Wishful Dying

I wouldn’t say I was a sheltered child, per se. I was, however, regularly threatened prior to social engagements to be on my best behavior or else I would be beaten/ have something taken away/ left somewhere. Only one of those three things ever happened.
It was a weird dynamic growing up in a home with a chain smoking, functioning alcoholic, successful real estate broker and an emotional eating, workaholic, manic depressive father. My parents lacked consistency in regards to their raising techniques; they loved my brother and me, no doubt, but their words of encouragement were generally masked with negative reinforcement and body image put-downs as a motivator to want to be the best we could be. Modern child psychology would argue that telling your overweight child she is a pig and looks like a sausage in her pajamas has the opposite desired effect of being a weight loss inspiration.
Although the under-the-roof pep talks were seething with backhanded compliments and flat out insults, my parents were known to defend me to the death in public settings, especially in regards to my intelligence. When I was in the second grade, my teacher had me placed in remedial math under the impression that I was, in some way, developmentally disabled. Hindsight being 20/20, I don’t entirely blame her. Almost every morning I hid underneath her desk and scared her when she sat down. I challenged kids to water chugging contests in between lessons. I was horrible at math, and I wrote with my book on an almost vertical angle. I did, however, excel in art and writing.
I spent days and days in the library of the elementary school with other autistic children, utilizing coloring books and bright worksheets, listening to stories, and frequently occupying space in the form of circles. I thought I was having a good time, that is to say until my mom received a progress letter in the mail praising how much I excelled in the remedial class that the school transferred me into.
This was the first time I heard my mom use the word “fuck” in all its forms.
“How could you fucking… why the fuck… put Mike on the fucking phone…” Mike was the principal. Mike was also my mom’s boss at one point. Before she made it as a real estate broker, my mom was a waitress, a stay at home mom, and a secretary in the special education department at the school. Even though the door to the kitchen was closed, I watched in awe as she reamed into this man about me, my education, my abilities, and the lack of faith the school had in my performance simply because I was a little eccentric as a young child; I couldn’t act out at home, I never acted out in church – where was I supposed to truly express myself? Where else, other than school, was I going to play pranks on my educators and challenge students to chugging contests that would be the precursor to my college chugging abilities?
Once the conversation ended, by my mother’s own discretion, I was promptly removed from the special education class and put back into the “normal” class, where I resumed my learning sans pranks – by fear of death by parent. I couldn’t help myself at times, though, wanting to be smart and wanting to be funny. Nothing ever added up in my home, so why did it have to add up in my head? I spent the entirety of the second grade with a backpack full of beanie babies and a pink shoe box in my cubby filled with classic rock tapes I stole from my mom’s car. I had Zeppelin, AC/DC, David Bowie, Aerosmith, and Pink Floyd to name a few blasting through my headphones each morning before we sat down to practice cursive; I knew the words to “Another Brick in the Wall” before I knew how to write my own name in the allotted cursive guidelines. My parents didn’t want to limit my experience in life, but there were certainly points where they shielded my experiences with death.
I grew up on a farm in the middle of nowhere on Long Island. We always had animals coming in and out of the house that my dad would save – baby birds, rabbits that the cats tried to eat, an adult quail. My brother and I had pets as well that were full-time, not just save, rehabilitate, and release. We had a large mutt, and two outdoor cats. The cats always got into trouble with other wild animals around the property. They would chase moles, bunnies, stalk birds, or even harass our dog when we took him outside for a walk. The interaction with the animals was never really a concern, until one afternoon my mom spotted a raccoon outside in the backyard.
“That’s weird, it’s the middle of the day; raccoons don’t come out until nighttime.” We sat in the bay window of the kitchen and studied the animal, weeble wobbling from side to side as it wandered closer through the high grass towards our house.
“I think it has rabies.”
“What’s rabies?” I was standing behind my mom, trying to peer out the window with her and observe the animal.
“That means it’s sick. If it’s sick, it could get the cats sick. If the cats get sick, we have a problem.”
“Oh.” Seven year old me didn’t quite understand the complexity of the situation. I thought of rabies as some kind of cold, like what kids got, except only animals could get it. My mom picked up the phone.
“Who are you calling?”
“The police station. We can’t have a sick and wild animal on the property.”
“Are they gonna take it to the hospital?”
“Probably not.”
Within a few minutes a cop showed up to the house and met my mom in the driveway. Cops were only needed for bad situations, I thought. When we watched the show Cops as a family, it was always a bad guy trying to run away. I wondered what the raccoon did to be so bad that the cops had to come. It was only sick, right? Sick people go to the hospital to get better.
My mom walked back down the driveway to the bay window where I was standing, but not before I noticed the cop reach around to his waist belt, slowly approaching the animal. She tapped at the window, “Close the blinds. Don’t look.”
“Why?”
“Kaitlin close the blinds or so help me…”
Anything ending in the words “or so help me” never needed to be finished. I knew what she meant. I closed the blinds and waited for an eternity.
A gunshot is a lot scarier when you don’t see where it’s coming from. My ears rang for a second as I stared long at the cloth curtains of the bay window, little birdhouses lining the trim. I thought it I looked hard enough I’d be able to see through them like magic, but even at seven years old I knew what I’d see. I’d see a cop, standing over a dead raccoon, or my dead mother, with his gun drawn.
When my mom walked back inside I let out a sigh of relief knowing that she didn’t do anything to get herself killed by the cop.
“Where’s the raccoon?”
“The raccoon is dead.”
“Can I open the curtains yet?”
My mom looked over the top of the curtains, past my line of sight, “No.”
“Why did he have to kill it, though?”
“Because it was sick and suffering. And sometimes when animals are sick and suffering, it’s better to put them out of their misery.”
I didn’t want the raccoon to feel misery, but I didn’t think it was fair at the time for it to die. As a child, I lived almost zero; I experienced almost nothing. I knew I wanted to do things, I knew I had dreams. I thought the raccoon, too, had a full life left to live, I didn’t want it to die because it was sick. I wanted it to keep living.
It wasn’t until I was 20 years old, sitting in the bed next to my mom, watching an oxygen mask push air into her otherwise lifeless body that I prayed to whatever god I didn’t know to just take her out of this world. I was exhausted and my head was pounding, and she just lay there, most likely unaware of my presence in any form, her body so frail I could see her carotid artery pulsing in the side of her neck. I counted her breaths, wrote her eulogy, and cried until my head hurt so bad I had to consciously prevent myself from crying. All that existed in those moments was the suffering of life; the lack of living, the suspension of consciousness where I had zero control and just wished for her to stop breathing. I didn’t want her to die, but I knew she would never live again.

