On April 1st, I was fortunate enough to interview with Gianna Volpe, host of Heart of the East End on WLIW. If you follow the link, you can hear my awful radio voice and an otherwise fulfilling interview where I was able to talk about my favorite thing, my grandpa, as well as the Letters to Loretta series.
A good beer
and a sticky August night
are all I need
to pay homage to my
I am the daughter
of Patricia –
Of dragon woman, blue eyeliner
with limp and easy cigarette hands
and mascara wand swords.
Mother to children –
All hers –
But only two were really hers.
Her alter is the dashboard
of an ‘03 Mustang
with offerings of classic rock,
a Bic lighter or three, one probably empty,
and coke bottle eyeglasses
to see how she made most days
I can still hear her say it.
Do no harm,
take no shit.
Thank you again to Edge of Humanity Magazine for the publication! Please check them out!
I never got the urge
when looking at someone
I loved unless
they were moments
I never felt such overwhelming
until that September afternoon –
Those eyes like mine
made me feel
I almost wept.
I could not contain
just how much
I loved you.
French press mornings
that gifted us our futures in the bottom
of our cups –
I cannot read our future.
Why did you fall in love with me?
You smiled and said nothing.
I asked again –
I took your hand –
You’re easy to love, I said.
You smiled and said,
because you’re kind.
Kind to heart and kind in patience
rose-colored and divine –
Too rosy to see your eyes that hid
what you couldn’t tell me until
many months past.
To leave me devoured and spit out
spit up resentments where love once was
our cups empty
My cup empty.
You touched her –
and her –
and probably her as well.
Black coffee grind hand on my heart
too divine to stay elevated
at your feet.
And I wept and wept
to look at your face
to see the death of us –
dead to me.
“Do you ever feel the urge to drink to the point of poisoning yourself?”
I want to be everything she could have been. Before the demons. Before all of her horrible fucking decisions. I want to wake up at 52 years old and think to myself I did it. I dragged her memory as the weight of her corpse along with me to a point where she never got to tread. I feel like I’m in a constant battle of honoring her and being burdened by her. I’m at a crossroads where – seven and a half years later – I still get asked if I ever feel the itch; I don’t ever feel the itch to suffer like she did. At 28, I’ve already suffered enough.
I just got back from a destination wedding in Mexico. It was a beautiful ceremony; I wrote it for my friend, and was so humbled and honored to do so. I was a bridesmaid. The tequila was flowing, there was zero drama, but I had my little demons. My spies who sat back and watched these beautiful intimate moments between the bride and her mother and scratched on the chalkboard of my mind and said, “You’ll never have this. Ever.” And I just suck it up, smile, excuse myself as to avoid crying and stuff it down because I don’t want to look like I’m making one of my best friend’s weddings about me. I watch their moments like a sappy movie. Everything is romanticized. I look away. I don’t want to. I want to feel what they feel. I want to experience the love of a sober mother.
I never thought my mother didn’t love me. Even at her worst, at her angriest, I never questioned her love. There is a serious influence, though, when a person is so unwaveringly discontent with their own existence that it affects everything and everyone around them. My mother’s self-loathing and resentment left a black spot on everything she came into contact with – including her children. Especially her children. Each time she extended herself to help another I could see a little more of her cup empty out. The closer she got to the bottom of her emotional well, the fuller her wine glass became. And it took almost 21 years before wine no longer did the trick. She opted for Absolut hidden behind the washing machine, in laundry baskets, behind the coffee. The day after she died, the basement flooded with sewage and empty bottles of vodka floated out from behind the dryer. It was like she was communicating from beyond the grave just to say, “You stupid fucks. I was doing it right under your noses. Have fun dealing with the shit show. XOXO, Patricia.” I laughed to myself that day as my dad sponged up a lake of shit knowing my vindictive mother was rolling somewhere in the veil between the dead and the living. She probably heard some of the angry comments he made towards her while she was in a coma and thought, “Let me put a pin in this.” She was always so creative. My dad was certainly experiencing his own inner turmoil; his father died from alcohol related complications in February of 1991. I never knew Grand-pop but from the stories, he was an angry son of a bitch who took out most of his rage on his five children. I always wondered what compelled my dad to continue in that cycle. He doesn’t drink at all, but that’s because of his heart and bipolar disorder medication.
In the midst of literal and metaphorical raw sewage, I existed, suspended, in an unfamiliar ooze that may or may not have been a mental crack. One of my mother’s favorite sayings was, “Murphy’s Law! If it can go wrong, it will!” She said it so fucking much that I believed for a long time that she just cursed our family. I know now – obviously – that her choices were what created the Murphy’s Law. I spent the months leading up to her death studying abroad at the University of Oxford. It was one of the best summers of my life; I had every intention of going back. I was invited to apply to earn a Master’s in Critical Literary Theory. But Murphy’s Law happened – it was too good to be true. Those dreams imploded the moment I saw her die. Literally everything in my life lost its value in her last two breaths.
