Lucid, Wild, Woman

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My earliest memory of my mother was when we were in the supermarket when I was three. I was in the cart’s child seat and as we pulled down the sanitary napkin aisle to get her tampons,  I asked her,

“Mama, if grownups have to wear diapers too, than why do I need to get potty trained?”

She looked at me with a face of half amusement, and half disbelief at my question and said, “Because you’ll know when you’re older, that’s why.”

I bring this up because on the 4th anniversary of her death, I’m trying to remember her good parts because it’s so easy to remember the bad ones. She was absent much of my childhood due to her own problems and when she finally came back into my life regularly, it was still disjointed and hardly in person. Her absence feels more physical than I remember her presence being, but she was more than the hole in my life she left when she died. Her spirit is the reason that such a hole exists to begin with.

***

Before I was even an abstract thought to my mother, she was an active member in the New York roller derby scene, (and on the Manhattan Chiefs if I can remember clearly) as well as a promotions model for Bacardi. She was loud, beautiful, crass and colorful, naturally commanding the attention of any room she walked into. She met my father in the early 80’s after an promotional event, and after initially finding him annoying, agreed to let him take her on a date. My brother was born 2 years later and I was born 3 after that. By the time I arrived to the scene however, the marriage had already started to deteriorate, so the only memories I have of my parents together are of them fighting.

After the divorce, things were turbulent for what felt like forever.  Back in those days, custody automatically went to the mother regardless if the father was in the better financial and emotional standing. As a result, without much of a notice, my mother took my brother and I swiftly to Florida so we could live with her and her parents.

I remember a regression in my mom around that time, as though she were having a second chance on what she had lost in motherhood. My brother and I spent a lot of time with her parents because of this,  but the point of this isn’t to trash her. She was magical in those years despite her lack of stability. I remember seeing her long frame dressed to the nines in off shoulder tops and high waisted shorts, makeup done to perfection. I admired how people would stop to look at her when she walked by and I wondered if people would look at me like that when I was grown up. She would spend evenings away and leave us in the care of family members. When she returned she’d come with presents and stories of the glamorous places she went and all the sunsets she had seen. She grew addicted to those sunsets, which excited me but made me uncomfortable at the exact same time.

She would continue to feed into that sunset, dating sports stars in Miami and running around in the club scene. I never wanted to know exactly what she did after she kissed us good night because I know that sometimes there are parts of you that you wish to keep to yourself, especially from your children.

After skipping out on a few court hearings, my father gained custody, again without much notice. I was 9 at the time and my brother was 12. From then onward, we would only see her in spurts until she died roughly 15 years later from a 3 year stint with cancer she chose not to battle and subsequently told no one about.

Prior to that though she reestablished a somewhat functional relationship with my brother, but I was still skeptical, and as a result it would take a couple tries for her to succeed. That time occurred when I had just started college. I guess she figured that if she couldn’t connect with me as her daughter, she would connect with me as a woman. It worked. Before long, we were talking daily for at least a half an hour on the phone about everything from boys to politics, and the mysticism that I always remember her being interested in but she was finally learning to embrace. After a stunted career and some failed relationships that brought her up the coast and back again, she found herself taking care of her elderly parents, making regular walks to the library to read about world religions. She bought a deck of tarot cards and taught me how to read them long distance. From her I would learn how to interpret my dreams in the literal sense. As a young woman trying to find her own identity, my mother appealed to my sense of rebellion, much to my father’s distain. He would accuse her of “unparenting” me while talking to relatives, remarking that it’s easy to look cool when you have the luxury of not handling any of the discipline.

Our relationship would still be strained though, with her trying to be my mom, and me seeing her more like a really cool aunt.

***

I reckon that when you live that fast, dying young is inevitable, hence why she chose to let her illness take her. I didn’t have time to ask, but I don’t believe she saw anything really worth sticking around for, which is painful to say as her child but reasonable when I consider her as a woman. The thing with my mother was that she made no qualms about the fact that she was a woman first and a mother second. Some would shun that ideology calling it selfish, and maybe it was, but it was honest. Furthermore, while she seemed to let other things challenge her identity, motherhood was not one of them-a quality which I find admirable in retrospect.

She was able to keep that identity even until death, making jokes until the sickness took her organs quietly and put her to sleep. She ran her fingers through my hair as the last maternal act she would ever give to me, telling me that she loved me and that she was so proud. At that point I hadn’t done anything worth being proud of yet. I had graduated college, (expected) and had a decent paying job, (again expected) but it was nothing to brag about. She loved me regardless, knowing the me as her baby and as the person I meant to her- a person that I still don’t quite understand.

