Until she comes home.
So I just found out that my mom is getting out in nine months. She’s being let out on early release. This is going to sound super fucked up, but I thought I had another two years before I had to figure this stuff out.
Nine months. That’s no time at all.
I’ve been pushing off the mental headache of everything since we found out they were taking time off for a bunch of stuff. But I also thought I had two years before I had to think about it.
I thought I had two more years.
I keep complaining that I’m too old for college. I keep seeing everyone else I know on Facebook with their new careers and various professions, and I think to myself, ‘god, why am I taking so long to get my life started?’ And then, just a minute ago I realized that college is really damned good for me. I don’t know how to be a friend to people, I don’t know how to have fun responsibly, I don’t know how to be an adult. I don’t know how to get my shit together. I picked a great fucking time in my life to really just get it all out. I think my mother failed because she had a kid so young. I mean I can’t imagine having an eight year old by my side right now and I know that I’m like that old kid in college but whatever. I’m learning so much about myself right now and I honestly can’t imagine having to do it differently.
I got that dating app, Bumble. I don’t know why exactly I decided to use it. Most of those things are usually catered towards booty calls and fuck buddies like Tinder but I think because it’s so fledgling, there are actually a couple people on there worth texting. It may sound naive, but honestly I can’t imagine being apart of some crazy circle jerk with frat guys and I swear, I’m no homie hopper.
There are definitely the creepers on there but for the most part, the guys seem pretty tame. I am constantly reminded that I am behind. Seeing as the format is such that the female starts the conversation, I have no idea what to say to someone who’s already in the midst of their career. Usually, it’s just random shit I think of that theoretically I would say to someone in a bar or in public. I try to be as authentic as I can. Sometimes, it works and sometimes it doesn’t. In a weird way, it’s totally liberating.
What it has made me realize though is that I have a lot to learn. There is someone real. There is someone out there who totally fits with me. I may not find him on some online dating app, but he’s out there and I’ve discovered I’m on a quest for something real.
Sex sucks sometimes. Relationships suck sometimes. Everything, on some level, really sucks sometimes. But I think what determines whether it’s worth fighting for is the good stuff too. How high can I get when I’m happy? How much does it fill me up? How do I attempt this task without getting too invested too soon?
I have an attachment problem. I know this. My life coach and I talk about this. It stems from my unconscious abandonment anxiety. It lives, it breaths. I can feel it whenever I walk through campus. It perches on my shoulder and tells me everyone is leaving me. It lives in my mind as I try to sleep.
I see the ghosts of all the faces I miss and all the people I’ve lost and I constantly grieve for people that mean nothing. In the end, I know that I will find peace and so I live my waking moments grasping at straws trying to piece together a puzzle I seem to never fully understand. And that’s okay. Because I think I still have a crap ton of stuff to get out of my system that I didn’t know was alive.
My aunt told me that your mind can only process one emotion at a time. When dealing with trauma, it is largely incapable of deciphering things it doesn’t want to recognize as part of the problem. That’s why things move so slowly. One minute, I think I’ve processed enough to move past old problems, and the next I’m bludgeoned over the head with something I dealt with years ago. All the anger aside, I recognize that life is about struggle. I wholeheartedly embrace that part. It fuels my need to create, express, articulate. It is a part of me.
As the air to cools and I remember last fall, I know why this is my favorite time of year. I send my blessings to the people who fill me up with frustration because it drives me to refocus. I feel the humidity change and I know it’s time to begin the next phase of evolution. I can’t wait to change I can’t wait to be different.
I’m frustrated that our relationship takes place over the telephone. I hate that I don’t recognize your hands or your face, that I don’t instinctively know how tall you are next to me; that I haven’t seen you age.
I hate that I’ve had to create boundaries and walls because you don’t respect my space. I’m frustrated that it took you leaving to finally appreciate my value. I hate that leaving made you crazy and institutionalized. I am angry that there are so many times I’ve wanted you next to me, and now after all these years of learning to do it all without you, you’re soon to be released. I am terrified of seeing you all the time, of letting your craziness into my beautifully crafted existence. I have nurtured my soul for so long, healing it from the pain of your absence. I’m afraid of what I’ll have to do once you’re actually present. What kind of healing will I be forced to endure then? What kind of anger or apathy will course through me at that point?