I’m afraid to search for home videos with her voice on them because I don’t know if I’ll find what I’m looking for and the expectation feels daunting. My dad deleted her message off the answering machine because he couldn’t stand to hear her anymore, not thinking that maybe I still needed my mother. I’m not mad at him – not anymore. Grief is really good at fucking people up. Death is the easy part, I learned. It’s the aftermath that’s torturous. The old photos, the dust coupled with blame and anguish – a disgusting stew which we are forced to eat because, ultimately, it will nourish us. Grief nourishes us. Pain heals us. Those who refuse the meal of reality become emotionally starved and that hunger leeches off people brave enough to swallow the stew. That’s why families become so turbulent so often after a death – not everyone has had their fill. And that’s just an exaggerated metaphor of the saying, “The only way out is through,” or Churchills, “If you’re going through Hell, keep going.” It’s cliche as ever, but who honestly wants to dwell in that type of pain? It’s why I write so much about those experiences; I don’t want them living in my brain, starving me of life. I write about my mother’s addiction because it’s cathartic; because it helps me cope with my PTSD; because I want to help others feel less alone in their burdens.
I turned to writing as a result of one therapist constantly asking me if I was suicidal and another telling me I seemed very self aware and she didn’t think she could tell me something I didn’t already know. It still feels good to vent to a professional every once in a while but I have found for myself that introspection reigns supreme. I notice my energy becomes volatile if I don’t get out what I have to. There’s this little internal battle where I question if I truly have a story to tell of if I just didn’t get enough attention as a child. Insecurity is a friend to the offspring of an addict because people like my mother are professionals at imposing their own shortcomings onto their young. Like an abused animal loyal to its keeper, I knew no different in my house. I knew I was loved, but I also knew I was fat, I’d never get a boyfriend with hair like mine, I looked like as sausage, and I was a fucking pig. But she was also proud of me; I was an academic. I was kind to everyone but I didn’t take any shit. But I took her shit. I took it because, how could she mean any of it? I could just go hide in the closet with a sleeve of Oreos and get straight A’s and she would still drink, but maybe less if my hair was better. If I was skinnier. If I took up another extracurricular.
The harsh reality comes when it’s revealed that people – even our parents – won’t change for anyone but themselves. My mother steadily increased her intake year after year, and no amount of community service, college education, or Oxford admittance made her want to stop. I became a bootleg psychologist trying to learn and understand what makes an addict work, mostly because I was absolutely fed up with blaming myself, and asking what else could I have dont to make her want to continue on. The harsh reality is she woke up each day a little less herself while I woke up each day a little closer to who I’m meant to be. The cards and drawings and memories together decayed in her rotting mind and she slowly succumbed to a monster she didn’t even know she let in until it became her. Photos meant nothing and her life turned into a theoretical experience rather than an actual life, and while she wandered aimlessly I sat opposite her and her curling cigarette smoke still believing she’d snap out of it. Because she loved me. But she hated herself more. Then she died. Nothing fit together anymore and I quickly realized how much she held me together. If she only knew how vital she was. Suddenly my world went dark and my degree meant nothing and I had no home and I felt abandoned and unloved. Her phone number no longer worked and her voice was gone and the contents of my life fit inside a 5×5 storage unit. Then one day, before my fifth move in four years, I open a box to see a card addressed to “Boop,” my nickname from her. And the card says, “You are the Author of Your Life.” And it says, “I love you with all my heart, Mom.” And I hear her voice again. And I go to my fifth home and I write.
It is so easy to be my mother. It is essentially effortless to turn around, pick up a bottle, become a functioning alcoholic starting at seven in the morning when my night shift ends, pass out within an hour of pounding liquor, waking up in the afternoon and no one questioning it. My life would have numbing, functioning alcoholic sleep. I never saw myself wanting kids, so I could easily get away with addiction. My job pays well, I live alone, and I have an elderly dog who is low maintenance. I wanted to kill myself when my mom died but didn’t have the gumption to do it, partly because I felt like I’d be a failure and I was terrified of being a failure in my mom’s eyes dead or alive, especially when she told me on her deathbed that she was sorry for failing me. Instead, I lost a bunch of weight on my own in an obsessive control-freak episode. I tried out new jobs and stopped smoking weed and limited my drinking. I began to write and write and model my writing outlet to the likeness of Augusten Burroughs’ Lust and Wonder and David Sedaris’ many-a-memoirs.
