I had a lot written on this and ditched it. I’m starting fresh, with exception to the opening paragraphs. This is not fucking easy, but it scratches at my brain every day. I need to get it out. I don’t know if it will help me heal or cope or come to terms with any of it, but maybe.
I just re-read Part One, and it brought me to tears. I’ve attempted to continue the story multiple times, and I always abandon it. It’s time to get it done. It breaks my heart that such a potentially beautiful soul was given such a hard way to go.
First and foremost, I left out the very important fact that mom was only 16 when she had my oldest brother, and 28 when she had my brother Aaron. And that she didn’t finish high school. And that I also have memories of her reading Stephen King’s The Stand and watching Roots. That my love for Gone with the Wind started with her, and she wrote, too, and that her love of music helped spark mine as well. Motown documentaries and listening to The Supremes on repeat while she cooked. . . If that doesn’t speak for the potential of who my mother could have been, well. I don’t know what does.
So, this woman who was tough enough to stick her injured foot into bleach water, this woman who was smart and enjoyed history and knew a million things about a million different topics; this woman who could cook and sing and dance and skate, who loved cartoons and coloring and flying kites. Who would have swinging contests with me at the park and loved to go to the lake and have cookouts. This woman was my mom. She gave me life, and her cheekbones and knobby knees and knack for sarcastic comments. She gave me love when she had it to give. This was my mom, and this is the next part of our story.
Things are blurry in the string of events for awhile after that. Dad got custody of us. We started our new life without mom in it. I recall going to the doctor a lot for stomach issues and recall eavesdropping on a conversation between my step-mom and aunt about me being 6 years old and forming an ulcer in my stomach from being so stressed. I looked up what an ulcer was and even at such an early age was shocked at the definition. Looking back, it makes sense. I cannot imagine my 5 year old Chase going through what I did at his age. It blows my mind thinking of my sweet little boy going through those things that I did and I am forever grateful that I have been able to provide a stable life for him and for Matt.
My memory is spotty, so I can’t give you a chronological timeline. There are some key memories however leading up to my young adult years when everything spiraled down to my mother’s passing.
I think that I had some type or form of PTSD during the first year of living with Dad, until I adjusted to my new life. I remember not being able to sleep, not wanting to let go of Peterlee for anything. Of crying all night and my poor father being beside himself because I was keeping him awake, when he worked a regular job and ran two businesses and needed his rest. I know eventually I mostly came through this phase, with very little of the events in my first 6 years having much of an effect on me. That’s a vague statement, because perhaps it has more bearing on me than I really realize. But the fact that I am a fully functioning, productive member of society tells me that despite it all, I wasn’t majorly effected.
I remember mom living in several different places, and a new man entering her life who was also an alcoholic and abusive. He taught me to play blackjack but was also a very intelligent man. He fed my obsession with Greek mythology, and seemed to thoroughly enjoy when I would read the myths to him from books we’d get at the library on Aaron and my visits.
There was a time when we didn’t see mom, but then dad allowed for us to go to Adrian to stay weekends here and there, and occasionally on spring break and Christmas break for longer visits. He never kept us from her, but he was definitely cautious. I’ve had to go and pull court documentation as an adult because as you may recall, dad hadn’t signed both our birth certificates. When he passed I needed to prove his paternity and the only place I knew to look was in those court documents. So I made a trip to the county court house. But I skimmed, found what I needed, got my copies and left. I was dealing with too much to read the play by play of the court proceedings giving dad custody. I do know mom signed over custody 100% though. I can’t say if there was a court order somewhere stating we could not see her, if she was instructed to complete counseling before visitation was granted. . . I don’t know. I just know we didn’t see her for overnight visits for several years. When we did, nothing had changed for her. She still drank, she still was with someone who was abusive. We were just older and better able to handle ourselves I suppose.
On visits with my mom, we had free reign to go where ever we wanted to go in town. The park, the store, the playground, much the same as we had when we were younger. I loved it and looked forward to visits for this main reason. Dad was much stricter than mom, so those visits were like being given a taste of freedom to me. Aaron dreaded the visits. Mom’s carefree lifestyle did not pair well with Aaron’s autism and actual physical need for structure.
Mom, being on a fixed income, lived in less than stellar accommodations now that she didn’t have Aaron’s social security to cushion her. First, a high rise apartment building that used to be the old YMCA in downtown Adrian, infested badly with cockroaches. If you remember there was a movie called Joe’s Apartment? Yeah. The first time I saw the ads for the movie I recalled mom’s apartment right there on the edge if downtown. The building still exists, and it’s changed hands and names a couple of times, while also suffering a fire and being renovated. Maybe someday I’ll take a tour of the building. I’d be curious to see it now compared to back then.
Back then it was the home to seemingly half the world’s population of cockroaches and low income families and elderly. It smelled continuously of roach spray as the landlords tried to make it seem as though they were trying to rid the building of the infestation. I imagine that it now being owned by the city college that the proper measures have been taken to clear the building of the nasty things, but back then. . .
I woke up one time with one sitting on my thigh, seemingly watching me while I slept. Another time, I was in the shower and looked up to find a mass of them in the back corner. If I had to guess, they covered an area roughly the size of a small child’s basketball. Needless to say, I didn’t finish my shower, and I didn’t sleep very well when we were there. This also bred a minor phobia to cockroaches, which later in life was an issue in my line of work.
