Any Last Words?

“I want to see her! I can handle it! I’m not a kid!”

Oh, how wrong was I?

In life, there are moments wherein someone tries to step into your autocratic regime of self-governance and offers their two cents, justifying their invasion by saying, ” ________ (mommy, uncle, school master, tribal leader) knows best.” In all honesty,they usually are right. But I was angry, bitter, confused, and sad. I was lost. I should have listened to my Nana, but I was blinded by my own ignorance and guilt, as well as the part of me that was desperately yearning to be considered as an adult, an equal of sorts. Tired of being treated as a kid, I wanted to sit at, to be welcomed at the revered “adult table” for once in my life.

She’s not how you remember her. Death has changed her,” Nana pleaded with me to no avail.

But I was determined. I would see my mother. My mother.

I furiously shoved open the mahogany doors at the funeral home and marched down the aisle. As I approached the casket, I lost some of my initial resolve, and my cadence faltered as the cogs in my mind started reeling with latent processing. I had not seen her for several months. I took a deep gulp of precious air and peered into the cruel coffin that held my deceased mother in its wooden, mericless embrace.

The woman in there was and was not my mother. Her pale, alabaster cheeks were uncharacteristically puffy, the laugh lines that had once danced at the corners of her mouth were exaggeratedly chiseled, more defined. But underneath this deathly mask, I saw her. I saw my mother.

And all at once I had so many things that I wanted to say to this familiar stranger. I wanted to say that I loved her. That I missed her. That I was angry at her for leaving us. That I was sorry. Salty tears started to stream down my face forming an aqueous, gaping tapestry as I recalled the last time I had spoken to her…

My mother had recently been released from the hospital. I remember waking up to get ready before my grandfather was to arrive to take us to school. When I padded down the stairs to grab a quick breakfast, I found my mother walking around the house naked, muttering incoherently to herself. When I asked her where he clothes were and what she was doing, she just stared at me with glassy eyes. Her alcoholism had, at this point, ravaged her liver, making it difficult for her body to process proteins. She was hardly lucid. And I (fully aware of the nightcap that she had consumed several hours ago) was frustrated.

You should get dressed. Pap will be here any minute.”

That was the last thing I would ever say to her. And I cannot tell you how much I regret it.

Maybe that’s why I habitually make a point of reminding those near and dear to my heart that I love them (sometimes, perhaps annoyingly, more than once) before I drive off in my car or hang up the phone. “I love you” are three words in this life that should not be left unsaid, and I will never make that mistake again. I hope that, before she passed, she knew that she meant the world to me. That I loved her.

Good Morning Sunshine

Jess…We’ve hit rock-bottom.”

Well then. That wasn’t exactly what I had been expecting when my mother had said she had something important to tell me and sat me down on the edge of my bed in our house in Maryland. And by house, I mean my grandparents’ basement, which had been converted into an apartment of sorts for my family when my mother took a leap of faith/self-respect and finally left my father’s sorry ass in Texas. No, I’m not bitter.

Mom? What do you mean?,” I asked.

We have nothing. There’s nothing left in my bank account, ” she replied.

I was tempted to reply, “Well, that’s nothing new,” but I somehow managed to restrain my 12-year-old self. My mother had developed a nasty habit of living child support check to child support check and had never been really good at keeping up with her finances. In fact, I was the one who balanced her checkbook on a weekly basis after she had taught me how to do so, and judging by the numerous entries for Midway Discount Beverages, my mother could have justifiably been considered our local liquor store’s most valued customer. No, I’m not bitter about that either.

If nothing else, my childhood inadvertently taught me the art of worrying.

“Mom, we don’t have food for our lunches tomorrow.”

“Mom, we don’t have gas in the car.”

“Mom, we are going to be late.”

“Mom, people are looking.”

“Mom, we don’t have money.”

Without fail, my mother would always reply, “Stop being a worry wart.

Looking back on the ways things were and comparing it with how things are now, I am a bit disappointed to report that not much has changed. I still worry about what other people think of me. I still worry about the future, in all of its respects. I still worry about the problems of people whom I care for deeply, as well as others who are, quite frankly, undeserving of my concern. I still worry about the past, and whether or not I did the right thing.