Get out of the box

There isn’t much to be said about this bullpen. It’s plain, encased in brick, and unassuming. The ceilings are illuminated by OSHA regulated fluorescent lighting, and the only windows I open are on one of my three computer screens. There are constant echoes of doors opening and closing all about the building, like industrial breathing. Our standardized morale boosters come in the form of a free popcorn maker and complimentary bulk-bought coffee. The walls are a uniform blue-grey that seem to gain inspiration from Orwell’s 1984 (the two minutes of hate scene in particular) and I sit here until 7AM, observing a symphony of airplanes as they cross the Atlantic airspace.

My commute to work is laughable for someone who lives on the island. Before moving to my current residence in 2016, my drive averaged a very, very long-feeling 25 minutes, which is still modest compared to the rest of the populous; my father drove an hour or more each way for my entire childhood. I remember seeing him leave before sunrise and return well after dark donning a sullen, angry look on his face that showed his unwavering need to be a workhorse and keep food on the table. He had strained, sunken eyes with dark encapsulating circles – sometimes a frown, sometimes not. Every night he would retire to a La-Z-Boy recliner with the television remote and eventually slip away into sleep, HBO playing dully in the background; my brother and I learned young that it was important to invest in a decent recliner. After a couple of hours, he’d make his way to bed where my mother already lay in a drunken slumber, harboring an unbearable snore that made the bedroom smell of stale cigarettes and wine. As a result, my father would resort to spending most of my childhood on the couch. He would wake to the sound of his 5AM alarm and the smell of preset coffee, prepare his belongings, and trek once again into the darkness of morning.

