Every turn held a memory
I could not scrub out –
Your photos packed away.
The house –
And still you loomed over me.
I yearned to escape
yet could only take my
to the safety of sleep.
Every turn held a memory
I could not scrub out –
Your photos packed away.
The house –
And still you loomed over me.
I yearned to escape
yet could only take my
to the safety of sleep.
I rang the doorbell three times before a nurse let me in the building, only to meet me in the hallway and tell me I was the first to know, and that my grandfather just died. What immediately followed was something I experienced when I watched my mother – his daughter – die seven years ago: tunnel vision, loss of breath, silent and uncontrolled sobs. My aunt arrived not two minutes after. We said our goodbyes to Harold in his bed, finally at rest and home with Nan, with my mom, with my family dog who died only four months ago in September. He was reunited with his identical twin, Arthur, who died in 1943 on a PT while Harold sat in prison camp in Krems, Austria.
I feel like I’ve become a professional at death and grief; the state of being dead is not what scares me, though. I am not afraid to kiss a recently-departed loved one on the hand or forehead one last time. The process of dying – the suffering, the pain, the uncertainty of whether or not that person will be around for three more days, or two – is what eats at me. Since January 9th my soul has felt heavy while my life has felt emptier. I will miss Thursday morning physical therapy appointments, grocery shopping, holding hands in the car, and singing old songs. I will miss him there in my life. It is something that I know I will get through, but I am not quite sure how yet.
I don’t even really know how to explain my grandpa when people ask. After newspaper interviews and his eulogy I still conclude that that he was – simply put – a good guy, because if I spent the amount of time I wanted to talking about him a whole year would pass before I was done. He died just a week shy of his 99th birthday, born before sliced bread and lived long enough to build the World Trade Centers, watch them fall on television, and watch Tower One be rebuilt. Harold lived long, but he lived. He lived enough for three lifetimes, and I was lucky enough to hear his stories and to commit them to memory – those moments of invaluable tales of war and love and sayings that I will write down and give life to until the day I myself am dead.
He always told my brother, cousin, and me, “As you ramble through life, Brother, whatever be your goal, keep your eye upon the doughnut, and not upon the hole.” As silly of a quote as it sounds, I finally understood what he meant. Harold wanted us to keep our eyes on the good, not the bad; on love and forgiveness, not hate and grudges; on the sweet stuff, not the void. He was infectiously positive and kind until the day he died, and I always found it difficult to understand especially when our visits were peppered with war stories that – when told – would take him far away, back to 1943 and prison camp. His liberation from camp seemed like his only victory, but even in his stories, there was something positive to shed light on.
One tale in particular – and the one I shared at his wake when delivering his eulogy – has become affectionately known as the “egg story.” In March of 1945, as the war was coming to a foreseeable end, and Russian troops were closing in on Stalag XVII-B in Austria, Harold, along with about a thousand other soldiers, were forced to march along the Danube River with Berlin as the goal, in one of the harshest winters on record in Europe. He spent two years with meals that included hot water, black coffee, boiled cabbage, and sometimes nothing at all. He watched bunk mates’ faces and bodies ravaged by malnutrition, bed bugs, sores, and disease. And still, he along with many others were seen “fit enough” to march, maybe to Berlin, most likely to their deaths. The end of the war was certainly near, but the end of their lives was also looming overhead.
Harold told me one day in June of 2018 that as the men marched through fields and farmland they would pull vegetables out of the ground and eat them without washing them, simply for nutrition. They operated mostly in groups of three – one man to collect firewood, one to guard the food, one to find the food. Harold was the food finder. He would pull carrots, potatoes – anything he could find – to share with his two companions. He told me of older German women who would hide bread in the bosoms of their aprons and break off small pieces to throw at the feet of the soldiers, who scrounged and ate quickly as to not anger the SS that flanked them with guns and vicious dogs. Even in that time of horror and uncertainty, he still encountered kindness and humanity of strangers; he had hope to continue on marching. He had the belief that he would hold his wife again, his childhood sweetheart who he married on June 1, 1943, only to be captured July 30th that same year.