I hate to say this, but I think you should stay where you are, alone in Bakersfield where you can’t hurt anyone else. But I also know I don’t believe that cuz I’m kind of curious to study you and your strange tendencies. Like some sort of flower I planted and forgot about.
For so long I mourned your loss and now I’ll be mourning your arrival. It’s so strange that time moved by so quickly. I never thought this time would come. I remember being 12 thinking, wow 14 years that’ll never get here fast enough. It’s been a long time coming and I wish I could just press pause and slow it all down.
I know I’ll never send you this draft and I have a couple other letters where I call you a bunch of ugly names and say terrible things. I think I even wrote you a hate poem if that’s what I should call it. A hate poem. Lots of stuff your devout head would cringe hearing. Then I think about the meeting we had last where you said all those nasty things about daddy and manipulated me into visiting you and all the torturous terrible crap you pulled TEN YEARS LATER after you claimed you had changed and now I realize more and more all the things your brother and sister said about you were one hundred percent true and I really DO remember more than I want to because I’ve repressed so much evil stuff you did just so that I could actually enjoy talking to you on the phone. I used to pray I could compartmentalize like all the men I’ve dated. I realize I already have that talent, I just only apply it when it comes to you.
I hate that I enjoyed our phone conversation yesterday. I hate that we actually laughed and I wasn’t furious with you when we hung up. Because annoyingly enough, I felt a lot better when the call ended. I felt like I had lifted myself up and began more healing.
Sometimes I wonder if school is just my alone time. Like my whole life revolves around you and your actions and then I go to school for a semester and it becomes about me again and when it ends, I finally have the energy to think about my feelings. And I hate that I feel like I ALWAYS NEED TO DO DEAL WITH MY FEELINGS. I hate that I’m also grateful for them. I hate that I do not regret the way things have gone and that I wouldn’t want to be anyone else or have a different life because for so long and as countless journals full of hate poems over the years will tell you, I used to. Acceptance is a bittersweet feeling I have come to terms with and yet I find myself rebelling against my own acceptance. And now the ramblings of my once angsty self have quieted and yeah, fuck you.
I feel much better now, thank you for being my constant outlet for anger. Now onto the next draft, the one that won’t hurt your feelings.
Feelings for me get pretty tricky. I used to feel them so much and so often, I had to turn them off for a long time. Eventually that would erupt into some kind of giant crying scene complete with me writing poems for hours and smudging around the ink with my tears, feeling very sorry for myself wondering how the world could have wronged me so. But then again that was fourteen for most I believe. Then all those angry years took all the tears and turned themselves into screams and broken glass from all the bottles I smashed in my alley when I couldn’t figure out what to do with all those feelings.
It’s taken some time but I don’t really do any of those things anymore. I know part of the mess was hormones but it was also that my mom and I were learning how to grow up together. She went through a lot of passive aggressive attitudes and dirty maneuvers before she became someone I wanted to talk to. She told me I was a druggy (because I’d smoked weed and drank alcohol at a friend’s house in high school). She told me I was neglecting her because I didn’t come to visit more than twice a year – even though it’s a four and half hour drive (one way) and I was only fifteen. She called me repeatedly throughout the day to talk to me even if my friends were around and I couldn’t hang up because of the guilt I felt if I didn’t stay on the phone – not to mention the manipulation I’d be unwittingly forced to endure for days (even weeks) on end.
And then I she wrote me her last horrible, seven page “intervention” letter for my 18th birthday and I didn’t talk to her for a year. She stopped. We’ve both grown up since then.
It took me a long time to visit her after I started talking to her again. I’ve been back once or twice since my 21st birthday.