I guess what I am trying to say is that I miss my mother, but I also miss the carefree, innocence-ridden childhood I never had.

Never Been Better

There is only one happiness in this life–to love and be loved” – George Sand

Bullshit.

Because I know for a fact that the color pink, consuming the all-American cheeseburger and french fries combo, running outside in sub-100-degree weather (welcome to Texas, y’all), and sleeping in past noon all have the power to stimulate the production of endorphins in my body to create the ever-elusive feeling of “happiness“. And all of aforementioned things are a whole hell of a lot less complicated than the concept of love, thank you very much.

For the past couple of weeks and as of right now, I have felt and still feel upset, confused, exhausted, angry, depressed, conflicted, and, interestingly enough, content…all at the same time? I miss my mother more than ever. At the same time, I am beyond grateful for the blessed network of family (my grandfather, grandmother, and brothers) and sincere friends (you know who you are) who have put up with my temperamental mood swings, my incessant worrying, my horrible habit of dropping off the face of the technological earth for days at a time (i.e. forgetting that I have a cell phone to answer and a Facebook page to maintain), and my mountain of other miscellaneous imperfections.

I’ve recently found myself repeatedly given the same nugget of advice: “Do what makes you happy“. In theory, this should be an enormously easy feat to accomplish, but my dilemma is that I am not entirely certain what makes me really and truly, inexplicably happy. I’ve found that trying to make yourself [while simultaneously making others] happy just seems to further complicate matters. And to top it all off, it seems that the only thing I am certain of is that I don’t know what I want.

I take that back.

I know that one day I want to be the proud owner of a bright pink moped. I know that I want to be successful in all of my pursuits. I know that I want to make my family proud of me. I know that my dream home that I envisioned for myself in the 3rd grade has not changed in the slightest-I still want it to have a balcony where I can eat breakfast while watching the sunrise and a grandiose library that will be home to thousands of beautiful books (which might very well be threatened by the distressing and unfortunate bankruptcy declaration issued by Borders). I know that I have an intangible, petrifying fear of being alone and unwanted, and that I want someone whose love and charisma will sweep me off feet. Pardon the cliche. I know that I never want to hurt anyone. And I know that I want to be happy.

Half of me is you, and the other half is yours…

Cheddar or Provolone?

Who Moved My Cheese by Spencer Johnson. This is the book that my father purchased for me upon arriving in Texas. If you are not familiar with it, all you need to know is that it is basically a motivational parable with mice casted as the main characters that, in theory, helps people to not only cope with but embrace change. A week after my mother’s funeral, my father drove a U-Haul truck determinedly up to Maryland (from Texas) in the middle of a snow storm, hell-bent on retrieving my brothers and me. I suppose my father had not realized it at the time, but my brothers and I were not the same children, in any respect, that he had spent time with during his last weekend visit some months prior to this whole ordeal.

To say that I was upset would be a gross understatement. But to be completely honest, after having your mother die unexpectedly in the hospital, after finding out that you have to change schools in the middle of the semester while subsequently leaving behind family and friends, and after discovering that you have to move to a completely different state to live with a man whom your mother deemed a “monster” on more than one occasion, who wouldn’t be slinging an attitude the size of Texas?

I fear hate change. I have no idea if there is a self-help, 12-step guide to dealing with this particular disease, but I do know that if such a thing exists, then I’ve at least advanced past the initial coming-to-terms-with-your-problem stage. Hoorah for me. But I can’t help but wonder, “What’s next?”. Or even, “Am I always going to feel this way?”.

Yes, I have heard it. I have heard the sermons praising change and its ability to bring about better things. I have heard people preach that change is not necessarily an omen nor a bearer of evil tidings. But there is just something about that feeling that I get, the sensation that my life is about to be irrevocably and uncontrollably jolted from its homeostasis, that more often than not brings me to tears.

At any rate, I have come to terms with the fact that change is (unfortunately) inevitable. You just have to cry about it and move on with your life because no one is going to wait for you to embrace, or at the very least become somewhat comfortable with, reality.* Mice included.