In his search for food, Harold came across what he described to me as “a German-speaking, Polish slave-girl.” She was on a patch of farmland that had animals as well as vegetables. He approached her and put a hand in his pocket, producing a sewing needle that he held onto from a British Red Cross care package he received earlier during his imprisonment when he had scurvy. He extended to her the needle, and told her in broken German, “Ich habe eine nadel,” which translates to, “I have a needle.” The young girl accepted the needle and handed him an egg, the first egg he held in over two years. Harold joyously returned with the egg to his two companions and split it between the three of them, a meal he described to me as “the best meal I had in two years.”
Pain and suffering is relative to each person and situation, this is a given. But tears poured down my face to see how such a simple act, and such a simple meal could bring out hope and humanity in a man who otherwise was stripped of everything. He lost his bomber jacket, teeth, weight, and yet he was so grateful and rejoiced in the tiniest of victories – the egg. He could have easily kept it to himself, but chose to share it with two men he might never see again. He ate that egg as if he knew it wouldn’t be the last time he’d taste one, and I can personally vouch that Harold had an egg almost everyday for the duration of my 28 years. The war and the suffering bore a giant hole in Harold’s future, yet he kept his eye on my grandmother, on freedom, on the doughnut.
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.
My curse is to remember
everything. I see the brightest
mornings coupled with the darkest moments.
Of all my thoughts, you are the one who
remains at the front of my mind, haunting me –
Yet I take comfort knowing you want to stay, at least in my head.
Standing between the cedar house and salty bath, I curled the earth under my toes, using each blade of grass to brush sand off my feet. The sun was hot and I felt the skin on my shoulders pull tight as the watery evidence of my day was taken into the air and white flakes of salt were left behind as a trophy. A loon, black and slick like oil, perched himself on a piling out in the middle of the creek. He outstretched his wings and we mimicked each other, basking in the summer and patiently drying ourselves. I heard an osprey call out to another, or to nothing.
At this time, sounds were what made sense to me. Everything communicated in succession – nothing of the same language, all understanding each other. The birds cawed back and forth and the water hugged the beach, taking a bit with it each time; it moved up on the dock and weaved among the beach reeds as fiddler crabs all moved at once at the vibration of human feet. I would look down from the dock and they glided across the beach like a blanket, disappearing into their homes, scratching quietly at their walls. I would lay on the dock and listen to the soft echo of water lapping up against the boat, and the boat would then rock gently into the dock, and the dock float would dip back into the water, and the Rube Goldberg of nature would respond. The summer communicated in a way that a child could comprehend, and as an adult, I would struggle to understand again.
I would sit in a wicker chair underneath the tallest oak trees in the world, and look for squirrels as acorns fell to the deck, bouncing several times before settling into place. The chair creaked underneath me while I drank Coca Cola and my grandmother coughed gently every once in a while into her tissue that she hid in her sleeve. Her systematic sips of tea were timed with her exhales as she returned her mug into place. I was the audience to the symphony of summer in the stale July heat, waiting for the finale. As the sun prepared to start its descent behind the houses down the creek, a wind would pick up and I watched as it ran its fingers through the trees which made the branches chase each other in waves. That was the most beautiful sound: the wind through the trees. My hair gently pulled like the leaves above me, unable to see the wind, only what it touched.
When night fell onto the landscape, the wind lay background to the chirps that were replaced by crickets, and the silence never came. The world never stopped, only mine. The water lapped, black and murky, among the reeds and against the boat. The birds passed the hat to the bugs and were settled into bed. Moths and beetles tapped the windows and I listened to the singing world, and the wind in the trees, and joined the birds in sleep.
I stopped brushing my hair completely in 2013 after years of systematically running through it with a wide brush and then styling it into a fluffy mess and ultimately praying for the best. Since I ended this, my hair has become incredibly healthy; it grows out fast, it’s shiny, and by simply and gently finger-combing my hair in the shower with conditioner, I have almost zero tangles. I find it funny that although I was constantly combing through and separating my curls, I was coming out the other end with dread locks and rat’s nests and dull, crazy hair. This is what I was used to, though, for my entire life. My mother, with her straight, blonde hair, would rake my head every morning until I was old enough to rake my head on my own. She would pull and tease and get a round brush stuck in it one time (where we learned together and after a haircut that round brushes were no longer to be used). I would cry and moan and fidget hoping she would just get sick of my knots and give up, until I became the one to accept that this hair abuse was just how it had to be. No matter how it hurt, no matter how many tangles, I had to brush it out. Every single day.