I then again lost the sense of control, so I read more about what to do when I wanted control, and how to release the illusion of control. I allowed myself to be used by men because, let’s face it, my male role models were less than stellar throughout my existence. I lacked a lot of female guidance growing up, and realized in my 20s that I’d have to do a lot of the growing up on myself. This is why I don’t like the idea of having to fix or take care of people, although by nature I am a fixer. I have a fear of dying alone, do activities with myself for the peace and quiet, but ultimately want to find someone to adventure with.
There is an intolerance that exists within me towards people who are incapable of communicating, and it hurts relationships but I admitted to myself that I’d rather have no relationship than pretend everything is alright. I don’t know if I’m happy; I don’t know if I’m depressed, either. I know I’m doing what I want in the confines of whatever financial resources I currently have. I think what I am is dissatisfied with how certain aspects of my life have turned out thus far. I want to be published and I want to have a stable, healthy romantic relationship. I fear that if I tick everything off my bucket list, I’ll just die – and that’s the last thing I want to do.
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.
This is about failure.
This is about the inevitability of failure, the understanding and acceptance that sometimes your work may just not fit into the criteria of what an agent is looking forward. Does it mean your work isn’t good? No. Does it mean you have more work to do? Always. Failure is not infinite and improvement should never be finite. This rejection email – my nth one – doesn’t make me cry in the dark, wondering why I’m not good enough to have my book published. It doesn’t make me want to give up writing; it makes me want to write more. Failure and rejection makes me realize just how much this means to me, and how much being an author and a writer means to me.
In a technological world, my phone has become the hub of games, social media, various apps, texting, email – whatever I could imagine. There is no escaping social media if you want to be a known writer in 2019 and I am noticing more and more how I have to mold my image on the internet to become acquainted with other writers and readers of the world in order to share my stories. I’m not a huge fan of social media, but what I have noticed is, the more serious I’ve become about writing, the less serious I’ve become about maintaining a social media image. My output has gone from posting a photo (or more) a day on Instagram to writing something everyday – whether it is a poem, an essay, a thought, or a handwritten entry in my journal. My energy has shifted from image through immediate visual stimulation to providing a story that allows someone to create an image for themselves. And honestly? I love it. I feel like the “me” I write about rather than the “me” I post about is the more genuine form of who I truly am. I feel like I am living a better and more sincere life by letting my words define me than my carefully taken photos of moments in my life I’d rather hold onto than moments I need to express in order to be a healthier version of myself. So yeah, in a sense, in this email, I failed to meet whatever this agency was looking for. And that’s OK, because whoever comes across me and selects me will select the genuine me, the real me, and the business aspect will be a much more enjoyable one. I’m grateful to each agency who read my words and whether or not they want to take on my projects is relative to whatever impact my words may have. I can take the failure because it isn’t really failure. And any failure is a forward failure as I stumble towards the future I want to create for myself.
I have been turned down by – if I’m keeping a vague count – probably 50 or so literary agencies all over the country. I’ve been writing – or if I’m being honest – trying to write books for the past seven or so years. I’ve grown accustomed to rejection letters and passive “we’re so busy here or else we’d give you better feedback” emails that I feel like recently I submit my work just to pass time. I have filled out countless applications, wrote query after query, prayed, hoped, cried, and sometimes practically begged for a chance. I want an agent to take a chance on me and be pleasantly surprised in the same way I took a chance on myself in my early 20’s. I want someone to see me and say, “Hey, she probably works well under pressure, ” or, “Hey, she probably takes criticism well,” and I want to shake that person’s hand and look them in the face and say that I won’t let them down.
In the end, I’m doing what I’ve been doing for the sake of getting out my story. I take years and years of suppressed memories and thoughts and regrets and throw them down line after line for no one other than myself, and I think realizing that what I’m doing is for me is what encourages me to continue filling out query after query and expecting a hearty “No thank you.” The market is over-saturated and the world is over-populated and for some reason I hold onto a shred of hope that something I say will help someone else somewhere even if I’m never published because I’ve seen it happen on more than one occasion just by verbal interaction. I’ve been writing since I could write and I’ve been talking non stop since I could form a sentence. Some people are simply born to be certain things and I think I was born to be a writer.
I’m not sure if my mother’s addiction, my abusive household, her death, my father’s mental illness, or my own personal turmoil was destined to happen because I was somehow destined to share my stories, but I am sharing my stories and my life regardless of my platform. My soap box has not yet caved in. My heart is still beating. I am not finished. I have learned in this process and cycle of application and rejection that I own my past and my truth and I am no longer ashamed of where I come from because I see exactly who the fuck I am and honestly? If that’s as far as I’m meant to go, so be it. Just let me know if I helped someone.
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.