* A therapist might be willing to do that, but, then again, you are paying them to perform that service so I don’t really think they count. 

Forever Yours

My mother. امي. Mi madre. There’s something about that universal word that tugs on one’s heart strings, eliciting the same response in spite of cultural differences and language barriers.

Dealing with my mother’s death was the single most difficult thing I have ever done in my life. But I don’t even think it’s accurate to use the term “done” because in all honesty, it’s an ongoing, eternal struggle. And frankly, I think it’s an insult to all mothers to insinuate that overcoming their death is a feat that can be so absolutely surmounted. My mother was the lynchpin to my chaotic childhood, but more than that, she was the woman who nurtured me for the nine months before I was born, the woman who underwent extreme pain to bring me into this world, the woman who sacrificed everything for me. I am eternally, unequivocally grateful.

That night. That phone call. That turmoil. Those few short moments were incredibly surreal. Surprisingly enough, the doctor had only  just recently expressed his positive outlook on my mother’s prognosis.

She should definitely be home before Christmas,” he had confidently told my family.

November 4, 2002: My brothers and I were spending the night at our aunt’s house when the phone shrilled that evening. The conversation was short, and she quickly hung up the phone, turning around to face us. Asking her what was wrong would be superfluous question; her tears already conveyed the answer that I didn’t want to hear.

My mother was dead.

I remember sitting on the couch and desperately trying to come terms with reality. I closed my eyes, and the memories that flooded my head crashed like waves on a beach. It was like watching a slideshow as snapshots of the past flashed in the inner recess of my mind: riding roller blades with my mother around the neighborhood, my mother tucking me in at night when I was a kid and reading my favorite book to me, starting our new life together in Maryland, and so many other memories, both good and bad. And in the blink of an eye those memories were gone, and I was left utterly alone with this wrenching hollow feeling in my chest. My heart sank into an inky abyss, and I wept uncontrollably, mourning the loss of the most beloved person in my life. I know it sounds cliche to say that my life would never be the same, but after losing my mother, how could it ever be?

She loved this song. I miss you more than you could ever know, mom.

I Have Forgotten What the Roses Smell Like

And it’s not just the roses. It’s the tulips, too. It’s the homemade apple pies. It’s the clean, freshly-folded laundry. It’s the vanilla-scented candle burning while you take a warm bath.

And why not take it a step further? After all, there are five senses.

What about the sound of the surf crashing on the beach? The caressing touch of satin sheets against bare skin? The taste of crisp, pure water? The tantalizing sight of fire, amber flames dancing in the furnace?

I see and experience all of these things with my own God-given organs and yet I feel like I don’t see them at all. I am living, but I am not living. Or maybe I am not living in the moment. I can see the flower and my brain can comprehend that there is a flower in my direct line of vision, but I just don’t see the beauty in it anymore. Sometimes I feel like life is no longer a mystery. I don’t need to rotate the handle on a box to know that a childish doll will pop out. I don’t need to touch a stove that is radiating heat to know that I will get burned. And I certainly don’t need to stop to smell the roses to know that they emanate a fragrant perfume. Or do I?

And so I have come to the conclusion that I have become so consumed with trying to live my life that I have actually succeeded in effectively accomplishing just the opposite. I suppose that at my stage in maturation it is rather easy (and probably all too common) to be swept up into the chaotic whirlwind of life: deliberating the selection of a major to serve as a foundation for a career to facilitate the process of creating an ideal environment for living the dreams we all had when we were children pondering the delicate question of, “What do I want to be when I grow up?”. And here we are, all grown up with our dreams in focus, dead-set on a path that will ultimately lead us to the holy grail of living, or so we are lead to believe. And what do you get when you reach the end? A “Congratulations, you made it!”? A high-five for finally having succeeded in following through with the goals you envisioned in your long-ago past?

In the end, was it worth letting the memory of the scent of flowers fade into the muted background? The fact that it is fragrant seemed rather irrelevant at the moment in time in which I made the choice to see the roses as a fact of life rather than a miracle. And it is that exact moment, that definitive stamp in time in which we regress into merely being. Not living.