I began to apply this process to my life: Hair being the situations, the brush being overthinking, conditioner being rationalization, and my fingers representing normal thought. Each coil on my head is something I cannot control. It is something that happens to me, that has always happened to me, and that will continue to happen to me. For years, I would obsessively pick apart each curl, each occurrence. I would separate, strand by strand, trying to pull everything away to see if I could see it better. What I was left with, each time, was a mess. This mess would fly around, unmanageable and insane-looking and I would hide the mad scientist under a hat or pull it all into a bun behind me so I didn’t have to look at it anymore. And although each day, I would have the same outcome, I would still wake up the next morning and comb through the same dead hair, knowing it would be futile, all for that brief moment in my day when everything looked momentarily managed.
Every time something happened in my life that I couldn’t control, I would dig it apart trying to understand why I couldn’t control it, rather than learning how to control myself. Instead of nurturing the situation, letting it run its course, and allowing it to exist, I would cause myself a lifetime of grief trying to alter what occurred naturally. I don’t know exactly where it clicked in my head that this was a bad idea – being insane and constantly picking apart my life – but part of me thinks I was simply sick and tired of the constant stress and disappointment of things I couldn’t control. After almost 23 years of disappointment with the outside forces and I just gave up. I gave up on trying to understand what was around me before understanding me.
Unfortunately, it only took me long enough to realize that I wasn’t the only one in the world with wild, curly hair. I wasn’t the only one in the world with problems. I also wasn’t the only one who constantly tried to pull apart things I couldn’t control. It didn’t make me a bad person or wrong for learning to obsess over things, but it was beneficial to learn how to live in harmony with these things – to let it exist with minimal interference and, when necessary, to cut dead ends for growth.
I always imagined an embargo with Death. As people prepare to take off with him in the form of souls, he grabs their wrist and leads them to a door, but they stand there in the nothingness a moment longer. He feels them pull back ever so slightly — enough to feel the tension — and turns around to face them. The soul is not looking at Death. The soul is looking back through the veil, back into the realm of fleeting love, of abandoned family, seeing it as close as they will for what may be eternity. In that moment, I imagine Death wearing a tailored suit to fit a long torso and long, slender legs. His scythe is not a scythe, but a pocket watch on a chain. His feet are adorned with the finest wingtip Oxford shoes that click as he walks, echoing into forever. The soul looks down, staring into the blackest black, suspended and at the same time feeling impossibly heavy. The only light is the window back into the existence, getting smaller and smaller with each passing second. Or is it hour?
The word feels small and impossible. It seems to be absorbed by the surrounding blackness. Death turns his head back around once more; he knows what the soul will ask before they can release another imploring whisper into the air. He releases his grasp on their delicate wrist, and places his open palm onto their forehead. A cold rush is pushed through the soul, as a piece of them drifts back into the closing plane of life, to remain with the mortal. The piece of soul — that energy — is then imprinted into and intertwined with one of the living, allowing a slice of the deceased to communicate and visit the loved one while they sleep.
When I fall asleep, and she’s there, I find myself unable to ask the questions I longed to ask for years and years. I lose my words from over-excitement of smelling her perfume or feeling her hair on my neck when she hugs me. Even when the dreams fall incoherent, and I lose control, and they begin to spiral into a disarray of images and colors and I can no longer tell what way is forward, I still smell her perfume. I imagine Death watching over from some distant place, calling the shots as to when the dream will end, controlling the time we spend together. Not too much, as he twists his hand and pulls her out of my head. He takes his pocket watch out of his suit jacket and double checks that he’s still running time, and he studies my lost, subconscious soul and smirks to know he can decide how long I get with her. And he knows I won’t complain, because any second longer I have with my mother is more than I could imagine after watching her die that day. After watching her breath escape her, and she was led off into the darkness only to pull back, and look through back to the living, and back to life. Please. She watched my eyes scan her body for any type of movement while the rest of me remained as still as her. In that moment Death let go of her wrist, and pushed a piece of her into me, only to visit in dreams.
