It’s funny, kind of. It was hard as hell to write Part One. Part two didn’t take an emotional toll on me at all though. As stated previously, I think it was because I was kind of removed from the situation. However, my physical body showed signs of stress; my shoulders and neck hurt with tension when I finished, my head ached. I took Motrin and melatonin to relax me, had a good yoga session. I felt some of it leave me as I lay in bed that night. But I slept fitfully and woke up an hour later than I should have, and the tension is creeping back into my body as we speak. Emotionally and mentally I felt fine. But subconsciously perhaps I am not, as my body is showing signs of the stress.
It’s time for the hardest part of the story. The part that is the freshest and most painful. Readers and friends have called me brave and an inspiration even for sharing all of this so openly. I don’t feel that way, and I haven’t always been brave. I haven’t always been kind, or thoughtful. I have been selfish, thoughtless. Cold, even. This part right here, that I am about to write. . . This is where I learned my most valuable lessons. I learned empathy and sympathy, how to put yourself in another’s shoes. I learned these things, and the price I paid was the loss of my mother.
To jump back in where we were, mom had been incarcerated and forced into sobriety. She was healthier and happier than she had been in my entire life. I’m sure you may have guessed, but it didn’t last. I can’t say what the exact trigger was for her. It doesn’t really matter. The main point is that she went back to her addiction, and her abusive spouse. She went back to an apartment with cockroaches, this time over a well known bar in town. So not only did I lay awake nights afraid of waking up with a roach on me, I also got to listen to drunken karaoke while I lay there. And she was just footsteps away from her crutch. I did still go and visit, though. I did love my mom, and I did miss her. We exchanged letters all through out my childhood and teenage years, and that helped some.
Mom began to fall a lot. Whether it was due to the unhealthiness of her body or from the alcohol continually in her system, or some combination of the two, I can’t say. And really, I wasn’t present for the falls, so it very well could have been from the spouse for all I know. I always loved her smile, and then one visit she was minus a tooth and another was black and she covered her mouth the few times she did smile. She had fallen and hit her face on a curb when walking one evening. She fell another time and hurt her shoulder and was in a cast. This time off of a bar stool. I watched her become bitter. She was in constant pain, in constant need of medication, constantly in need of her alcohol fix. Visits that used to make me happy began to be dreaded. I began to visit only to see friends in town, not to see my mom.
Mom and dad tried to get back together when I was 16 or so. And what a clusterfuck that was. At first everything was happy and wonderful. It felt so odd to have their parenting and personalities under the same roof. Dad was strict in where we went and with chores and homework. Mom was not. Mom was strict with the media we chose to watch and listen to, dad was not. We watched off color cartoons every Wednesday night with Dad, and mom was absolutely beside herself. “How can you let them watch this?! They’re just kids!” We were 16 and 18, mind you. And growing up with dad, ‘off color’ was just a way of life. She was upset with how I talked and acted. I was respectful, never one to swear in front of adults. But I was a tomboy. Jeans and t-shirts, bandanas and hats to cover my unruly hair, and wild sunglasses. . . hikes in the woods, soccer, and an occasional ride on a dirtbike or shooting guns out back. Not to mention I had no problem saying things like, “well that sucks balls.” And how about my choice in music. . . It was 1999, and rock music was taking over my stereo. She was appalled by the names of the bands. . . Godsmack, Limp Bizkit. . . And when she found the lyrics to songs like Nookie written in marker on my bed. . . Well, it didn’t go over well. I wasn’t lady like. At all. I was basically a boy with female body parts. And mom didn’t care for that. She didn’t drive, never had, thus she only left when dad would take her somewhere. And she did not take much from the beautiful woods surrounding our home. She attended a choir performance and while we had placed high in state competitions, we weren’t as good as her choir growing up apparently. I ate too much, I needed to lay off the bread according to her. My hips were too wide, and how dare I have developed larger breasts than her? She was pissed that I had developed and acted like my dad’s family – thick body, and a mouth that wasn’t afraid to run. Mom was unhappy there. We weren’t what she had thought we were, and with both her and my dad drinking things weren’t good in that department, either. It didn’t last 6 months and she moved back to Adrian. And God help me, I was so relieved.
For the record, while her negativity hurt me then, and in all actuality probably added to growing self esteem issues I harbored, I do not fault her for this either. The children she encountered in 1999 were so very much different than in 1990. Sure, she did see us for short visits – those weekends and holiday breaks. But we saw her in her environment. In her environment we were who we were 10 years ago, city kids who ran until the street lights kicked on, away from her while she partied. We adapted to our surroundings so to speak. But on home turf, we were 100% the people our father had raised. Which is to say rather crude, rambunctious, country kids. She had a preconceived idea of who we were, and when we showed that we weren’t those children anymore. . . It probably hurt. We came from her body. She was our mother. And she couldn’t even say she really knew who we were anymore.
