life that falls in the same question range

as a meal in a restaurant.

How was your meal? Was it good or bad?

Was the date good or bad?

Or was your life just life?

Was your life filled with bad moments

that were ultimately good for you,

or tasty, succulent moments that ended

badly?

Was there a slow sip of morning that felt like tea in Fall,

or a sudden forceful gust of wind

that hit like the first swim of late Spring?

How many cold nights did you wake up from?

How many walks did you take alone?

How many savory nights were spent in the minds

of your friends?

So rather than your life be good or bad –

are you full?

Magenta

I have a garden that’s in front of my condo and unfortunately the soil is a sand/soil mixture but mostly sand and not many of my flowers flourish in these conditions. Sand/soil mixtures are great for succulents or cacti but I prefer a nice menagerie of color in the summer. My main reason for maintaining a garden in the warmer months is because my condo sits on a busy street and everyone on my row has a garden – manicured, clipped, mulched. The first year I lived at my home, my neighbor asked me probably a dozen times if and when I was planning on putting a garden in.

“Everyone here does a nice garden.”

Well keep your eyes open, lady. As a houseplant mom, I prefer to keep the inside of my dwelling sprawled with greenery but I can get dirty no problem. I used to manage a greenhouse in Massachusetts. I know how to not kill things.

This year I completely disregarded a color scheme and slapped every possible flower that I thought would live in my front garden. Of the mess I made, my African daisies bloomed. They’re an amazing shade of bright magenta and they basically just scream at me when I walk past them to get into my house. I love it. They stand out so much and they’re loud and vibrant and they bring me joy. What I learned about magenta, though, is that it isn’t actually a color.

Magenta is defined as “an extra-spectral color, meaning that it is not found in the visible spectrum of light. Rather, it is physiologically and psychologically perceived as the mixture of red and violet/blue light, with the absence of green.” I find that absolutely fascinating. It’s amazing that our brains are so thrown off by the absence of something as common and known as the color green, that it creates an amazing hue using whatever it has left to work with. It also makes me wonder, since magenta is our own brain’s perception – how different magenta will look to other people who see it. Do people walk past my house and see the African daisy as loud and bold and beautiful as I do? Or is it perception, like happiness or sadness?

People can be lacking so many things, like money, or a new car, or a boyfriend, or a parent – but what magenta are they creating? What, with every other color available – with every other thing they have (or blessing, however you want to see it) – are they creating? If magenta was a life, how bright would it be? I get down sometimes and I always embrace a good cry, but I also have one of the brightest fucking African daisies on the block. How does everyone else see their own garden?

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.

“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.

You are not Gone

Winter finally came after an impossibly warm December. My hand touched the case which would take you away forever, after I already lost you forever. My hand print held onto the metal and wood for only a moment and I saw each time we held hands. And I saw my mother’s hands. I saw the hands I would never hold again. The winter took you away. As we stood outside in the below-freezing January wind, I thought to myself this was the least we could do for you. You survived prison camp; you marched 18 days to what was supposed to be your death during one of the coldest winters in the history of Europe. You survived on stolen root vegetables and a bartered egg. And when you returned home you still managed to be one of the kindest souls to exist in this place where we live.

I was a minute too late. The doorbell rang three times and with no answer I knew that something was wrong. On the drive to you I thought to myself if they gave you your last rites. I thought, of course you were given your last rites. Of course you would be forgiven. Of course you were a good man. In that minute I felt regret for you dying alone. Silent. Alone. A minute too late. And it’s funny how that minute took away the 28 years I had spent with you awake. 28 years exchanged for a minute was not worth it and in that minute – that time gave me 28 years worth of pain. That much pain came out in heaves rather than sounds. Tears came out like glass and I felt every single one as a future reminder to moments I will not get back and moments I will never experience. I was stripped bare of that energy; that soul is gone. It was suddenly cold and frightening and the choice was to remain there, on the floor of the hospice center, or face the body you left behind in suite number four.

You used to leave me notes when we lived together. They would always start with “K-” and list your daily tasks. If you left the house before I woke up, you would simply write, “GOOD MORNING” in big, blocked handwriting that always reminded me of Legos as a child and I never knew why. When you lay there in the hospice center, writhing around in your own head, you opened your eyes for a moment. You looked up and saw me, standing over you, adjusting your blanket because I knew you always liked your hands tucked in. “Good morning,” you said with a faint, genuine smile. It was eight in the evening. The pallor of your face, the whiteness that is associated with any hospital setting was dimmed by how unbelievably bright your blue eyes looked in that moment. I said “good morning” back to you and tucked you in. You smiled. Then, in a flash, I disappeared in your eyes and you became fixated on something – someone else – in front of you. Your eyes lowered and your brows furrowed. “What?” you leaned your head forward as far as you could, “Oh. Well, alright then I’ll come with you.” I stopped you and asked where you were going. You didn’t explain, just repeated that you had to go. I knew you had to go.