I spend so much time thinking about my mother’s passing; how it could have gone differently, how she looked, how she smelled, how it all sounded. I remember the drumming in my ears of my own heartbreak when she stopped breathing. I remember sizzling yellow overhead lights and yellowed skin, bloodied lips and scabbed nostrils. I see her carotid artery pulsing through her neck; she was so frail I could see her body fighting through her skin. Her once-voluminous hair was matted all around her face, bangs fallen to the sides like wilted flowers. Her death itself was so anti-climactic and quick and so final, that although the end of a chapter, was not the saddest part of the story.
When I think about those two weeks of pain and torture and confusion, I no longer cry. I no longer weep over death, and I no longer fear it. Death itself is one of the only things that we as humans have in common besides breathing, and seeing someone die made me fear it less. What I fear now, is suffering. I fear that uncertainty when you are suffering and do not know if you will wake up again. I fear not knowing if your last words will, in fact, be your last. I fear saying something and never being able to touch back upon it.
Towards the end of her life, my mom said very little. She never wanted to discuss her addiction, she never wanted me to help, and it was hard to try and speak on anything else when the elephant in the room was the person who raised me. I remember so vividly sitting in wicker chairs on the deck, the summer sun on the creek, saying nothing with her. The world around us spoke from the grass to the trees to the ospreys in the sky and she and I shared between us a silence that deafened them. I knew she was sick. She knew she was sick. She knew that I knew, and neither of us had to say it. I watched the water while she slowly dragged at her cigarette, using her free hand to lift a glass of ice water to her lips, bracelets dangling off her wrists and ice cubes clanking the crystal like wind chimes in the dead of August. She put her glass down and, without breaking eye contact with the shore, reached across and grabbed my hand in hers. We said nothing as I maintained a steady gaze on the world before me, and we agreed in our silence that we knew.
A month later, I stood in the darkness of the ICU, looking at her while she looked around wildly, incoherent and afraid.
“Please stay with me, just in case.”
I said nothing back. I couldn’t say anything back. I stood frozen in the doorway while her bottom lip quivered in fear and she called out, the nurse telling me I couldn’t stay past 8:30 PM. “I love you.”
I love you. I love you. I love you. I don’t know if she ever heard me say it that night, because she was so beyond a steady stream of consciousness. I was escorted out of ICU. She slipped into a coma alone, in the dark, sometime in the night. And I made sure I stayed with her until she drew her last breath beside me.
I think of the fear and the uncertainty. I think of how, in that moment, I saw how much she didn’t want to die, and that her last words to me were of a helpless child, finally asking for my aid her after months of defiance and silence. When I think of her death I no longer cry, yet when I think of her last words, I fight to control myself. I do not want my last words to be those of fear – I do not want last words at all. I want my last exchange to be like the silent embrace she and I shared on the deck in August. I want to look up at my loved one, and smile. I want them to know. I want them to smile back.
Recently, I encountered a piece of writing – about 70 pages – that I scribbled out in 2012, eleven months after the loss of my mother. It encompassed the dark, secluded, depressed state that I was in for so long after she died, and I read it for the first time since I wrote it. When I wrote this particular novella (I guess), I did so out of anger. I took my insomnia, my fleeting thoughts, my questions, my hate and confusion, and poured them out of me like hot lava over the course of about two weeks. I remember, when I finished this piece, not feeling angry any longer, which is exactly why it stayed a mere 70 pages or so. It hurt me to read it. It rubbed back over all of the emotional scars that I spent the past five years allowing to heal while I tried to figure out how to trudge through the hell that was the death of my mom. The writings were so raw and painful to recognize – to see it as myself, as I was. I cried throughout the Intro (released onto my blog before this post itself). I cried for the girl who I was and for the amount of hurt and loneliness she experienced. The entries lashed out at the world around her; at neighbors, at family. They were paranoid, twisted, irrational ideas, but they were natural and real for someone who feels like they have everything ripped from them at once.
It’s certainly difficult for anyone to lose a parent, no matter what way, or at what age. Loss as I have observed simply within my own family is perceived, absorbed, and handled, dealt with or otherwise, differently by each person. It is a relative experience, felt on a varying scale. I do not share my stories – my loss, struggles, and personal insight – with the idea that how I coped is the right way, or how I survived is the only way to do so. However, I share the stories I write with the hope and intention that someday, somewhere, someone will read what I went through and actually feel like they aren’t alone. In the end we are all looking to feel like we belong, and I know for myself, the hardest time to feel like you’re part of something is when you’re torn apart.