She went back to Adrian, and she fell again. This time on a store owned sidewalk that hadn’t been maintained properly. She hurt her hip badly – I don’t recall if she broke it, but I’m guessing so. There were surgeries, and a lawsuit. She wrote me and asked if I could come for the summer and help care for her while she healed, and I jumped at the chance. I had a new boyfriend who lived in town, see. This was Andy, my first real boyfriend, and now my lifelong best friend. Sure, I wanted to help mom. But I wanted to be as near him as possible if you want to know the truth.
So I spent the summer in Adrian. She had moved into a nice little duplex, cockroach and abusive spouse free, and I helped care for her during the day and ran the town with Andy at night. I have to say, the balance was pretty okay. Mom didn’t need much. She slept til noon most days, and went to the bar most evenings. We would wheel her there in her wheel chair and she would call Andy’s cell phone when she was ready to come home, and we’d bring her back. Aaron came to hang out some weekends. We did grocery shopping for Mom and other errands. Otherwise, I actually got to be a real teenager that summer, honestly. Bonfires and late night shenanigans. As long as I was home by 2am, and quiet when I came in, she didn’t care. Dad was so different from her. I could count on one hand how many times I’d stayed at friends houses during my childhood. Same with movies I’d been to see. I saw more movies with Andy that summer than I had seen in the whole time I’d lived with dad. I felt almost like an adult.
Too soon it was time to go back home, and go back to school. I was entering my senior year, and had an amazing class schedule – AP English, Poetry, Choir, and Advanced Journalism. All advanced, even Choir. I was the copy editor for the school newspaper, which was what my Advanced Journalism class was, and had hopes of taking these classes to gain experience to go to an amazing college and start a writing career. Andy and my relationship, though long distance, was awesome. I was figuring myself out. My summer at mom’s had sparked a rebellious streak in me, however. Dad and I fought more. His drinking was out of hand. I would take off many Friday’s and reappear Sunday’s. I would go with Andy and his friends and be free from the stresses of home life. This went on into the fall. And then one day there was a huge blow up between dad and I. The details are unimportant in this story, but this is when I ended up leaving dad’s for good. I had decided to go live with mom. Somehow I thought the grass was greener. The only thing greener about it I found was that Andy lived less than 10 blocks from mom.
I enrolled in high school, and was disappointed in the class selection. Too late to join journalism, and while I did audition and place for the upper choir, they didn’t have half the talent Hillsdale’s choir had. No AP classes, either. I felt so out of place – my graduating class in Adrian had damn near the same amount of people in it as the whole of Hillsdale high school. Ever the stubborn one, I refused to admit defeat though. I figured, what was one year? I did have a drama class that I loved, and took the lead in the play. And there was Andy. During that summer and Fall I also got in some quality time with my mother. She helped me dye my hair for the first time, gave me makeup application lessons, and we watched Grease and Disney movies and cooking shows. She began to teach me how she cooked, which was so very much different from my father’s cooking.
There was also bad with my mother though, who had gotten a large settlement from her fall the previous year. This meant she showered me with gifts, which she had never been able to do before. A nice winter coat, a computer to do my school work on, so on and so forth. It also meant heavier booze though. I found myself running to Andy’s to escape. One fight in particular resulted in her saying “if you’re going to be so ungrateful, leave that coat I bought you here!” as I strode out the door to run to him again. I flung it on the floor and told her to shove it up her ass. I had only on one other occasion sworn at either of my parents, and both for the same reason; I was watching them drink themselves to death and I just didn’t know how to handle it. Previously when I left dads I had told him if he’d put down the fucking beer maybe he’d know why I was so upset.
Looking back on it all, I had every right to be upset with them. I was now legally an adult, and an intelligent one at that. I saw what they were both doing, and I hated every minute of it. However. Was I being overly sensitive and hormonal? Could I have been more understanding? Was I making mountains out of molehills so to speak because of my relationship with Andy? Nothing changed those first few months of senior year from the rest of my childhood, really. They had always drank, always partied, always got trashed. How much of it was me being genuinely fed up and for good reason and how much was me over reacting?