As of 2016, the average car commute time for Long island was 33 minutes. For train, an hour. But 33 minutes, each way, five days a week undoubtedly beats down the human spirit. That’s 33 minutes of creeping traffic, skipping music, spilled coffee, and maybe a little road rage. For me, 11 minutes on average (six if I don’t hit any lights) gets me to my gate at work. That’s 22 minutes of less stress, fewer distractions, and generally zero coffee spilled.

The drive home is equally zen. Where I live, most commuters head west. I, however, miss all of the congestion and essentially reverse commute – facing the sunrise. Driving towards the sun each day as it rises has given me an appreciation for the varying colors, intensity, and energy is expresses, especially in contrast to the box I crawl out of each day. It shows me that my job may be the same, but every morning begins differently. I go to bed around 7:30, eventually tackle my afternoon, and make it in again well after night falls over the east coast to check in on my orchestrated airplanes.

Each night, tiny green triangles crescendo and decrescendo along calculated global routes, and suddenly the earth looks so insignificant. I monitor different sectors to ensure everyone is going where they need to go, while passengers sit oblivious to my existence. Sometimes, I’m technical when asked to describe my current profession; other times I refer to it as glorified babysitting. Either way, I watch thousands of lives cross the water, like a modern Charon. They are hopelessly unaware of my job, and I am continuously reminded of how important and how equally miniscule I am in this world. Each person is visiting, returning, working, or escaping. They all carry their own personal agendas and reasons for travel – they all have their own mini missions of life.

Since the Spring of 2015, I have been an overnight shift worker. I don’t mind shift work – it’s actually the only real type of work I know, minus a year-long stint as a Monday through Friday secretary in an insurance agency. My uniform is street clothes, except for pants with holes in them or flip flops (for whatever reason). I report at 11 each night and make it to my front door a little after seven each morning. My days off rotate; my social life has kind of taken a toll in regards to making plans and going out. If anything, working overnights has given me an appreciation for naps and breakfast at three in the afternoon. Living my life like a vampire – while detrimental if I don’t take care of myself properly – frees me up to write in a more relaxed, almost library-esque setting during the twilight hours. I also have a greater appreciation of my personal health, knowing that if I don’t listen to my body, take my vitamins, and eat relatively healthy I will suffer more over than someone who works during the day. And while the job can be boring or monotonous, it gives me times to reflect.

Generally when the traffic dies down, and 3AM rounds the room to tell us that it’s time to kick the chairs back a little further, crack open a book, and unwind, I begin to reflect and record the events of my life. For years, I tried to run away from everything. I recall attempting an ass-backward approach of making it out of my own life – well – alive. This lasted about six years before I realized everything I had endured up until this point was a test of strength and mental stability, and I somehow managed to survive while maintaining a crippling fear of ending up like certain members of my immediate family.

My childhood revolved around a sense of urgency and busy-body activities that kept me either out of my often turbulent household, obligated to my computer in my bedroom, or absorbed in a book. I had goals, and academic mile markers to not only prove to myself that I was worthy of great things, but also to give my mother and father one less thing to fight about.

At the age of seven, my school deemed me developmentally disabled, because I had a tendency to play pranks and wrote with my notebook on an extreme angle. After taping my books down to my desk proved ineffective, I was pulled from class and placed in a remedial room with coloring books and children on the spectrum. My mother was not notified of this, however, and when she discovered that I was doing “just wonderful” in my new environment, she cursed and screamed and had me pulled back out and put into the “regular” class. I was explicitly warned to stop playing pranks, and I feared making my mother that angry in academia ever again.