But it doesn’t fail to amaze me each time she makes me feel better when I don’t even know I’m down. Since I’ve never had a conventional mother-daughter relationship, I’ve never had one to compare myself to. I’ve seen things from a window I’ve always looked in on but never experienced. And I still don’t really know what it is that I’m a part of. It’s like a horribly unhealthy relationship that finally blossomed. I feel like our bond is kindred to tales of those old, aging sisters that live off in some secluded house on the top of a hill somewhere who spend their days making jam and painting.
Whenever there’s a separation from someone who’s supposed to be an instrumental part of your life and they come back, there’s this awkwardness. What do we do now? How do we act? Where do I put my hands? Is it okay to laugh at this? Am I holding on too long? Can we sit in comfortable silence? What now? And even at visiting, there’s still a little bit of that. But over the phone and via letter, it’s completely washed away. Ironically enough, I feel closer to her when I only hear her voice than when I hold her hand. Because in person, she’s still a stranger to me — but her voice, I know it by heart.
She tells me I’m a good person, that she wants me to dream big, that I’m smart, tough, strong, loved, needed, beautiful. She tells me things I’ve never known I needed to hear. My dad has always said those things (albeit sparingly, he stresses the intelligence thing, that I’m the spitting image of him and therefore beautiful, all in good humor of course) but for whatever reason, hearing it from her makes it feel a little realer. And I feel bad that I didn’t know I was unsatisfied with my dad’s validation but to be honest, a mother’s love is different. Plus, considering she’s somewhat of a hardened OG nowadays it’s even more of a ego boost than it might’ve been before.
She told me today that she makes 15 cents an hour. That she’s happy she got a new job and took the pay cut even though she was making significantly more before (enough to support herself). She said being able to work at night and see the moon and be surrounded by quiet is worth more than money. She said it was the first time she’d been outside at night in nearly ten years. That made me cherish the moonlight a little bit more.
Sometimes, because of all the events that have happened with my mom, I forget to remember my dad. Which is a shame because he’s probably the most genuinely good person I know. I’ve heard it said that daughters look for men like their fathers. I really hope that’s true. It used to kind of freak me out a little, I’m not sure why but it did; the idea that I’d be with someone like him.
When you’re little, it’s so easy to see the faults in a person, especially family. When you get older, I suppose the only thing you really try to overcome is that stupid voice in your head that gets judgmental and cynical, the one that tells you what you should and shouldn’t do based on even sillier reasons, ideas you develop about someone when they’re based on nothing but fiction.
I’ve had this anxious voice in my head telling me who I should be and what I should do for most of my conscious adult life and the strange part is my dad is nothing like that. I have no idea where that voice came from. I’d like to say it’s my mom’s fault, but I really don’t know if I can blame that part on her. He’s the only one who’s never hurt me. He’s kind of dork sometimes but as the years go by, I’ve come to cherish that about him. His heart is so kind, so understanding, so sweet.
When I was around five, I stole money from the man who cleaned our fish tank. My mom wasn’t looking and I’m not sure why I did it but the minute I was alone with the stack of twenties on the table, I grabbed a few and stuffed them between the couch cushions. When the man counted his money and asked my mom why she’d shorted him, she was probably so embarrassed she gave him a fat tip to compensate. I don’t know how much money I took or why I did it but I do know that my mom was furious. Her lips curled up in a snarl when I finally fessed up and told her, they turned white around the edges like they did the time I told her I hated her for throwing away all my toys.
She did that periodically, decide we had too many dolls and throw them all away in giant white trash bags, calling my sister and me spoiled brats for manipulating my dad into buying us things.
Manipulate was one of the first “big” words I learned. “Don’t manipulate your sister” “don’t manipulate your dad” “don’t try to manipulate me”. To this day, I still have a problem with manipulation. I can twist any story to make myself the victim, I can use every excuse in the book, I can even look someone in the eye when I do it. Because I was always taught that lying by omission wasn’t actually lying. So I learned how to fluff and snip out the parts I liked or didn’t like. I could just learn to laugh at jokes I didn’t understand so I wouldn’t have to feel stupid asking questions.
When she dropped me off at my dad’s house later, he picked me up and asked me why I was crying. I had to tell him what I did and express my shame. The only thing he said was “don’t worry honey, you don’t ever have to steal. I’d rather just give you money than have you feel like you’d need to steal”.