But it’s not about that. It’s about her. All her flaws and all her gems, all her laughter and all her pain, every mile of her beautifully beaten road and every second of her widely misunderstood life. My mother was a lucid, wild, woman who was unapologetically herself, and because of that I got to see her in a light that most children will never get the privilege of seeing their mothers in.

So here’s to you, Mama. Here’s to forest green, gold jewelry, Virginia Slims cigarettes, and coffee with milk and one sugar. He’s to the color your brought, the color you left, and the color I keep within me. Thank you.

 

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RaffTracks

Ian and I both have our black hoods up as we sit under a blanket, waiting for Chinese food, watching RaffTracks. He hasn’t left his apartment to know how cold 20 degrees feels yet after a heatwave. Instead, we sit more or less pensive, interrupting the TV with the occasional laugh. I’ll leave shortly after we eat and he’ll take a nap.

We only said enough words to catch each other up on everything that has happened since last hung out by ourselves. 2 months and not a whole lot. Our conversation kind of reads like a hard news story.

Despite what that looks like on paper, it’s wonderful to me. I love being able to enter his apartment without knocking, and grab something out of the fridge before I make my presence known. I love not having to speak consistently in order to enjoy his company.  The older I get, the more friends I have like that, but what I love the most about Ian is that I know years could go by, and this is exactly how we’d be. We’d be a “Last seen on ‘Jess and Ian’s Friendship'” three lines and end sequence or a rock show and a double down at a bar. We’d be a phone call in the pouring rain ‘Come over so we can talk about art’ kind of friendship.

And whenever it happened, it would always be the best thing. In many ways, it’s still the best thing.

Steve and I are at Filter and he’s talking about the passing of his dad. He says, “I couldn’t call him an alcoholic until after he died.”

I sit there stirring my iced decaf americano because they don’t fucking do decaf in this city, half relating but realizing that grief is a frail, personal, thing with so many facets and factors. I relate in the essence that a parental death is complicated, and nearly four years after my mother’s I find different ways to feel about it. Each night takes me down a different avenue but at the end I always feel angry about the fact that I still have thoughts and emotions attached to it.

Thoughts and emotions attached to dates and times and seasons. I remember the day I found out she was sick, Will and I were dating and did this impromptu road trip to Portland where he brought a growler and a couple t-shirts. After we drove through Sommerville looking at the Christmas lights and we sat in awe in front of this one house like we were children. Mom called in the middle of it and told me she went to the doctor’s and said that it wasn’t good but she was going to get better.

She died less than a month and a half later. I’m mad at myself for believing her. 4 years later I’m still mad at enjoying all the lights and not talking to her.

It takes me a while to get over things.

Despite that, we don’t always call it for how we see it. Death sometimes blurs the shitty parts. I know Edye wasn’t always there but I sometimes delete that part of it to justify how uncomfortable it is to miss her. I sit there looking at Steve, grateful for his honestly all the while feeling like a child next to the adult that I should be.

Depression: A List-icle

Much of the reason why I haven’t been writing lately is because I’ve been battling a pretty intense bout of depression, and while I can’t say I’m out of it, I’m at least trying to work with it now.

Last week was Mental Health Awareness Week, and many people shared their stories either through photographs, or literary accounts and even cartoons. Given that I’m just getting back into the writing thing, I’ll spare you the story, and instead give you a list of what my depression feels like to me. For anyone who’s been depressed, may this be solidarity for you. To anyone that hasn’t, may it open up some level of understanding.

  • My depression feels like being incredibly lonely but not having the energy to engage with people, and when I finally do, feeling like my very presence is burdensome, like I’m sorry for existing.
  • It’s having no desire to get out of bed in the morning, but doing so, and having just enough energy to haul ass at work, only to find myself so exhausted by the end of the day, that I go to bed at maybe 8PM, and don’t make myself dinner.
  • It feels like laughing to my therapist.
  • It’s seeing other people happy and feeling like joy is some exclusive party that I’ll never be invited too.
  • My depression feels like working really hard at everything, and then giving up because I’m not getting results and I’m just going to die someday anyway.
  • It’s not writing because no one ever read my stuff.
  • It’s not calling my dad because he’s got enough going on.
  • It is getting negative feedback at work and taking it way too personally because this is literally everything I can give anything at this moment and I’m so emotionally exhausted that I am choosing this one thing to try at because I like it and it pays my bills. It is the only thing I have the capacity to try at right now.
  • It’s reading everything going on in this country and canceling plans because it breaks the fuck out of my heart. Can we start being compassionate please?
  • It’s shutting people out, like everyone, and being unable to take a joke.
  • It’s cycling back into and out of a toxic relationship because it’s the best of what’s been around for a really long time.
  • It’s knowing that I have felt better, but not knowing how to get there again.
  • It’s a stranger returning a smile on the street and being reminded I’m not a ghost.
  • It’s when alcohol is the only thing that seems to turn the negative voice inside my head off.