I am grateful. I am grateful to have a passion for writing. I am grateful for the small community of individuals I know who tell me that the things I write about helped them get through something. I love when someone tells me I made them laugh, and I have a mildly sadistic joy inside when someone tells me I made them cry. I love telling stories, and other people’s stories, and I am grateful I can tell them. I lost fear of judgment for writing and being read because, in the end, my writing is my feelings and no one can feel those feelings except for me. The goal now is to have others respect those feelings, or relate to them in some way. If someone feels less alone, then I feel I’m doing something right.
Wake up. I glared bright-eyed into a thick dark nothing while the oscillating fan breathed life back into me with each methodical pass. The outlines of my room became more apparent as the urge to get up increased. I fought my way through the queen-sized down comforter. It’s August. My feet touched the carpet; dirt and small objects imprinted themselves gently into my heels. Although rough and calloused from many summers trudging through sand and gouging on broken shells, my feet were still so sensitive. More sensitive now even after the profession I had taken up in this small, shallow town. I searched helplessly for the light and as it illuminated my room, my eyes momentarily flashed back to darkness with the shock. My graduation tassels hung delicately on my wall, shadows dancing with the fan, ebbing and flooding like a tide that relentlessly touches upon shore.
My door creaked open as I switched up to the balls of my feet on the grainy wooden floor. With each step the panels moaned as the seemingly forever trip to my bathroom became more hurried. I slipped passed my grandfather’s open door, unaware of the conversation he was having with Death, as the invisible cold black figure took his unconscious hand into the moonlight, preparing him for his own end. Then I heard my grandpa snore and roll over and Death shook his fist to the sky in defeat.
The only thing awake besides Death and myself were the crickets – insomniacs that lulled me to sleep with their chirping and chiming ever since I was a little girl. The toilet seat was cold for an August night. I pulled the blinds shut and stared down at a helpless spider I thought I killed hours earlier when I was brushing my teeth. It crawled and crawled up the yellowed siding of the bathtub while its weak threads clung to nothing but soap scum and history. This bungalow had seen better days and so did the people living in it. If walls could talk they would shout through the paper at guests and residents alike, warning them of the death that happened, of the unrest, and of the religious excuses for the actions of others. The fresh coat of paint and new half bath were mere distractions, like a woman reapplying her make-up so people wouldn’t notice that new pimple or her wrinkle she got from fighting with her husband the day before. As each horrible thing happened in my house, we kept fixing it and adjusting the tapestry.
I am stuck in my own personal House of Usher as Poe laughs at me from a higher bookshelf next to my empty diploma case. I feel like my grandpa is nesting; like a woman does for a newborn, except he’s doing it for Death. He tells me almost every night that he isn’t ready to go yet – “The window people are coming tomorrow.” I suddenly became lost in my own thoughts. I flushed the toilet that would be cleaned tomorrow and washed my hands lazily. The mirror gleamed back at me with pale lights as I stared into my tired eyes, purple bags slouching below them. My hair stood up on many frozen ends like they were trying to escape my thoughts, too. I looked so tired. I always looked tired nowadays. Sleep is for the weak and the dead and I was told I couldn’t be either of those things. I could only think about those in my own mind. My mother, for instance, was always on my mind, and now that she was separated in jars between two dressers and a mantle piece, was more apparent these days. Only she knew how much I thought about just never waking up in this world only to wake up to see her again in the afterlife. This kind of talk warranted my therapist on several occasions to question my mental stability and she always approached with, “So…are you suicidal then?” I always replied with, “No, I’m Catholic.” I had to applaud her boldness in asking me, though. No one really ever asked me how I was doing, especially these days. I returned to a town and a house that boasted wealth but those dwelling inside it were poor in spirits. The stench of the decaying elderly mixed with plug-in air fresheners gave the appearance of a funeral home in this once enjoyable abode. The floral carpeting, spotless hardwood and prescription pill bottles would suggest an older crowd, and I was thrown into the mix as a twenty-one year-old college graduate, waiting on her diploma and her big break.