The ultimate drive became college, and when I was accepted to several universities in 2008 I thought things would eventually calm and settle at home. Being one of the only people in my extended family to receive a bachelor’s degree gave me a great sense of pride and a pedestal with which I could be better seen by my parents. This only improved in the summer of 2011, when I prepared to go to the University of Oxford and leave New York for a little to study English Literature. I remember it being something I wanted since my junior year of high school after hearing a story by my English teacher, Mr. Stahl, regarding him being accidentally locked inside the walls of one of the colleges while visiting a friend. He went on to describe ancient stonework, the smells, the stars at night hanging over old chapels and perfectly manicured grass. I fantasized for years, and when I finally got in, I told my mother to the response of a sigh and, “That’s going to be a great bill to get in the mail. Don’t tell your father yet.” I was determined to make her proud that summer; she died two months after I returned home due to liver poisoning from extreme binge drinking.

2012 onward was an era of attempting to find myself by essentially giving up and losing who I was entirely. Like people who gain wisdom by admitting they know nothing, I learned who I was by reflecting on the idea that I spent the first 20 years or so of my life not really having any sense of identity. I don’t mean “identity” as in what I wanted to do with my future; I always knew I wanted to be a writer. I stuck with my major all throughout my college career, and knew in my heart of hearts that I was a storyteller. Rather, I had no identity in the sense that I lived my life in a mode of survival for so long that I never looked at anything (with the exception of writing) and reflected upon it from an internal standpoint.

I spent so many years in chaos and alertness that when I moved to my current residence in 2016 – realizing no one at the time knew my address – I broke down crying. For the first time in a long time, I was completely alone. Not lonely, just alone. I was given the chance to be selectively introverted, and to answer to only myself since the day I watched my mother die in 2011 and, quite frankly, I didn’t know what to do. I imagined it’s what retirees felt when they finally didn’t have to wake up to an alarm clock after 40 some-odd years of answering to another; it was equally freeing as it was crippling.

It can be quite baffling to spend so long living a life of chaos – of constant emotional turmoil – and then to come up from the bunker one July morning and see all is calm, not knowing if you’re in the eye of the storm or if the storm itself has finally passed on. I like to think of my childhood as being raised in a life of coins, where every situation and family member had two completely opposite sides. My family grew up in the suburbs, yet under the roof lay an active volcano. My father was a man I idolized and feared. My brother and I shared the same sense of humor but ultimately grew up to be fundamentally different people. And then there was my mother – the woman who became my first friend, and my first bully.  
I only recently came to the admittance that my mother put me down in a very memorable way. For me, there existed a line I didn’t want to cross for the fear of insulting or demonizing someone who was unavailable to defend herself. Saying something like, “My mother was responsible for my compulsive overeating,” places an air of blame but – ultimately – the truth, and when the truth is put out that way, the power is taken from the things once feared. I however, was afraid to take away power from someone I idolized so much when all I had to go on were memories. I had to know in my soul that admitting to my mother’s harshness on me was a projection of where she thought she failed. She only wanted me to be a better version of myself but never conveyed it properly due to her horrible self image. The projections were magnified, of course, by her decades-long battle with alcoholism. Her ups and downs of affection peppered with vocalized disappointment of how I looked moulded a self image that became the two sides of my own coin: Mentally excelling in almost any subject, while never mastering myself. To learn who I was – to chase me down and finally meet myself – I decided to record the happenings. I began to write my life down. Writing, for me, became cathartic in the way that I was able to see everything I’ve done, gone through, or felt, and grow from it. After sharing some of my writings, I learned I wasn’t alone, and chose to be a storyteller, rather than hold my words to my chest.