So to anyone that’s going through this, I’m with you. Try your best to be kind to yourself during this time. And to anyone who’s not- a little compassion goes a long way. While you can’t relate, try to be understanding.

Solidarity

I see her seated at the other end of the bar in a faux leather jacket, ankle boots, and cigarette pants, staring off into space like the wall of liquor had been replaced with constellations. I am enamored with the quiet beauty of hallelujah that seems to orbit around her like Saturn’s rings.

I choose a stool with a space for one between us leaving the potential for conversation open but not required. The bartender hands me a cheep faithful domestic and as I take my first sip she looks over at me and smiles, points her beverage at my matching one and says

“Cheers” with the same double meaning as when an astronomer says “Good evening.”

The stars send their Sunday best out tonight, and her eyes twinkle accordingly.

She is not pink and manufactured like the self-help books that used to adjourn Borders’ shelves. She is not an advertisement for cross fit, or the makeup counter at a department store. Not like there’s anything wrong with those things, but she is not here for improvement, and she’s not here to get bye, she’s here for understanding which the bar always seems to do.

As I salute her with my beverage, I see an innocence in her eyes that must get lost to most people that are too focused on her touch or the way she walks away. And while I know that feeling all to well, I stay silent because to women like us, apologies are worth less than the beer in our cans and typically come from a similar quality of folk. But we still drink because they’re everywhere and all we think they’re all we can afford.

So with a glance I say nothing, other than “I know.”

She finishes her drink and gets up to go to the bathroom. I tip the bartender and make my way out into the night.

Even in this city, little rays of light beam down from a place that was once the heavens, too far to touch but close enough to see if you squint one and a half of your eyes. The autumn wind rustles the leaves below my feet that are laced with the same stardust that made oceans that are thousands of miles away. I feel part of the trajectory-forward moving, if not improving, and limited only by my own design.

Crawl Spaces and Armor

I’m sitting across from Marlene in her office when I begin to cry-first a couple of tears here and there, and then, after getting caught up in my own emotions, full on sobbing. The sun is shining in her window. I look outside to the park across the street and try collect myself. I’m angry that I got caught up in my own self pity, but I guess that’s what therapy is for isn’t it? She looks at me as though I were a small child lost in a supermarket looking for it’s mother, but I don’t mind.

“This is a safe space,” I remind myself. “I can be as little here as I want to.” I don’t have to suck it up in front of my coworkers and I don’t have to downplay my messiness in front of my friends. I am not required to be “strong” here. In fact, I’m almost encouraged not to be.

So I indulge. The irony is that the more I talk about what’s bothering me, the more empowered I feel by it. I am able to dissect it an analyze the pieces. With Marlene’s coaching, I’m able to figure out where it all came from and how I find myself in the same mental patterns over again:

“You are not good enough.”

“You are unloveable”

“You are too much.”

“You are untalented and unsuccessful.”

“You are an imposter. One day everyone is going to figure out all these things and want nothing to do with you.”

I after the anger subsides, I let myself indulge in the crying a little bit more until I’m ready to slow it down. When I finally stop, she smiles.

“You’re very self aware,” she says. “You’ve been through a lot and your feelings are completely understandable. I know you feel as though you’re in a scary place and everything feels like you’re in a stand-still, but we’re going to get you out of it, and we’re going to teach you how to progress when this does happen again.”

I got nothing to lose by trusting her, so I believe effortlessly.

I leave my appointment and notice how snug my faux leather jacket is around my chest and shoulders. It’s become sort of an armor since I purchased it, an adult version of the small crawl spaces I used to feel safe in as kid.

From therapy, I bike to my favorite coffee shop to put some creative energy into my keyboard. As I take to the keys trying to get reacclimated to the feeling of pouring thought onto blank screen, I realize that that I’ve gotten good at just getting by in my personal life- doing enough to seem functioning, but feeling so disattached it does nothing. I’m not going to make any grandiose vows that I’ll change, but it does feel like a good day to start trying again.