Independence and Chicken Pox

Oh gosh. I’m sitting here on my couch trying to come up with a single word that accurately describes and sums up my first experience at the shelter in Houston. Indescribable? Interesting? Unfortunate? Life-changing (do hyphenated words count?)?

I think I’ll stick with interesting.

Life there was unimaginable-it really felt like we were sucked into a big black hole and spat out into another dimension. All concept of time was lost. A week felt like eternity. My mother tried explaining to my brothers and me on the first night that this experience would be like a sleepover…with hundreds of our closest friends (close is here defined in terms of proximity rather than degree of affection). It was scary being surrounded by a swarm of unfamiliar and sometimes unfriendly faces, and on top of it all was the fact that the environment was starkly different from what we had been used to. You can categorize the type of people who resided at the shelter into 2 distinct classifications: those who were happy to have found a haven in this cruel world and were amiable to everyone, and those who were bitter and jaded, disgusted with people and life in general. Those labels apply only to the adults though. Like a flower blooming in a draught, it seemed that most of the children there were remarkably vivacious in spite of their environment, and their innocence glowed like the soft flame from a lit candle. I wish I was a kid again.

The first night was…horrible. My brothers, my mom, and I were stuffed into a cramped room furnished with a pair of bunk beds. I remember laying on the unforgivingly stiff mattress, staring blankly at the peeling walls, and wondering if I would ever get to see my best friend again. I remember hot tears cascading down my face as my mother tried to soothe my brothers and me, reassuring us that everything would be alright. I’m pretty sure that this was the night that gave birth to both my tendency to worry excessively and my acute fear of change.

I grew up in a lot of ways during our stay there. I remember standing in front of the row of showers, each stall protected by a flimsy, lifeless curtain. Up until that point, I had never taken a shower having been raised on a baths-only basis. I had also never before washed my own hair. My mother crouched down beside me and again demonstrated with her hands the amount of shampoo I should use. I cautiously walked into the stall, all the while having a million misgivings about our whole situation. Why did everything have to change so quickly? I stood on tiptoes to reach the rusty knob, and upon turning it, a flood of icy water sprayed my face. My mother had told us the night before that we left my dad in order to win our independence. So I guess this is what freedom feels like.

The gift that keeps on giving (i.e. the chicken pox) made an appearance at the shelter a couple weeks after we arrived. Two twin little girls served as the carriers that allowed it to infiltrate the shelter’s walls, and in a matter of days most of the children there were infected, my brothers and me included. You honestly haven’t really lived until you’ve taken an oatmeal bath in lukewarm water. The shelter had a very limited number of rooms that came equipped with a bathtub so one of the ladies who was fortunate enough to posses that particular commodity allowed my mother to utilize it…and so we bathed in essentially our breakfast. While my case of chicken pox was rather mild, my youngest brother, still wearing diapers at the time, developed a horrible case of diaper rash which only worsened with his incessant scratching.

Our lives carried on after we left our house and the life that we knew, but something intangible and inexplicable had completely altered everything, annihilating the thoughts and ways of the past while making the future that much more opaque.

There is always one moment in childhood when the door opens and lets the future in.” Deepak Chopra

Seeking Shelter

I think it’s fair to say that everyone has a breaking point, a certain threshold of tolerance. The aspect that differs from person to person is both their reaction to the situation and their ability to cope with the subsequent stress. It is incredible to be a witness to an occurrence of self-preservation, when sheer desire to live governs all actions and thoughts with absolute control.

I’ll never forget the day that my mother took us to a women’s shelter in downtown Houston. As we barreled through my hometown in our conspicuous bright blue van, my mother told my three brothers and me that we were going somewhere safe. My mom’s face was adorned with matching black eyes, though you couldn’t really tell due to the copious amount of concealer that she used to cover them. When I looked at her big hazel eyes, I didn’t see fear. They were tired more than anything. Somewhere safe is what she promised us.

At the time, I did not have a clue where we were headed. Usually whenever my brothers and I asked my mom where we were going, she would simply reply “crazy”, and we  had to run with it because that’s just how my mom was. She was the kind of free spirit that truly believed that the magic of life lied in the journey rather than the destination. She was the kind of person who liked to drive around aimlessly for hours on end with no purpose in mind, which wouldn’t be very cost-effeicient now what with the present state of gas prices. Ridiculous.