Entropy in Modern

Some days, I don’t even pull back my blackout curtains and allow the sun to enter my room. I roll out of bed, make my way downstairs, and re-position myself on the couch with some food and my dog. The blinds remain pulled down, a candle is lit, and I walk on my treadmill. I thumb through Instagram, watch Netflix, shower, and return to bed until I have to go to work. Some days, it’s like this. Some days, it’s necessary.
There are times when I just don’t want to be found by the day. I will revel in my own mind, work on paintings, write, or just do nothing. I don’t know if it’s depression, or anxiety, or just a plain lack of desire to interact with the outside world. I don’t know if I’m considered anti social during these times, or an introvert, or whatever label is out there to describe my behavior. I do know, however, that time to myself, regardless of whether or not I open my blinds, is vital to me and my mental well-being.
The world has a tendency to be unbelievably overwhelming. There is saturation of social media, news, opinions, and people seeing only what we want them to see. Some of us are over-worked, some heartbroken, some who wake up plain disappointed in the way our lives are panning out thus far. During these moments, I find it absolutely imperative to take care of ourselves. Unplugging from the world for a day used to be easy – you just didn’t answer the house phone. Someone left a message on your machine, maybe they’d drive past your house to see if you were home, but it never went beyond that. We used to have a reprieve of at least 24 hours before our friends or family began to worry about our whereabouts or what we were doing. Today, it’s like if you don’t post on social media, or send a Snapchat, or create an Instagram story, something must be wrong. People begin to pry or question partly because they care, and also because as a whole entitlement has set in regarding access to each other’s lives.
When we put ourselves in “it,” we open doors for others to view us and what it is we experience. Often times, though, the negative we experience is not something we tend to share with the world. For me, negative happenings in my life are often shared once I find a solution to them, however I personally feel I’ve lost touch with the ability to share bad experiences with someone else in real time. Problems tend to travel in packs and pile up in a sensory overload that challenges emotions and rational thought and that is when I allow myself to disappear from the world, at least physically into my own home. I’ve trained myself to isolate in order to come up with solutions to my problems, and I still haven’t decided if this tactic is ultimately good or not. I try not to shut down, rather, take a big step (or three) back from everything I’m doing in order to get a more relaxed view on what I’m dealing with.
Entropy is unavoidable. It is how the world works, and it is something that we as free-thinking bipeds challenge on the daily due to our overwhelming desire to control. It’s like putting yourself in Manhattan at night – all the lights blinking, the noise, the smells, and then suddenly you’re overwhelmed to the point where you hate the city or you’ve been in it long enough that you’re numb to the random acts and happenings. I find myself being a person who gets overwhelmed with the world sometimes, and that is when I walk away. Similar to the city, the further away and higher up you find yourself, the more melodic it all seems. The noises are reduced to a dull roar, the lights twinkle at random and in harmony at the same time, and everything is illuminated but not in your face. Entropy in modern – the world from a distance – the unavoidable from a peak, makes me appreciate the problems I once hated.

The End Game

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

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

Meeting Death

It’s weird to think that I met Death

Not for myself, always in passing.

He is quiet and humble

And collects final breaths

Of people who he’s ready for

It doesn’t matter if they’re ready

For him.

When it’s my turn to die

I look forward to the encounter

Not the end of my life

But the reunion with the last being

Besides me

To hold my mother’s hand

 

 