I think that’s when it started. When it occurred to me that my dad was a softie and I could go around twisting the truth. If I could logically reason out to him why I didn’t deserve to be grounded for yelling at my sister, he’d acknowledge it and let me off the hook. His only exception was violence. You kick your sister, you’re dead and there’s absolutely no way of getting out of it.
So I learned to give the world’s worst guilt trips. I learned how to say the meanest possible things I could think of to make you wish you were wrong. I learned how to snarl just like my mother and I want to say it’s genetic, that snarl, but really I think I never forgot how small it made me feel to see my mother’s lips curl in such a way, to see the blood drain from the edges as her eyes turned into slits and all I wanted to do was curl up in my closet and forget I was alive.
And yet, all my dad was trying to do was get me to use my words. What a shame the things I did with that lesson.
I learned cruelty all by myself.
Willfully inflicting it on everyone around me because I was angry. Slashing my father’s heart when it suited my fancy. Vomiting up derision just because I could.
And for all the things I wish I could have done differently in my life, I am grateful I can see the malice in that part of me, that cold bitch that lives deep in there somewhere. And I think it’s because of the warmth and innocence in my father’s face that I’ve come to detest that nasty side. I think it’s because of his kindness that I fight everyday to be a better, nicer person.
To this day, I don’t think you’ll find me go a day without smiling. It took me a long time to embrace that teaching but it’s taken me quite a long way.
I visited my mom today, one on one for the first time in ten years. I knew even before going into it that I was building it up to be bigger than it needed to be so that when I finally got there, it would be better than I expected. I do that a lot, spice up the mysterious and end up finding out reality is a lot better than I could have hoped for.
I was scared to see her. When I finally got there, I must say I was strangely peaceful. I cried a lot today. I can say truthfully that not a single tear was shed in sadness. It was all out of gratitude. I am grateful to say she’s my mother.
We sat down next to each other and talked for a few hours. Those hours are more precious to me than anything I can try to explain. I didn’t have any roles to fill. I wasn’t the older sister, the middle sister, or the friendly one in the group. I was just myself. I was just my mother’s daughter. She wasn’t just an inmate either, she was my mom. I was me and she was she. Which is more than we’ve ever been.
I have this fantasy for when she gets out that we’ll own a horse ranch or some kind of autoshop out in the countryside. We’ll work on the horses or cars or bikes together and she’ll get a big dog and name him Honey or something and we’ll spend our warm summer evenings sitting on the porch drinking lemonade and talking until the moon is well in the sky.
I can hear the crickets and smell the cold soil and I can even feel the blankets we’ll have wrapped around our knees. The lemonade is perfectly sweet and I can tell it’s not from mix or a can. It’ll be fresh squeezed and homemade.
When I visit, the most profound thing that I have come to understand is that once I enter those doors, everyone around me is exactly the same. There is no social, economic, or political status to be found. Age? What age? We’re all protected by this filmy prison layer that joins us. Families coming to see loved ones, inmates waiting to be visited. We’re all just people trying to pass the time together. There is no need to create more barriers than the ones that already exist. It’s unfathomably humbling.
Some people find that feeling in nature, or travel. I find mine in prison.
I took a couple years away from her when I turned eighteen. I’m glad I did because had I not, I don’t think I’d ever have come back to be where I am right this moment. I write her now, I look forward to her phone calls, and I cherish the moments we have together. I miss her less because I don’t hate the world for taking away the mother I once had, but am grateful for the woman I’ve been given. She’s grown so much and she’s so much nicer and I can’t say she’d have turned out this good if she wasn’t forced to change. She never would have changed if I hadn’t taken the time for space. So all things lead up to now and I wouldn’t want to imagine it any different.
I have the chance to learn from her mistakes and actually be grateful for my parents before they pass. I’ve been given the gift of living for the moment.
So for today, I’ve got to say I’m happy. I’m happy to be alive and I’m happy to share it with everyone and I’m happy. I’m just really frickin happy.