Today’s post will not be light and airy, full of dry humor, or throwing balls to the wall and taking pleasure in seeing where they may stick. If this is what you’re looking for today, you won’t find it here. I’m sorry. I woke up in what you could say was a ‘mood’, and upon sitting down at the computer to read my horoscopes I happened upon the date and realized why. Today is May 18th. Today twenty-three years ago my mother passed away.
I don’t share the details of her passing with everyone. I find the emotions associated with it very painful. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to repress and forget, and even experienced therapists have had difficulty getting me to open up. I can get through my lousy childhood, teen angst years, an emotionally distant father, and abusive, shitty marriages all right, but this topic usually comes with a roadblock; my inner, defense-mechanism that kicks in to save me from pain. I don’t deal with pain, remember? I’m a warrior, and warriors can’t afford to have that luxury. Losing my best friend of thirty years to suicide back in 2008 has forced me onto a two and a half year journey to face my fears, sadness, guilt, inner demons, and my mother’s death is one of them. Why is it so painful? Because she had never really lived.
My mother in her youth was incredibly beautiful. She had an ear for music at an early age, picked up several instruments easily, and had a wonderful voice. This, coupled with the fact that she was so personable, had a flair for the dramatic, and feared nothing and no one, left little doubt that she was destined for great things, and nothing would be impossible to attain…but it was. The one thing she hadn’t counted on, the one thing she wasn’t strong enough to fight, was the love she found she had for my father after they met and he started persistently courting her. Within five weeks they were married, and he ushered her away back to Iowa where his family was, and away from the dreams she had of a possible singing career. There in that cramped small town he took her to where I would be raised, away from the mystique of Seattle where she had been trying to make a go of it, worlds away from the sunny state of Florida where she’d grown up, she tried to adapt to her new life with my father surrounded by his family, and began to have a family of her own. Five children like stair steps—which were my siblings—then nine years later at the age of thirty-seven, me. The closest I would ever come to seeing her eyes light up was when she played music. Aside from that, the totality of the twenty-five years I had her in my life, my mother’s eyes seemed lifeless. When we were alone, and there was no one there to distract her, they always appeared to be staring off into space as she sat at the kitchen table drinking coffee all day. No, I don’t believe it was heart disease or cancer that took her at the age of 63, but rather a broken heart. My mother wanted, needed more, and knowing she was never going to get it just willed herself to die.
I’m scared. I have trouble admitting this, because I try to always stay so strong in the face of adversity, but the similarities between my mother and I are starting to terrify me. She lived her life through others; worried far too much about everyone else, and too little about herself. She’d been blessed with a gift, was incredibly talented, but was forced to ignore it to do that which was expected of her. By the time I came along my mother was a mere shell of the person that she could’ve been. That she should’ve been. She spent her days in a housecoat sipping coffee, watching soaps, and waiting for neighbors to drop by to entertain her, or she entertain them. I seldom saw her dress, unless it was to go get her hair done, or do lunch with the neighbor and pay bills twice a month. The longer this went on the farther removed from herself and life in general she became. I honestly think when the problems with her heart started and then the emphysema took hold of her it came as a welcome relief. Her life coming to an end was just that much closer to stopping the pain.
The last couple years of my mother’s life she had waned away. She did nothing to help herself fight what was ailing her. She should’ve been trying to quit smoking, but refused. She no longer had an appetite for food although she needed it to keep her strength up, and instead began to live off candy, pastries, and every kind of sweets imaginable. We tried to intervene, but it was hard when the neighbors were sneaking it in to her. I didn’t understand it then, but I do now. She was finding comfort in the only thing that made her feel better. The weaker my mother got, the less she was able to move around. The end result was her living life from the quiet of her room and bed. The doctor advised we get her up and move her around a little, and we tried, but it was always met with resistance. I found myself playing little games trying to coax her from her room with the piano as bait. I’d tell her that I wanted to hear this song or that, and my oldest son then three, would chime in that he wanted to hear it too. It would draw her from her bed, but only temporarily. Then the lights would go out in her eyes once again, and she’d ask to be taken back. The last year of her life she lived with me for a time, and at the very end my sister. I wish this on no one. Watching someone you love will themselves to death is painful, and leaves scars you can’t imagine in their wake. All I could think of after she passed was that it could’ve been avoided had they diagnosed her with what was really wrong. My mother was depressed. My mother grieved herself over the life she was destined for and was never able to have.
I sit here now, my eyes burning, as I refuse to let tears flow. No good comes of it. I’ve cried enough, but there are always too few to create change; to amass a sea in which I can float away from these problems and this life that is so unsatisfying. I am becoming my mother. We share the same hands, though mine can’t make music. The same despair can be heard in my voice as was in hers, but I cannot sing. The gifts we were blessed with are different, but we both have talents unique to us. In the last year I’ve grown weary of life. I seldom get dressed, for there is nowhere to go. I no longer have an appetite for food, for nothing sounds good. Lately I’ve begun to devour sweets at an alarming rate. They comfort me. I spend my days drinking coffee and smoking cigarette after cigarette, as I sit at my computer or pace from room to room trying to make myself want to clean, cook, to do something. The ghost of my mother’s unhappiness haunts me. I don’t want to be like my mother. I don’t want to, but I feel it happening just the same.
I awoke again early this morning, at 3:16 to be exact according to my clock. I tried to shut my eyes and make sleep return easier, but couldn’t. I rolled over and stared out the window at the moon. This morning it was no longer bright, but rather looked like the eye in the sky with a cataract covering it. I thought of all the werewolf movies I watched as a child, and found this moon fitting of one of those. It almost unnerved me the way it hung there with a menacing glaze covering it. I wondered if this too could be a sign, and also the time itself. Waking up around three in the morning has been something that’s been happening with frequency. Three in the morning is when the dead walk. But then the dead are always with me, aren’t they?
My best friend took her own life because she didn’t feel she’d lived up to her potential. She could never find satisfaction in what she’d accomplished, peace of mind from the choices that she’d made, and couldn’t bear to live another day feeling her life was incomplete. She skipped through marriage after marriage, relationship after relationship, always giving too much of herself every time she allowed herself to love someone, and losing more and more of herself each time she did. She never knew how absolutely wonderful she was. My mother gave up on herself for the same reasons: love and self-sacrifice. In keeping with tradition my life is mimicking theirs. I don’t want to die never knowing who I really am. I don’t want to die never having lived up to my potential. I don’t want to die feeling my life has had no purpose. I don’t want to die having been miserable every day of it. I don’t want to die never having really lived. Yet, the question still remains…how do I not?
If the dead could speak, what would they say?