Regardless of the reason, I ended up living with Andy. Mom had drank herself into the hospital again, after kicking me out, and while she was there I moved my things out. I filled out a form to emancipate myself at the school and proceeded to begin my adult life. I balanced school and my first job. Dad had never let me work but being on my own meant I needed money. Mom got out of the hospital and began calling Andy’s phone, and even showed up at the house once while I was at work. One of our friends answered the door to find my mother on the doorstep, looking sick and with a black eye. “Just tell her that her father and I are worried about her,” she requested when he refused to confirm if I lived there or not. I didn’t know that my disappearance had brought them to be civil to one another. I found a letter from mom to dad when I was going through his desk after he died. She was beside herself, didn’t know what to do, she was worried. My mother loved me, this I don’t doubt. I had hurt her, this I also know. She kicked me out, but looking back I know she didnt mean it. I get my hot headedness from her. She would speak before she thought, and regret it later. But I took her at her words. I offered her zero explanation, showed no compassion. I left no note, just took my things and figured she deserved to be let down the way I had. She let me down by letting alcohol eat her alive. She let me down by just uttering the words. I felt justified in my actions.
I graduated high school, and didn’t invite my mother to the ceremony. I had begun to mend things with dad and he did attend. I had begun to look back at things and began to realize that my mother had done me no favors. I was angry and hurt. I felt she didn’t deserve to be there. I felt I had been forced to move out by her actions, forced to be an adult before was necessary. I was graduating and it wasn’t because she’s been a good mother. It was because of my own determination and will power.
Eventually, I mended my relationship with both of my parents. Once things went south with Andy and I had my own car and my own place and was making a solid living. Once I had proven to myself that I wasn’t them. I visited my dad and brother, and I visited my mom and took her to doctors appointments and the grocery store. Neither of them had changed though. Still alcohol ruled their lives. But now I was in charge of my own life. I had drank only once in my life at this point, and mainly it was to see what all the fuss was about – I wasn’t impressed. When I’d answer my phone and they’d be drunk on the other end, I could hang up. When I’d show up to their homes and they’d be plastered, I could leave. But mom would get upset when I would be unable to run her here or there. Sometimes it was because I just did not want to deal with it, with her. More often than not it was because I had a job and a life. She was no longer the happy, fun, loving person I remembered. She was bitter and complained incessantly. She rarely smiled, let alone laughing. And truth be told, rarely did she call me unless she needed something from me.
I missed my mother long before her body left the earth.
I was living my life in a way that pleased me, much like that summer of freedom I experienced before my senior year. I worked, hung out with friends, and slept. Usually a 3pm-11pm work shift, hanging out til 3am, and sleeping until 2pm. I was asleep when my boss called me and told me that while he hated to be the one to tell me, my grandfather had passed away, my mom’s dad. He told me to take whatever time I needed as I cried on my end of the phone. I told him I definitely needed that day as I thought of my mom, and I would call him later once I knew about arrangements. I threw clothes on and sped across town to my mom’s apartment. “Mom?!” I called as I walked in. I found her in the living room, speechless with tears. She looked so very fragile and broken, her eyes near swollen shut from crying. And I burst into tears at the sight of her that way. Thinking of it now, I know the pain she felt. I know why she looked the way she did. The loss of a father is like no other.
And suddenly, she was my mother again, gathering me in her arms and rubbing my hair and telling me that it was okay. “We’ll be okay, sweetie. We’ll be okay,” she kept saying over and over. And I know now she was saying it as much to herself as she was to me.
I helped mom through the funeral. Dad bought his first suit to attend because he said if there was anyone he respected, it was my grandfather. Mom stood at the casket staring down at her father and dad walked up and took her hand. She looked at my dad like a lost child. “That’s my dad?” She said, almost in a question. Dad wrapped his arms around her and they both cried.
That was my first lesson in love. 20+ years of turmoil and anger, of hard feelings and even harder words. . . And my dad put on a suit and held my mother while she cried at my grandfather’s funeral. You can love someone so much, and really love sometimes isn’t enough. It isn’t always enough to make life work together. It is a hard, sad truth about this life.
Not long after the final straw came.
I went to see mom, and she didn’t answer when I called out to her as I always did when I walked in. I found her weak and sick lying on the couch. I have to admit that even after grandpa died my visits were few and far between. His passing didn’t do anything but make her worse to be around. But she was still my mother and I still loved her despite it all. It didn’t click immediately why she was so sick that she could barely walk. I just saw my mom, sick and weak, asking me to help her to the kitchen. So I did just that, assuming she would ask me to make her something to eat. She sat down at the table in a chair. And reached out to open the fridge. “Mom, I can get what you need.” I told her.
She grabbed the bottle of tequila.
I swear to you, she grabbed that bottle of tequila and the ready shot glass on the table and did a shot right then and there.