Possessed – Essay Inspired by Poem

          I remember thinking she was possessed. I remember looking at her, arms flailing wildly around the kitchen, spitting as she spoke, eyes unblinking and intentional. Thinking to myself, this isn’t her. It did something to me that night in 2010, while she screamed at my father in the kitchen, and I witnessed through the glass pane door, all the transparency and spite that flowed from her being. My brother was restricted to the couch, having come home from the hospital after knee surgery, and just yelled and cursed over his head while my mother, unflinching, continued on her rampage into the summer night.
          It was other-worldly. I grew up knowing that alcohol was a normal part of my life, my upbringing, and my mom without a glass of something in her hand usually indicated she was feeling ill. There was never an attempt to limit or eliminate her intake; she became more skilled in hiding her demons. This night, however, something came out. She emanated a nuclear reactor, doubled over in rage and hurt that poured from her lips like a poison and I witnessed it fill the kitchen and seep under the living room door. I anxiously chased my own thoughts and uncertainty up and down the stairs between my bedroom and the living room door, glancing in at the beaten down silhouette of my father and the unrelenting storm my mother became. My heart crept up into my throat as her yells persisted and, at this point, it didn’t matter why she was shouting, only how was I to get her to stop? A beast had taken over her body; her unkempt, graying hair climbed from her roots, lifted from her like static electricity and no one could escape. She raged and threw her arms as if to conjure bolts of lightning to stop my father dead and exact whatever blind revenge she was expelling from her body.
          This wasn’t my mother. This wasn’t my mother. I kept telling myself over and over while my breathing continued in erratic rhythm, maintaining silence and restless feet as my brother continued to yell through the door and react in a way that only stoked her fire further. He began to holler and curse at me to do something as crippling panic grounded me to the living room floor and he painfully forced his body upright to climb the stairs to his own room, justified in his absence of the situation with pain medication and a fresh incision. There was so much pain in that house and I felt it tear through my body and catch my hair while my eyes watered from confusion. My internalization was cut short by her threatening in a coherent tone that she was to call the police, for whatever reason she thought acceptable.
          I had to react. Move, Kaitlin. The anguish it took me to free myself from where my feet stay cemented was quickly forgotten as I pulled open the door between the kitchen and living room to a flood of hot, angry air that intoxicated me on contact and filled my head with a mix of cigarette smoke and anguish. I witness her thumb through the phone book while my father remained glued to the kitchen chair, duffel bag beside him and pleading eyes glued to his devastated face.

“Mom, you can’t call the police. What is this even about? What’s wrong? Just talk to me, please.” My voice cracked as I tried to pierce the thickened air to reach her. I knew she wasn’t there. She was looking for the number to the police for Christ sake. I found myself incapable of holding an air of authority over a the creature that stood before me, eyes unblinking and enraged, in a bathrobe, forehead moistened with sweat. She grabbed for the phone and I reached out and pulled the phone from her shaking hand.

“What the fuck do you want from me?!” She screamed like a threatened wild animal as I begged for her to just calm down – to just listen.
          Again, she reached for the telephone and this time I reacted. I grabbed her shoulders while my father remained seated, immobilized, scared. My eyes met hers and it was at that point I realized I was not staring into the eyes of my mother. I was staring into the eyes of someone possessed, wild, erratic, and unstable. She caught my gaze and I felt it shock through my body like a punch. My jaw went slack once I confirmed this unfamiliar face.

“Get the fuck off of me!” She roared in my face and grabbed my wrists to thrust me backwards. While I flung back into the refrigerator I questioned if it was her screams or her raw adrenaline strength that forced me away. In that moment, like the silence following a nuclear explosion, her arms released to her sides and her eyes lowered. What is going to happen.

“This isn’t about you. Go.” In one short moment, I gained sight of the human I never wanted to confront in such a way. I never wanted to hurt her, but she hurt me. “Go.” She turned back to my father, my eyes followed suit. He gave me a nod to leave. I grabbed my keys from the kitchen table and removed myself to the driveway, where I turned my car radio onto old rock to drown out the screams coming from the house. I sobbed on the steering wheel and looked over my hands, where my wrists ached like burns from where she grabbed me – where she threw her hurt into me, where she momentarily regained humanity in the face of her daughter.

\That evening, in and of itself, was the beginning of the end for my mother.

Pinky Promise

To maintain peace,

   Life assures to

       Death, little bargaining

             chips.

  And Death is patient,

                      because Life

              has never broken a

                                     Promise.

 

  k.o.

Conflicted

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

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

Journey

When the path is split

and I turn to go

my journey on my own,

I still think of you

along your road,

finding your way to home.

 

When darkness falls,

and lanterns light,

and trees begin to whisper,

I hope you turn

towards Nature’s words,

and become a better listener.