I, instead, live with my grandfather who is well into his 90’s but still insists on driving and cooking and giving himself the false identity of someone much younger than he is. I have been living here since last November, originally in a room sizeable to a closet with a closet inside of it. I only recently upgraded to the room my mother used to sleep in; the one my Aunt Eleanor died in, and the one next to the room my grandmother took her final heaving breaths in. My mother almost died in this room as well. It was bad enough that I slept in the bed she slept in for almost a month, but that isn’t what bothered me. She actually attempted to die in this bed. I was away at school, and she refused to tell me that she was sick, or dying, or killing herself slowly, and she just expected to expire, engulfed in old floral cotton sheets, head resting on stale pillows that were never replaced, without a care for dignity or admiration or acceptance. She wanted to end it and didn’t care who witnessed it. She wanted to beat her father in the race to Death’s door and rang his doorbell multiple times before he finally answered. And because she didn’t want to die like a dignified person, she unfortunately did not get to choose the manner in which she’d go. This manner, however, was chosen by doctors, and by family, and this was the only decision she was not allowed to have the responsibility over. And because of her, I am now battling a combination of depression and the automated Weight Watchers online guide in a room next to a man who talks to Jesus in his sleep more than I have in my entire life.
It’s on nights like these where the August humidity seeps into the blossoming September evenings and attempts to choke you in your sleep that I sit up and contemplate just what in the world is going on. I sit in the dark on top of my sheets and stare at a ceiling poorly lit by the blind moon as he throws around his light carelessly through trees, peering into my window. He imposes on me like a nosy neighbor, like the many we have in this town. My night vision kicks in after a long and tumultuous battle with blackness and I examine my room in its dark form, as if that’s any different from what it looks like during the day. Nothing looks that appealing in the dark except for bodies, and the expansiveness of the twilight hours seems to push my room in on me. My bed is too large. My room is too small. My closet is too close. This mirror is too close to my bed. All of these things impede on my personal space and crowd my body like my thoughts that push against the barriers of my skull. I stare and stare until night takes me away and pushes me into the throes of my dreams where I must be alert in order to see the morning again, no less allow them to take me over.
My dreams have been abstract and unpleasant for the past eleven months, where torturous situations place me in the kitchen I grew up in with my mother standing at the stove. We talk about current events as she drags on her cigarette and fries eggplant. She throws each fried circle, crisp and bubbling, onto a paper plate lined with paper towels and I eat them as fast as they touch. Her smoke is comforting and sticks to my body along with the heat and grease of the summer cooking. She tells me she should have never left and that she’s sorry I’m stuck with everything and that I should have the house left to me. She tells me that she never really wanted to kill herself and it spiraled out of control towards the end. I get several apologies, thanks for not judging her, and remorse for not being able to remember what her hug will feel like in the morning. I tell her it’s fine because she’ll stop in on my dream in a couple of weeks again. Things turn fuzzy and incoherent after that hug, and every time someone crashes a car, or I wind up being chased, or I step out onto some weird endeavor that really has no end until I wake up to a buzzing alarm clock. I fight to remember her hug, and her cigarettes, and eventually give in to the morning sun and my full time job. The monotony kicks in and it’s not the pleasant monotony I was hoping for after my mom died. I was hoping for a full house of family; for bonding; for summer days simmering on the beach under the hot July sun like the eggplant in the pan. I prayed for silence and peace and a belonging where everything suddenly and perfectly made sense. But then I wake up again and realize I work seven days a week. I crush my own spirits down to prevent the environment in which I enter everyday from doing so. If I’m anything like my mother, it’s that I would never let anyone but myself bring me down. I lowered my expectations of this summer and the future so much that indifference is the deciding factor in everything that happens. This leads to everything playing out like a radio song on repeat and I can’t change the channel. I just go with it. I’ve become sucked into a routine of work work work and then going home to clean clean clean and then sitting in the black black black dark until I pass out.
