Why Write

“Do you ever feel the urge to drink to the point of poisoning yourself?”

Never.

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.

Liberation

The men lined up and Harold stood among a crowd of cold and frightened souls as he prepared to walk forward out of the open gates of Stalag XVII-B. It all felt like a trap. He spent so many months dreaming of the day where he’d never return to that horrendous place and as it was happening before him, he couldn’t help but feel it was still a dream. He held close whatever he could carry and kept craning his neck to make sure there were other men following in the same direction. They all looked unsure, but they knew they had no other choice. The cold lingered while the fog began to lift over XVII-B, and the prisoners breathed through in heavy huffs as the hell they endured grew smaller; the faces of the sick hung in between the barbed wire fencing like old portraits until Harold could no longer discern them.
There were whispers that the prisoners were destined for Braunau, to get as far away from Russian forces as possible. They followed the Danube River, unable to stop unless it was to sleep for an hour or two. 4,000 or so men split off into groups of up to 300 men, and within those groups they delegated themselves to parties of three or four – one to gather wood, one to gather food, one to guard the food, and so on. As they passed through fields and private farm lands, food gatherers such as Harold would pull root vegetables straight from the ground, wipe the dirt off, and eat them raw. Turnips, potatoes, carrots – whatever they could find was more of a delicacy than the slop that was served by the Jerry’s back in Stalag XVII-B. Harold bit hard into a carrot, his teeth aching from two years of no toothbrush, and thought how grateful he was to never have just hot water for breakfast – or boiled cabbage for dinner, or muddied black coffee – again. He continued onward, marching through mud and fields; he imagined he was marching home to Loretta. He envisioned the cottage on the water, the smell of salt carried on a warm breeze. The thoughts took him back to his early days at Keesler Air Force Base and the muddy Mississippi. It seemed like forever ago to him. He wouldn’t have to write her letters telling her everything was fine before going to bed with hunger pains. He wouldn’t have to tell her that he was in good spirits after seeing innocent men shot dead before him. He’d never have to kill – or watch someone be killed – again. Even with the freezing nights in German territory beating down on his head and face each night, Harold continued to think of her. He would pull into Jamaica Station and this time she’d be there, waiting for him. Her hair would be curled and her lipstick would be a bright shade of pink. She’d have her tea length dress on that he liked, and she’d be so excited to see him that she would consider running onto the train herself, because she just couldn’t wait any longer. Then, that night, he’d lay next to her in bed, and he would do that every night for the rest of his life. He never wanted to be away from her again.

Elevated

El

e

vated

Myself with Solitude

    and solidarity

and climbed

  climbed

past suicide

or sadness

     or anger

Not who I am but what

I have FELT

Felt from you

them

    sandpaper promises

    expiration dates

abused lovers abusing

new lovers

They see tranquil

    open eyes open hands

SOFT

  But crave chaos

      they destroy

And you stay

ELEVATED

You elevate me.

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.