Well we eventually arrived at this office, and some attendants ushered us into the building. My brothers and I were placed in a waiting area for children while my mother was telling her story to some ladies. I looked around. My youngest brother was only wearing a diaper and a shirt. When my mom had rounded us up at our house only an hour ago, her tone had been urgent and pleading when she told us that we had to leave immediately. Of course we bombarded her with questions:

Where are we going?

When are we coming back?

Do I have to go to school tomorrow?

Is daddy coming too?”

Can I bring my toys?

When are we going to eat?

Yeah…you kinda have to have the patience of a saint to have four kids (which is probably why I’m now hesitant to have more than two). She allowed us to each take one toy, and then we left our house. I wouldn’t see it again for months.

Alcoholic Defined

I was too young to know what that word meant when I was six years old, but as I heard my father accuse my mother of being an alcoholic, I was old enough to realize that its connotation was evil.

That night my parents locked themselves in their bedroom, and as I played with my Barbie dolls in my room across the hall, I could hear the fighting ensue. I padded across the room and went to my parents’ door, futilely attempting to open it. I knew my father could be mean. I just wanted to rescue my mother; her cries were like nails on a chalkboard to my heart. After what felt like hours of crying outside their door, my father finally opened it, roughly yanking my mother forward by the collar of her shirt.

Is she an alcoholic?” my father shouted at me.

Having no clue what “alcoholic” even meant, I whispered, “I don’t know.” I stole a glance at my mother; her ashen face was stained with mascara, her lips trembling, her nose oozing snot. “Stop yelling at mommy,” I pleaded.

My father grabbed my mother’s wrist and bent it backwards, and she shrieked. “Tell your daughter what ‘alcoholic’ means, ” he ordered.

With her voice hoarse from sobbing, my mother murmured an answer, but her response was unintelligible.

My father shoved her back into the room, and before he locked the door for the night, he looked me dead in the eye and barked, “An alcoholic is someone who drinks. Your mother is an alcoholic.

That night was the first of numerous occasions that my mother has been labeled an alcoholic. And looking back on my childhood and the way my dad was, I really can’t blame her for choosing that route. To each his own.

Two Thousand Ways to Get Grounded

Ladies and gentlemen: if you’re like me (i.e. overly sentimental and cries at the fall of a hat), now would be the time to grab a handful of kleenexes and a tub of your ice cream of choice. And if you’re not like me, I have no clue as to what advice I should give you prior to reading my blog. I am still not one hundred percent sure as to how I want to structure this thing that I’ve created, and I apologize in advance if it’s hard to follow. One for the money?

Hmmm. I have yet to pinpoint the exact moment in my 21 years of existence that I realized my father is/was/and-will-probably-forever-be an ass hole. After all these years, I find it remarkable that despite his particularly unsavory personality, he still managed to command respect. Respect from his children, his wives, his peers, his coworkers, and his enemies. I mean, I always knew that as a minor I was kinda legally and morally obligated (?) to obey my parents; I just didn’t understand why someone not bounded by familial ties would put up with my dad’s shit. I used to envy the people who had the power to say “no” to my dad, and I can’t even begin to describe how disappointed I was when people failed to exercise that right, especially while he proceeded to walk, skip, and stomp all over them. It’s as if they took it for granted.

I like to think that all families are like a quilt; each section is unique and individual but all of the pieces ultimately combine to be a symbol of unity. That would be an ideal image, but perhaps it is more realistic to say that our family quilt is not perfectly sewn and stitched but rather raggedy and permanently stained in some areas. And I guess it would be accurate to say that some parts have unraveled beyond repair. Nevertheless, for better or for worse, our quilt is the quilt that God (because most of us in the family can at least agree on the existence of a divine entity *cough cough*) has given us and we can’t really do anything about it. Go figure. At any rate, this blog, Two Thousand Ways to Get Grounded, is an attempt to map out the series of events that created the dysfunctional nature inherent in my family’s quilt.