 

When dawn creeps

up over pine and brush

and sleepless feet continue,

I hope your journey wasn’t rushed.

I hope in the end, to meet you.

Excerpts from 2012

What can be expected of someone who has no expectations in themselves? Apparently everything. I have been on this uphill attempt to extinguish all expectations from my life and just go with the flow in some sort of spiritual ohm-induced cleansing, however that does not work how I initially calculated. It is more challenging to consciously expel things from my life than I anticipated. I have Catholic Guilt syndrome where I feel responsible for the faults of others even if they aren’t my doing. I feel morally obligated to everyone I encounter. I am the product of an equation roughly twenty-two years in the making. I am a defect that kept running forward and now am dealing with those consequences. I’ve tried to expect nothing could hurt me, but then it does. So now I expect nothing could get worse than the worst – so far so good.
Next week will be a year since my mom died a very slow and arduous death – one that I would not wish on even my worst enemy. She is currently floating above this circular and monotonous purgatory that I have acknowledged as life cursing her misfortunes and apologizing for leaving me here. And although it’s been roughly a year, I still seem to feel all of the pain and anger that I encountered when I watched her take her last, laborious, and unwilling breath. I sat across from my grandfather eating a boiled pork chop with beans and spinach, pushing my food around my Chinet paper plate as tears rolled down my face. He was oblivious to my pitted heart and I didn’t expect him to notice, considering he’s been calling my brother and I completely incorrect names for the past month and a half. I felt a familiar, boiling sensation deep within the pit of my stomach indiscernible from the food I was blindly consuming. Although I was not hungry I kept pushing and eating, and pushing. My brain kept lurching forward to the front of my head every time I bent down towards the plate to inspect the spinach, and make sure that there was only burnt bacon in the beans and not dead bugs. A thought in my head kept ticking and festering as repetitive as the crickets outside my window, forcing through the haze and relentlessly taunting me. The idea that I have been dusting my mom’s urn on the mantelpiece and taking care of my grandfather for the past year made me nauseous. It was a decaying reminder, a repetitious mental sickness that pointed signs at me. It told me that I had no mother and for some reason I felt at fault yet again.
I wiped my face and my grandfather muttered, without looking up from his plate, “Take things with a grain of salt.” Confused, I just replied with “OK” and continued to push my food around for several more minutes. He lifted his head to drink his fourth or fifth beer, spinach stuck to his chin. I was going to tell him, but what did it matter? It was just the two of us. I ate the rest of my beans before I had to excuse myself to go sob in my room. And I did just that. I felt an overpowering hold that pushed my feet down and froze me in front of my mirror in my bedroom. I was magnetized to the earth, incapable of the flight my mother gained. I didn’t think that was fair. I felt like she killed herself and she should have been forced to stay with me for trying to and slowly succeeding in her attempts. I labored over my thoughts and cried and listened and hated and stared into the sky wondering where my turn would come from. I did that for so long; and now all I could do was collapse onto my down comforter, floating over my full-sized bed. The only attainable flight I would ever achieve. My grass green sheets swallowed my face as I rained salt tears into them.
I continued to sink into a self-loathing until worldly obligations prevented me from doing any further reflection. I sighed into my pillow, saving it for later, and rolled out of my bed to answer a text my friend sent me.

“What’s going on?”

I should have said “Nothing, you?” and attempted to socialize, but instead I was overly honest and delved into the gaping sores of my emotional being and divulged that I wanted a drink and to just get away from my house. He never responded, and I don’t blame him. I would have probably done the same thing as soon as the psycho flag was flown. I sat in my room, staring at the same perforated ceiling that I constantly envision, and bench pressing my emotional baggage only to come to the sudden realization that I had been longing for an existence that was seemingly dangerous yet less destructive than the sedentary life I stared down for the past several years. Being busy and not allowing myself to stop and listen to the constant ticking reminders were going to help me move on. At least I thought.