I know that every Thursday is cleaning day, where I clean the toilets, mop the floors, vacuum, and dust everything within reason only for it to be disheveled and dirty by Thursday evening. It’s like I can’t make the dust disappear; it just runs away from my Swiffer and hides in the corners and under the couches until I leave. But, I do it relentlessly, and I do it without complaint, because I have a free room to sleep in and a roof over my head. It’s because I’m guilted into feeling like I have done something wrong to deserve the life I’m currently living. Like I’ve done nothing even remotely commendable, I am the Help. I am the live-in maid, psychologist, referee, and janitor. I mop up the sorrows, sweep away the pains, break up the fights, and diagnose the troubles. And just like the dust that is not mine on the floors that I don’t own in the house that I don’t pay for, the problems that do not belong to me resurface and I sweep them away again. And they cannot be ignored. Oh no. Because the second I turn on a fan to relieve myself from the blistering heat the dust swirls up in my face, causing discomfort and I can’t just not get rid of the dust to try and make myself more comfortable. When I get to the point of inconceivable intolerance, I put on my sneakers and walk. I walk for miles and hours in the humid and I push through it as it grabs my arms and pulls me back like everything else. I tell it to go screw and turn the corner, up the hill, make a right, pass some horses, and another right turn. Eventually my left knee gives out but I keep going because the physical reminders that I’m still alive push harder than my numb brain and next thing you know I’m up the hill and going home. I don’t mind the soreness, or the shin splints, or the sweat, because that can just go away. Things like that disappear, and it only happens when I make it happen. It’s control, and it’s all I have.
In this world of confusing monotonous chaos that I exist in the only things I have control over are my bodily pain and how much I eat. If the monotony were a pleasant array of excitement and surprises and happiness this would be different. However, I am stuck being Atlas except I eat more and exercise less. The ratios are currently off in the favor of intake, but at least I can still control it. It is something unpredictable; my feet go until they cannot, and I never know when that will be until I get a shooting pain up to my hip telling me to stop and I shrug it off and drown it out in the soupy summer heat as I pass a field that has more vastness than the confines of my own mind, where everything has become a beehive overloaded with unnecessary troubles and information. I’d rather be sick in the body than sick in the head and the lack of flare and individual input put a damper on my usual taste for excitement. I predict the conversations I have with my grandpa before they happen, I know exactly what my dad will talk about when I get out of work, and I still can’t seem to figure out my own processes. I go back to the thick, dark, soupy night in my bed that’s too big and wonder about the most unknown thing: myself.
I was in constant opposition of staring myself down, especially during those late night stints attempting to solve the crises of the world from the toilet seat. In those nights where I would stare at the ceiling asking where the fuck did I go wrong? I would pray that the answer would fall from the darkness and smack me square in the face. My eyes stay wide but tired as I heave my thoughts around in my head like heavy boulders until I exhaust myself into oblivion yet again. I would wake up several hours later and make that ever-so-familiar trip into the darkness where fear is my only friend and I stare deeply into a bathroom mirror from 1974 and see the same thing over and over again. I would never see change, and Thursday would still be cleaning day.
This horrendous and unacceptable amount of unadventurous life was starting to get the best of me, and I knew that I had to press on with my ambitions. And at the same time, I knew I couldn’t. My life had begun to play out like a sappy and stupid indie film where everything is ironic and the awkward kid gets through school and finds love. I did one of those things, and as a disclaimer my heart is as hard as a rock. I spent days just staring at old pictures and acknowledging that I allowed myself to become sedentary and fat over the past few months (years) up to and following college. Subconsciously my body gave up and decided that years upon years of learning and unbearable, unavoidable trauma needed to take a back seat while I focused on myself. I missed the memo, however, and just sank into oblivion with food and unnecessary spending. My mind would swim for hours with thoughts and ideas of what I could have done, how it could have been, and how much I was pissed off now seeing how everything decided to pan out. Seeing how people chose to take their separate paths and how they indirectly, yet so effectively, dampened my own strenuous existence. I sat undeserving in my Oxford University sweatshirt thinking of better times and the what-haves until I either got hungry or cried or just went to bed.
This unconnected and indifferent chain of events that all somehow swept in and smacked my life square in the testicles equally confused and devastated me. I spent years and months and minutes screaming why out to the ceiling until I realized no one would hear me. When I stopped screaming at the vertical nothingness I was struck with the deafening tones of rejection from the universe. No one wanted to help me, because everyone was busy helping himself or herself. Then when I actually swallowed my pride and asked for help, it was thrown back at me, and I learned quite painfully that I’m the only person I can rely on 100 percent of the time. That idea was comforting and terrifying, because I realized quickly how little faith I have in my own strengths – boasting it in public and unable to find it when alone. I needed to get back on good terms with the universe, and that is a chapter that hasn’t ended yet.