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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. 

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There are some changes on the horizon

It’s been a while. Then again, that cycle of summer processing seems to be upon me. In my defense, I’ve also been trying to put off processing through a few recent developments. Prop 57 has impacted my mother’s sentence, as well as a few programs she’s involved herself in over the last decade. It looks like she’s out on early release. Nine months from now actually, give or take. I thought we had another couple years.

I don’t really know how to feel about it yet. I’m not as freaked out as I thought I would be but that’s also because it feels like I’m sitting in the road watching a truck come straight for me. Obviously, that’s mildly dramatic. That truck could be a figment of my imagination.

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I think the most profound aspect of this news that has me boggled is how this will affect my art. For most of my life, my writing, art, and other coping mechanisms were populated with prison themes: time, loss, abandonment. I never had to dip my pen in different ink.

I’ll be honest, I’m pretty sick of dealing with prison themes. I never wanted to let her life choices define my own but I also couldn’t deny myself the experience of them. What a weird, tangled web I found myself in.

The good news is she’s more freaked out than I am. I’m trying my best not to have sympathy for her but I can’t help it. It’s going to be really weird for her. When she went in, dial-up was common place and people still used AOL.

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The transition process is going to be shocking to her system. She claims to be all hardened and whatnot (and I’m sure she is), but I know there are going to be a LOT of midnight phone calls where she’s crying and frustrated because something in her house keeps making a noise or she can’t figure out how to listen to a voicemail or something. I expect this.

I will also not be her metaphorical crying shoulder. I will be a helpful daughter on my own terms, with lots and lots of boundaries. I might finally be able to start throwing away some of her mail.

My sister just told me she’s been throwing her letters away. I’ve kept every single one, including envelopes, for this whole damned sentence. I sort of just want to burn them but I feel like there’s a really good art project in store for them. Hopefully with a different theme.

Does this mean that I can give myself permission to stop fixing all the broken pieces? I’ve long known I’m awesome and been grateful for the challenges she’s thrown my way but I’m still a product of my circumstances. I’m actually sort of concerned for my own children. They won’t have nearly the amount of depth I do, which both worries and delights me.

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She’s going to make it to my college graduation.

It’ll be the first graduation she’s ever made it to (besides elementary school which doesn’t really count). I’m actually really happy about it.

God, I hate writing about this stuff. It’s all so damned heavy and while necessary, I can feel myself sounding like a broken record. I’m just ready for it to be over. Maybe I’ll actually go back into my darkroom again. Maybe I’ll shoot some film again.

I swear, if she tries to bake me cookies and do my fucking laundry though I’m going to lose it.

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Balthasar helped me out

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I can’t tell if I crave the feeling of being right or being liked. I can’t tell if my need to argue stems from a desire to correct wrongs and communicate my feelings or if it’s all so that I can go on feeling like no one hates me. If indeed I fall below the latter, does that make me fearful? Afraid to let others be angry? Or is it fuel for distance? This is sometimes a question of pride and sometimes a question of anger but in this case I am seriously torn.

I’ve been examining my relationships with others lately and what I’ve found is a bunch of needy people. I am no longer going to let myself be a mother to so many needy children. They all want my approval and attention so constantly that it interferes directly with my own needs.

But now I wonder, where do I draw the line? How do I undo a set precedent? How do I relearn how to communicate when I’ve so long prided myself on being a compassionate communicator? I have always been a go getter, the driver of my life. Now that I’ve taken a step back I can see how I have let myself be taken advantage of over and over again. My friends and family say I’ve “been short” but in reality, I’ve been irritated. I’m noticing how many times a day I am not allowed to choose when I engage with the world. This morning I was woken up by my cousin. Later, I was stopped mid-project to look at an Instagram video. Immediately after, shown another video by my sister.

When confronted about my behavior changes, I am unsure if my reaction was in defense of the moment in question (the Instagram video) or in defense of my newly discovered persona. I can’t tell which torch I carry. Am I just being mean and therefore building walls instead of bridges? Have I begun swirling downward into a firestorm? Or is this how people feel when they prioritize?

I went to one of my favorite philosophers and let fate decide where my eyes fell:

ccvii Be Moderate.

One has to consider the chance of a mischance. The impulses of the passions causes prudence to slip, and there is the risk of ruin. A moment of wrath or of pleasure carries you on farther than many hours of calm, and often a short diversion may put a whole life to shame. The cunning of others uses such moments of temptation to search the recesses of the mind: they use such thumbscrews as are wont to test the best caution. Moderation serves as a counterplot, especially in sudden emergencies. Much thought is needed to prevent a passion taking the bit in the teeth, and he is doubly wise who is wise on horseback. He who knows the danger may with care pursue his journey. Light as a word may appear to him who throws it out, it may import much to him that hears it and ponders on it.

