Our first set of birthdays together

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This may not seem remotely climactic for anyone else, but this year, I will celebrate my mom’s birthday with her, on the day, not on a weekend before or after. Another firm commitment added to the list of family birthdays. It’s surreal.

I have one cardinal rule – mostly because I’m constantly flaking on social engagements – that I do not miss a birthday or holiday. After my cousin died about three years ago, I reevaluated my familial obligations and friendships and I realized how easy it is to say no. It was at that point I realized how many friends I’d undervalued and family parties I’d missed out on.

Things are different for me now. I don’t miss a birthday or a holiday and even if I feel like I’m drowning in work, I feel better afterwards. I take pictures. I engage and live in the moment. So while I have this burning desire to flee, instead I stay. It’s a weird bout of conflicting emotions for a few days leading up to whatever is going on. Now that I intend to move (pending grad school applications), I’m especially glad for my rules. I have memories to take with me now.

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So this year marks the first set of birthdays in thirteen years that we get to celebrate together. I think I’ve been compartmentalizing my feelings more than I knew because as time goes on, I can feel the steel of my unwavering walls beginning to weaken. I find myself overwhelmed by emotions at unexpected moments.

I want to kick and shake my mom awake most days. But then I see her smiling face and I shake my head in resignation because I realize how much I love her and missed her and it’s really great to have a face to connect to a voice, a name, a moniker. When her “mommy” caller ID shows up, I cringe less now. I’m starting to feel a warmth in my belly even if I’m sighing as I answer. I’m not sure when this change started to happen but I can tell it’s recent. It’s nice and terrifying at the same time.

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She got into a car accident recently, her airbag deployed and she’s got bruises on her arms and legs. She’s so tiny, barely 5 feet tall. I didn’t fully understand how emotional I’d be until I saw her little body standing by the front door to my house and I broke down. I don’t want her to be taken from me again. Even if I don’t feel like seeing her or being around her sometimes because she’s so manic, I mean she puts even my most anxious days to shame. I still can’t imagine my life without her.

I’m angry because of all the time we lost; the time that was cheated from me. But I don’t wish it any different. The concept of a world where she didn’t go to prison feels so shallow and bleak. Those kinds of thoughts instill immediate guilt and I wish I didn’t feel that way but seeing her now, she’s like a child. That place really beat a lot of memories and crazy out of (and into) her. I’m glad I get to be here with her this year.

It’s funny because we went to 7eleven together today and the same cashier who’ve I’ve known for several years saw her for the first time. I introduced her as my mom and at first he didn’t see it and then we both smiled big and shy and our eyes crinkled in the same places and his face lit up as he laughed “you could be sisters” and we both looked down and blushed and said “no no” and then we all sort of awkwardly laughed but it was a golden moment for me and I feel like I need to write it down so it burns in my mind and I don’t forget the gratitude I feel for her being home, safe and sound.

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4 more days

I’m dying here. It’s so close. She’s home in four days and I’m so excited. My brother agreed to come on the drive. Never thought he would. We’re not telling her. She’s going to cry so much.

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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. 

Welcome back, it’s been a while

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Abandonment issues are really weird. You know, it’s been around twelve years now (I think, but math has never been my strong suit) and I still feel the ghost of them. Sometimes, it colors my interactions with friends, tells me to build boundaries and shelter myself from lifelong friendships. Sometimes, it takes a really long time to even become aware of their effects before I find the strength in myself to start making changes. That’s the biggest reason why I find myself attracted to art. That’s the one time where I am most comfortable being completely vulnerable about my perspective on the world. Mostly because my history informs my present, my work ends up being something about my mother. Hurrah.

When it comes to romantic relationships, I don’t know why I still find myself surprised when they show up like a hated ex who likes to ruin all the newfound good stuff I’ve started to build up.

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It was a normal day, nothing different from any other. Except that I’ve sort of become comfortable hearing from my boyfriend either via text, snapchat, etc, on a daily basis. Even if that’s just an “I’m just saying hi xx” and that’s it for the day. Maybe it’s just a silly picture of him doing something in his room. But regardless, that happens everyday now. Call me spoiled, but I think I expect that. And then he didn’t contact me at all and I started thinking to myself, ‘he’s leaving me now’ and I couldn’t shake this feeling like he was seeing other people and I wasn’t good enough anymore and throughout my whole paranoid breakdown, I knew that’s just what it was: a silly reflection of my deep seated abandonment issues. It had absolutely nothing to do with him and yet it totally paralyzed me for a few hours, maybe even a day. It doesn’t help that my exes have been totally fucked up people (another reflection of my mommy issues). I just thank god that I don’t have to deal with both mommy and daddy issues. That would make for a really torrid milkshake of psychological bullshit.

So there I am today, in the shower with him and he’s soaping my back and I started crying. He never knew I was crying and I didn’t turn around just to show him I was crying but just the simple act of touching me sweetly, broke me. I drove home and cried again because my heart was just a total mess. He’s actually perfect for me at this point in my life and I will not do what I usually do: lose interest to avoid being hurt and abandoned. Because that’s what I always do at around a year of dating someone. I find out I either rushed into a terrible relationship or slowly retreat into myself so that I don’t have to deal.

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I’m just going to keep myself aware of my own bullshit as much as possible and hope for the best. He’s definitely got his own list of skeletons he’s working through and it’s kind of incredible because we’re both bringing out better versions of one another and I think that’s really healthy and great. Everyday, I feel like the luckiest girl alive. When I leave him, I feel starved for his presence even after like nine month of dating which is a feeling I hope never leaves. I’ve done it right this time (with his help one hundred percent). I haven’t jumped into bed with a stranger. I haven’t chosen to ignore some major personality flaw. We’ve done all the steps, the ones that make a really strong foundation for a good relationship and I’m ridiculously proud of that.

And yet, here come the stupid abandonment issues to haunt me. They make me hesitate when I feel like reaching out, they make me overthink things I know shouldn’t be weird. The minute I’ve been single for a while, I seem to be more aware of myself and my actions and I really feel like I’m doing everything right. The longer I’m with someone, the easier the doubt steals in. The only thing that makes sense right now is graduating, being a good sister in my sorority, and taking advantage of every damn resource I’m paying for in college. All good things, I know. Thank god for writing, right?

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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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Fall, Metaphor, Fall

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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.

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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.

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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.