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.
Kids have weird ways of coping with disasters. In my case, my biggest coping mechanism seemed to be escapism through video games and movies. I was a pro at extracurriculars, academics, and friends. From the outside looking in, I was totally normal and I wanted it that way. Smiling has always been my strong suit.
I say this because as a result of that escapism, I also became a pro at compartmentalizing. They say that the most successful CEOs advocate for a little bit of compartmentalization. I read one article in which a man described it as the only means to success. I wonder if that’s true. For most, I bet it is.
I think about disillusionment a lot and how things really aren’t what they seem. Like Atticus Finch in Go Set a Watchman. Mostly, I’ve been experiencing a lot of “full circle” type moments leading up to my mom’s release. It’s pretty wild. Sometimes it feels like I’m all-in. Other times, I’m watching from a stranger’s window. That balance is required.
Netflix recently recommended a movie to me from 2006 The Covenant. I think it was a 96% match. In 2006, I was obsessed. So no, Netflix, you got that one wrong. 100% match. My mom went down that year I think. Might’ve been 2005, I’m not positive. I saw that movie and all I wanted to do was go to boarding school. I think I saw it a dozen times. In the great ol’ days of AIM, I somehow found a kid about my age who went to boarding school. He lived in Massachusetts and I genuinely believed I would be leaving California to go off to some prep school in the middle of the countryside. I wanted to be anywhere but home. We talked online for hours about absolutely nothing. It was great.
I told my dad I had a headache or a stomach ache probably every other day so I could stay home and play the Sims. I was never an architect in that game. My designs were always so vanilla. I’m at artist so I feel like I’m qualified to say that. Even now, when I rev up the game and play for a couple hours, my designs and layouts are mediocre at best. Something about computers make me literally think in boxes and grids. It helps me focus.
Imagine, I’m at the front doors of puberty, fantasizing about a boarding school boy in Massachusetts living the life I imagined would be perfect. Meanwhile, I’m sitting in my closet -because that’s the only place in my room where I wanted my computer- eyes actually glazed to the screen, playing the same DVDs over and over and over until the theme songs and words became ingrained in my mind. My sister and I shared bunk beds. There wasn’t much privacy except in that little computer closet of mine (even if the doors weren’t on it). I would sit there after school (or during school if I was pulling a “sick day”) in my uniform, blast AC, turn on the Sims and watch the same movies on repeat for what felt like forever. Everything else was on, but I was totally switched off.
One of those movies was The Incredibles. I think I watched that movie hundreds of times, even if I was just listening and not really watching. The main menu theme song played about 7 times in a row before I realized it had ended and I’d start it all over again. I don’t know why I remember 7. I think I must’ve counted it from the other room.
At school, you can’t really turn to the kid in line and update them on your mom’s prison sentence without things getting a little heavy. So I kept it light. I played sports, board games, computer games, everything that was a game, I was in on. Even when I did my homework, my friends and I played games or competed to see who could get through algebra 2 the fastest. Private school was surreal. I hopped from one bubble to the next. I never had to interact with the real world at all. It didn’t even matter that I had no idea how to dress myself because we were all in the same colored uniforms. That kind of routine was exceptionally helpful for me. The only times I had to feel anything was at visiting and I stopped going very often after a couple years. I needed the world to blur again.
I made an art project once and flashed people with an electronic flash from my camera. I described my life as a series of bright white lights. The time between those were just as important as the flashes, but I remember the flashes for their contrast and intensity. You can’t just slam someone in the eyeballs with bright lights all the time, you’ve gotta give em a break.
Today, I saw The Incredibles 2 with my dad and my sister for Father’s Day. It was the best one we’ve had so far. There’s been a lot of emphasis placed on the amount of time they took between the first and the second movie and every time someone brings that up I think, ‘14 years feels like a lifetime ago.’
When I was watching it, I kept thinking, ‘I’m so glad they waited. The content is so much better now than it could’ve ever been if they’d made it sooner.’ I think that parallels a lot of my feelings right now. That it’s opening weekend coming up and I’m stoked to see what the plot line is, who the villains are, what the solution is. I’m not really afraid or anything because it’s definitely happening no matter what and in many ways I need it to happen.
In visiting, I always walked by the glass walls filled with women on LWOP (life without parole) sentences. I saw them talking to their families through the glass. I could literally watch them living out their lives in a fishbowl. They were always really young. Maybe prison makes you look younger sometimes. I don’t know. But I always reminded myself that no matter how long it was going to be, she’d be coming home one day. Maybe that’s why they keep the LWOP ladies in with the general visiting population. It keeps you quiet, humble, and grateful all at the same time. Two more weeks.
Until she comes home.
I just got off the phone with my mom and she said two things that when held together, represent how I feel about time.
It’s her 50th birthday today. She just told me that she has officially outlived both of her parents.
I will be 25 in about a month. That means she has been in prison for more than half my life.
When I think about time in a conceptual format, wrestling with these two things befuddles me. If time is a string, it begins to become more elastic, depending on my perspective. To me, it does not seem that much time has elapsed but really, it has. More than half my life has been spent with her behind bars.
The sum of her life, eclipses the lives of both her parents.
Time is weird.
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’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.
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?