I don’t know anymore how I feel when I’m “normal” so for the moment I’m going to take my vitamins and embrace the project I finished today (it’s about a year overdue) and go buy a swimsuit so I can learn how to surf in the morning. There are just so many damned baby steps I’m not sure if I’m moving forward or sideways.

And as I think back now, I wonder if it’s not so much a fear of angering others or being disliked but I think I’m so damned sentimental that I’m afraid one day when we’re old and looking back at our lives, the memories will be tainted with arguments and disconnects. Is that my fear of abandonment and loss coming into play? Is that the forever question?

These women would make ice if you let them

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            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.

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            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.

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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.

 

My own serenity prayer

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I’m not sure if I’m an alcoholic but I’ve always been a part of AA. The thing is, alcoholism runs very strongly in my family. Actually, it’s more that addictive personalities do. My uncle was a gambler and a womanizer and just plain reckless at times, his brother too. My aunt was -for a period- addicted to crack and cocaine and she although doesn’t really do that so much anymore, she definitely maintains a steady beer buzz to this day. My grandma died of liver failure due to her alcohol habits. The doctor told her to stop and she never really did. Coupled with clinical depression, most of my family’s strongest addictive personality types have had some heavy issues, my mother included.

So definitely, yes, I worry about it. I find myself wanting to drink when I want to forget about some things, and so I don’t. I find myself wanting to drink when I have a stressful day, and so I don’t. I worry when I go out with my friends for the third time in four days and we’re drinking and laughing and not really caring if the tab runs itself through the roof or if my hangover really sucks the next day even when I have important things to do.

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But then I also remind myself that I just turned twenty-one not even six months ago and that most of these experiences are new and I can’t hide behind my anxiety for the rest of my life. I have to learn when I can and cannot have a glass of wine, or if that third drink is going to get me hammered, that water between is a marvelous idea. That I can’t mistake caution for cowardice.

When I was little, I spent most nights of my childhood at AA meetings, eating my happy meals and doing my homework, trying my hardest to stay awake as the adults passed around laminated pages and a big binder filled with codes and steps. I knew what it meant when someone got a gold chip and I played with my mom’s whenever she let me hold her keys.

I knew what all the extra birthday cakes meant.

I was never old enough to sit in and listen to their stories. My mom told me to go play with the other kids -if there were any but thank god for my sister because she would play with me anytime I asked, even if she was half asleep. I’ve been back to a few meetings ever since to listen and there’s still the same lemon cakes and coffee dispensers and the people are still telling their truths and even though I feel out of place, I can’t help but feel like it’s still a part of me.

And it only really occurred to me the other day as I was driving and thanking my higher power for making me so wise that I realized how much courage I’ve adopted and how peaceful that makes me feel and how grateful I am for every step I’ve ever had to take to get by, one day at a time.

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Growing into myself

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    I’ve realized today how much my family loves me. I used to think of myself as the black sheep of the household but now I don’t really think I believe that. It’s funny that it took a screaming battle between us to make me see it. To be honest, it’s not just about my family loving me that makes me happy. Part of me hates to say it but I know I need them to need me. And really I’m not very happy at the moment considering we just went through a huge shouting match which ended with me in tears and my sister traipsing off defiantly. She’s so young but she can be so callous sometimes. And I know it’s the age but I really wish there was a way to step outside yourself and watch the way you appear and sound to people. When I was younger I thought the only way to be okay was to be around people all the time. I wanted to be surrounded by a huge family that never really let me sleep or be by myself like all those movies with half a dozen kids running around the house, throwing things and demanding food all the time.

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I think what I’ve got is big enough. I’ve got my cousins, brothers, neighbors, and friends in and out of the house so much that I really couldn’t handle much more than that. Now that I’ve gotten older and learned to enjoy my private time, there are moments where the thought of hanging out with anyone but myself makes me a little crazy. But after this showdown, I’m torn. I want to be by myself but I also just want everything to be back to fine and sit on my couch and watch Greys Anatomy with my sister. I was talking and my dad didn’t hear me and my sister didn’t hear me and I thought I was done and I was going to move out but really I don’t want to do that. I don’t want to be on my own yet. I want to embrace my youth for as long as is respectable. I want to chase my dreams. I don’t want to chase phone bills and grocery lists and electricity bills like I would have to do if I lived on my own. I’m not ready to sacrifice yet. Because I need people. I need my family. I need to know they love me and want me around. But it’s hard when my dad tells me I should move out and my sister shuts down when I try to talk to her. I know it’s all going to be fine tomorrow and everything works out as it should but it was still bittersweet when they both texted me telling me to come home and rewind. Because I’m starting to feel my roots growing bigger than the ground I’m planted in. And I feel like it’s almost time to start a new chapter. But the thought of leaving home scares the crap out of me. And I’m transferring out of the state soon and I’d really like it if I did’t move out before then because I know I will look back on this time somewhere down the line and think back to when I was surrounded by the people who raised me and knew me best. And one day my dad will be gone and my sister will have a family and there will only be a few holidays a year where we get together.