I talked my mom into buying me a pet rat, mainly because she thought she was going to talk dad into letting me take it home. That was a firm no from him, and so then all of a sudden mom had a pet rat. Who she grew very fond of, since he was a quirky thing that liked to ride on her shoulder as she visited neighbors in the building, and hide out under the couch, coming out to freak out visitors.
When I was 10 or so, my grandmother passed away from Lung cancer. With her she took another piece if my mother. Not long after Granny’s passing, my mother was hospitalized, near death herself. She had literally almost drank herself to death, and was hooked to life support. Dad had been doing a stint in Ann Arbor’s VA hospital, undergoing rehab for his own alcohol addiction which had resurfaced. Mom was in U of M hospital, and dad got a day pass to go visit her. Years later it struck me how significant his visit to her was. Here were two people who had a less than stellar relationship, a multitude of hard feelings on both sides – she believing he had taken us to spite her and not to help us, he feeling she was not the fittest of mothers – and she was on her death bed and he went to visit her. Despite hard feelings and an ugly past, I truly believe there was still love there.
Mom did recover, to a degree. My mom was always heavy, but now a stiff breeze would blow her away. You could see each and every bone, and she battled osteoporosis and anemia. She was 42 and looked 60. She aged 15 years in this battle.
And she continued to drink.
Mom forever had her water glass, which actually more often than not concealed her mixed drinks. Vodka and orange juice was a favorite, but in hard times kool-aide and vodka served the purpose.
If I have my sequence if events correct, the next major event was my mother going to prison.
Yes. My mother not only was in jail, which is not an uncommon thing so much. . . But prison. I was 12 or so, and apparently she went for shoplifting, or theft to some degree. I think on top of things being kind of fuzzy, things were kept quiet and secret from me and my brother. I’m only telling the parts of my life that pretain to my mom in this version of my childhood. There was plenty going on in my day to day aside from her. A lot for a child to process and keep track of. So, I have next to no facts. I received letters and phone calls from a women’s correctional facility in Michigan, from my mother. And I know it was related to theft. I know this wasn’t the first time that she stole. I distinctly remember losing her in a store one time for more than an hour. She told me they had her in the back of the store and were “questioning” her, accusing her of stealing a keychain she found on the floor that she knew I would like, that she had assumed a fellow shopper had dropped it and had no clue that it was actually store merchandise.
I found out her status in the judicial system, that she was in jail, and knew she had lied to me that day in Meijer.
Despite it all, I still thought my mother to be this wonderful, beautiful, fascinating woman. She did no wrong. Because that’s how children view their mothers.
I believe my mom was incarcerated for a year or so. I tried to search the information online, but Adrian is such a small town that you have to make your inquires in person. I think this spring there will definitely be a trip to Adrian to do just that. This writing business is opening up a lot of unknowns that I would like definite answers to.
Anyway, my vision of my mother began to finally take on a real, flawed light.
In some fashion, word got around school. Whether it was because I confided in someone I thought to be a friend or just word of mouth, I was confronted one day by a girl in my 6th grade class.
“Is your mom in prison?” She asked me while we gathered our things at the end of the school day. Everyone in my class was with in ear shot. I don’t hide from truth, nor do I lie, no matter how ugly the truth may be. I never have. This girl and I were not friends, she seemed rather stuck up, with a consistent “I’m better than you” look on her face. She rarely talked to me, unless it was to make snide comments. I cringed inside as I glanced up from my backpack at her. Of all fucking people. “Yes.” I answered, despite knowing she was being very rude and nasty. Not an ounce of concern came from her, even just curiosity would have been acceptable. No. This was just pure ugliness. “God.” She said, sneering. “I would be so embarrassed.” And laughing, she flipped her highlighted blonde hair and walked away.
I sincerely hope she turned out to be a kinder adult than she was as a pre-teen.
If I’m not mistaken, the incarceration did serve the purpose of my mother obtaining her GED, though. As smart as my mother was, life had done nothing but beat her down, and I can’t imagine it was her intent to go into her 40s without a diploma of any kind. So at least there was that.
She had a period of house arrest, with a tether on her ankle. She stayed with my step-grandfather/great uncle during this time. She was forced to work, and had to report to the jail to blow into a breathalyzer, showing she remained sober. Despite the house arrest and all of the changes, I was seeing my mother for the first time. Who she was meant to be. Without the addiction, without the abuse. She was so bright, so funny. Full of fun stories from her childhood and mine and Aaron’s. She began to gain weight, and lost some of that sad look. I met my mother for the first time when I was 13 years old. And less than ten years later, she would be gone.
I thought I could conclude this in two parts. I failed to take into account however that this story is spanning 21 years. So there will be a part 3.
This part hasn’t been so hard to tell. I was slightly removed from all the bad, not living in it day in and day out. It had it’s effects of course, but having a slightly more stable home to go back to helped level it some. Things didn’t stay wonderful at dad’s though, either, but that has very little bearing on this part of my story. Just know that while I was living this part of my life, I was dealing with more in my full time home.
Part three will be the hardest. I’ll try not to wait five months between this one and the next, but definitely no promises. Until then folks, thank you for your time and positivity.