Tears burned my eyes and a rage I had never felt before filled me. I was absolutely beside myself. Weak and unable to walk, she had me practically carry her to the kitchen for a fucking shot of tequila?! I felt like she’d tricked me, I was embarrassed at my own foolishness and hurt at her use of me.
“I can’t do this anymore,” I said softly to her, tears not just burning now, but flowing down my face. “I can’t watch you kill yourself, mom. I love you, but I can’t.”
And I got up and walked out the door, leaving her to figure out how to get back to the couch. I only saw her a handful of times after that before she died.
There was a dinner she cooked for Matt’s dad and I, and our visit to tell her I was pregnant for Matt. I thought she’d be happy. For years she’d been asking for a grandchild, even though I was only twenty. Instead she looked unhappy, asked if we were going to get married. She looked even more unhappy when I told her we didn’t plan on it immediately. I did make a point to drop off the ultrasound tape for her to see, but she was asleep when I did that and barely acknowledged me. I ended up back at dad’s for awhile during my pregnancy, and then in Toledo during my last trimester.
I had Matt, naming him for her brother, my uncle who I never met. The one who drowned in the river, the one she loved so dearly.
Even though I held a lot of resentment and hurt, I wanted to honor her, as well as my dad. So Matthew has my uncle’s first name and my father’s middle name. A piece of mom and a piece of dad. And good God does he ever have some if his Granny and Pawpaw’s best traits! Smart and funny and sarcastic. . . Yes, he definitely is their grandson.
Shortly after he was born, I got a call that mom was on life support and in the hospital again, and they were contemplating pulling the plug. Shortly before that I had explained to her that unless she promised to be sober, I wouldn’t bring Matthew to her home to meet her. She hadn’t been able to make that promise. And now here she was near death from alcohol again. I held her hand and cried and prayed and promised to be a better daughter. But I didn’t truly believe she was going to die.
And, she didn’t. She didn’t die that time. I visited her in a rehabilitation center as she recovered, wheeled her outside for a cigarette. And as I wheeled her down the hall she began to lecture me about the fact that her grandson was more than six months old and she hadn’t even met him. I stopped the wheelchair. I knelt beside her and said, “mom, you can’t stop drinking long enough to meet him. I refuse to subject my child to the things you and dad subjected me to. He doesn’t need to see his Granny drunk, 8 months old or not. Mom, you’re too weak to even hold him. He weighs twenty pounds almost! Promise me when you get out of here you’ll quit drinking, and you’ll see your grandson.” She looked away from me and said nothing. She said nothing and I walked away for the final time, leaving her in that nursing home hallway.
She died a month later. She went home and drank herself to death, although the final cause of death was double pneumonia and anemia. She wasn’t found by family, she was found days after she had actually died by someone for meals on wheels.
I had written her an apology letter and sent it the day before Aaron called me. I could hear dad crying in the background and when I asked to talk to him he refused. He couldn’t stop crying long enough to talk to me at that point. Mom never got my letter. I placed it in her casket with her, along with a picture of her grandson.
My mom died alone, without knowing that despite it all I still loved her. She died without meeting her grandson.
What if I hadn’t been so stubborn? Would seeing her grandson have changed anything? What if I had visited more, been more patient? What if I had pushed her to get help instead of walking away all those times? What if I had included her in my life instead of avoiding her? Would anything be different?
I know now that nothing I did or didn’t do shaped the outcome of my mother’s life. You can’t help someone who doesn’t want help. You can throw them the life raft, but you can’t force them to grab it. But it’s been almost 12 years since she died and it has taken most of those years for me to come to that realization. It has taken me that long to forgive myself for being human. For self preservation taking over and making me walk away when I was hurt. I still hold regret though. The mother I loved – the funny, quick witted, sarcastic, loving woman I remember the most would have adored these hooligans of mine. I regret that she wasn’t here to read to them and play with them and rock them to sleep. Mostly though I just wish life had been kinder to her so that she could have been here for those things, so she could have been the wonderful woman she had the potential to be.
My mother’s body left the earth when she was 52 years old, but really she was gone before that. And maybe, wherever she is now, she is at peace, and free from her sadness and burdens and pain and addiction. Maybe she can see that I hold no resentment in my heart and I miss and love the woman who was my mother every day. The one who held me when she was hurting, the one who sang and danced while she cooked, who shared late night meals with me and taught me how to swing. I am a better mother because she was my mother, good or bad. And while I still hold regret and sadness, I know her story could not have played out any other way regardless of the choices I made. I hope you’re at rest, mom. And now maybe in telling this, I can let this rest, too.