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Impersonalities

        It’s taken me quite some time to understand that I have no personal relationships. Which is really sad considering. The ones I have with family are different. I have about a dozen of my cousins living in my neighborhood, two of which have been sleeping on my couch for the past three weeks. We all played in each other’s yards and houses since birth.

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         I live in my grandma’s old house. It used to be the family hub, all holiday dinners and special events went down in my dining room. When she died there was a lull and quite a bit of drama over family central. The only times we ever saw each other was at funerals which we had a lot of for a while. You could find us gathered around the graves picnicking and taking photos.

         When it comes to relationships and romantic partners, I’m a frigid bitch. And I really didn’t want to think that but honestly if I deny it, I’m a big fat liar too. I sleep with people when I don’t even really know them and it always turns into this awkward and unexplainable kind of relationship. I never know where I stand, what’s acceptable in public, or how they feel about me. I never wait to find out who they are because we either part ways long before that or we spend our time together as strangers. I heard about a couple who’ve been together for twelve years, got married, had kids and yet they still don’t know each other. And that kind of scares the crap out of me.

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         The last guy I was with for an extended period of time, I thought I knew him. Until about a year after things ended my younger sister broke down and told me he touched her. Right under my nose. In my house. On the pullout couch we shared.

         That fucked me up a little bit. She’s pressing charges but only because I kind of coerced her into doing so, which is really messed up considering the circumstances. But there’s no way she’s going to let this hide in the closet like all the other women in my family who never spoke up for themselves. It’s happened to me, my sister, my mother, my aunt, etc. For whatever reason, it doesn’t skip a generation like one would really hope it might.        

         With these new dating apps and websites, social media, texting, all that jazz, come new rules for communication. These strange regulations for expressing yourself, emojis and emoticons that are supposed to do part of the work for you. But there’s just so much deception and miscommunication that I honestly don’t understand. I follow the code but it still has no meaning to me. It’s empty, a lot like the relationships I find myself in.

         Where do you find love in a world where everyone just wants to keep on walking, straight through to the next person? I was in love with my best friend for a long time and I had no idea. I was that girl, so oblivious. And it’s so bittersweet to think about. We talk every now and again but we don’t get to know each other anymore. We’d been friends for a couple years before this but it took me overhearing he and his girlfriend talking about me from the other room that I actually understood what all the late night talks and sleepovers were about. It was my eighteenth birthday.

         Thinking about it now, I’m really stupid. I’m just so stupid. But to be honest I’m really grateful too that I understand this lesson. It’s saved me from making a couple more mistakes in the meantime. He’s got a new girlfriend now and I think he’s pretty much the same.

         So now, I flit from one sexual partner to the next, searching for a guy who sees me how I see myself. And part of me knows that most guys in their early twenties are douche bags and not worth a damn but there’s a part of me that still has hope in the male population. Even after all the burns and bumps.

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Finite Infinity

Ernst Haas

 

The older I get, the more I realize how finite everything is, how many less roads there seem to be. It’s just a mind trick I know. But I’ll be 21 in about a month from now. In July, it’ll be 9 years since my mother was incarcerated. When I first heard what her sentence was, I thought I would never get through it, never understand what 16 years felt like to hold in your hands. Now I realize that I’ve been hoping for the clock to speed up all this time, hoping I get older faster. But the older I get, the more I wish I could hold on to each passing moment just a little longer.

Quicker than I can realize, I’ll be getting married, having kids, taking care of myself. My elders will pass on and ill replace them as my children step up to take the plate. That inertia that propelled me into my newfound adulthood keeps pushing whether you want it to or not.

It’s hard to imagine a single lifetime. For some reason it only just occurred to me I would be living once. Reincarnation or not, my conscious mind will only exist in this lifetime once. And that alone makes me so afraid, so anxious. I hope I don’t make too many mistakes, miss out on too many memories.