When I was at the young age of twelve, my mother was sentenced to a sixteen-year sentence for crimes I won’t mention.
There are worse things in life than death. Things happen to people that can’t always be salvaged by a category. Whenever I think about her, I always find myself gauging whether or not the person in front of me can handle what I have to say or if they might raise their eyebrows and pinch their lips like I just farted in public or took my top off.
There are worse things than death when it comes to people. I’m not talking about that gut-wrenching feeling of heartbreak, or the sting of betrayal. I’m talking about patience. The biggest fate I’ve ever been dealt is years of patience.
Her face was all over the news. I had to switch schools, sell our childhood home, and move in with my father and Alzheimer’s ridden, eighty year old grandmother. The day I came home to the dozens of red and blue lights glaring in front of my house, I saw my mother in real life for the last time.
Today, it’s been nearly ten years.
There are worse things than death because I know it to be true. I can’t say that death isn’t the worst kind of experience; that bleak realization that you’ll never see someone ever again. I can say that for years I wished I could say she was dead. I prayed that I’d be able to live my life and move on from the childhood I’d been forced to grow through. I can’t say that my life is horrible. I can’t even say that it’s miserable. To be frank, my life is fantastic. I have friends and my father, sister, step mother, brothers. I have loved and been loved. But I’ve had to wait.
For years I took it really hard. I used it as an excuse to act out, do drugs, disobey the rules. I used it for a pity card. As if life was an eternally moving monopoly board, the pieces could be manipulated with one simple statement.
I had the power to surprise people, control them with my misfortune. I took solace in that. I selfishly used her position to eliminate people, shatter smiles, influence their opinions.
In some ways I wonder if that was the wrong or right thing to do. Nearly everyone does it. They all want to have been through some horrible misfortune that is worse than yours. I don’t think I’ve ever had someone react appropriately to my story and I’m not sure what exactly it is I’m expecting whenever I pop off with, “yeah? Well my mom’s in prison. Has been since I was twelve and I’ve been in mourning ever since”. They either tell me they’re sorry and subsequently change the subject once the silence has become too uncomfortable, or they start their own expedition down their so called path of misery and despair.
I can’t say I wish she were dead. I love my mom. I really do. I love that she’s inadvertently made me face all these seriously ridiculous situations, pushed me through to the end of unacceptable to finally learn to accept myself. She’s taught me a lot more than many mothers I know have tried to teach their children. She’s pretty damn tough if you ask me. Some things I’ve heard in the last few years have confirmed it. She literally had to fight her way to the place where she is now and she’s got the ink to prove it.
But I think my anger comes from the fact that she’s not a bad person. That she was –for a short while- a selfish, thoughtless person who inevitably changed my life forever. She took away tradition, swept up my young, sweet life and shuffled it all up to land haphazardly on the drawing board. It took me so long to finally manage all the pieces into a working order. It took me forever to accept that I’m not broken, defective, or unworthy of love. I am horrified to think of the life I might have lead had she stuck around through it. I’d be a shallow, self-centered, Barbie doll with no grander thoughts of life, or questions of the deeper parts of the soul. I’d be lifeless.
When people ask me where she is or who she is, I have the same generic “safety” response. She lives in Fresno, she got divorced and hasn’t really been in my life since she moved away. She’s a dental assistant and she’s got a boob job that doesn’t really fit her anymore since she gained so much weight. We look like twins and I even have her voice. She’s from Indiana and she moved here when she was fifteen because she got pregnant with my brother. She’s a drug addict and she wasted the good part of her life because she decided to binge on a two week cocaine party that cost her $90,000 and our house. She was evil for a little bit. Forced me into eating disorders because of her own twisted body image. She made fun of me for having a bigger dress size than her when I was ten years old. She was a mean old hag and she never appreciated anything.
When I was in third grade, she tried to kill herself because her current husband wanted a divorce. She took a bottle of sleeping pills and tried to run herself off the bridge in our minivan with remote controlled sliding doors.
My dad got me a dog because he knew I needed some semblance of stability when I was being carted off from house to house.
We had more drug dealers and thieves in our house than I’ve ever been able to understand.
When she was hopped up on painkillers and dope, she had a stroke and the right side of her body clenched up and all she could do with her hand was make a crab claw type shape and whine about being tired.
She slept all the time and she never took me to school. I had to walk home, rain or shine.
And yet, I’m a white female, upper middle class, I went to private school and I’ve pretty much never been forced to do anything except the dishes and clean up dog shit. I’ve always been encouraged to succeed and my dad has been my eternal ally. My brother has always been there to give me advice, considering he’s nine years older than me and half black, which makes for a pretty interesting situation when you travel in public with a tall black guy with an afro, carting along with him two very white, very young sisters. People give you some pretty strange looks.
Right now, I know where I belong. I have no doubts about my sense of self, I don’t have a drug problem, I’ve survived to the late old age of twenty one and I even have people around me who’ve somewhat caught up to the nastier sides of fate. I can relate to quite a few of them.
But as soon as I pull out the prison card, people either shut down or compete. I don’t know how long it will be before I ever have someone look me in the eye and say, they’ve been waiting to hear a more fucked up story than mine, and that takes the cake. But that would be too sadistic and self-centered so I’d probably never want to talk to them again for fear of growing some sick ego cause I’m the kid with a mom in jail.