Where Has Our Village Gone?

While skimming the latest gossip off one of my town’s Facebook groups I came across a post by a woman who described her evening of attempting to photograph birds at a local, public beach. She described the stillness of her perch and how quite she needed to be so the birds wouldn’t be afraid to approach where she sat. Suddenly, she says, a family shows up and stops a little bit away from her. Not close enough to disturb the birds. She can tell they’re there for family photos. There’s a mother, a father, two kids and a light screen. The mother, this woman telling the story says, immediately loses it on the kids yelling for “Just one hour!” Completely disrupting this woman’s own photo shoot she’s worked so hard to set up with the birds.

I get it. It’s really annoying. There is absolutely no such thing as a quiet piece of space on our island in August. I complain about it all the time. I think it sucks that this woman’s work was interrupted. I started reading the comments people had added to her post. One after another they shamed the mother for yelling at her kids or for making a racket at all. How dare she disturb the peace of this beautiful place!

Well, I had my own little melt down at my house. Phone in hand. I wanted to rant and rave and defend this mother but all I could do in the moment was leave a snarky little comment about the difficulties of motherhood and not mom-shaming. In retrospect I could have been nicer and less sarcastic.

It really stuck with me though. This story. It perfectly illustrates the way I’ve felt over the last two years. It makes me ask: Where is our village? You know, that village that it supposedly takes to raise a child. Never mind two. Where is the support and understanding? The neighborly helping hand?
I’ve only been doing the mom thing for a little over two years and I’ve already had a few public meltdowns. They’re not something I’m proud of. I don’t set out for the day planning on screaming “Don’t you dare!” as my toddler launches a jar of spaghetti sauce onto the Stop & Shop floor. It’s just something that happens when you don’t have a village.

Moms need a break.

Last summer I was walking my dog down the narrow sidewalk on my street and pushing my kid in her stroller that veers left so I have to hold on extra tight so it doesn’t go off the curb into traffic. My dog was a 90lb, very energetic hound. I loved her very much. She was my first baby and I’d had her for seven years. I swore I’d never get rid of her, but we had already started searching for her new home which left me with a constant feeling of sadness and dread. My daughter had decided to get all her teeth in the span of a month so we hadn’t been sleeping very well. My husband was away for a 9-week work training thing, it was 90 degrees and I was due for a melt down.

I saw some of my neighbors walking their dog ahead on the sidewalk so we crossed over to the other side where there was no sidewalk, but it would keep our dogs from meeting. My dog did not like meeting other dogs while on a leash. The other family was walking much slower so as we overtook them, on the opposite side of the road, my dog decided to lunge out into the street just as a car came speeding down the road, almost pulling me and the stroller with my then one-year-old into the line of the car with her. I managed to whip her back towards me with her leash just in time and proceeded to absolutely lose my freaking s***. Completely. Utterly. No s*** was left. It was all lost. All over the street. In front of the other family with their dog. In front of the neighbors whoes lawn I was now standing on. In front of the passing cars. I screamed holy hell at my dog who cowered on the ground while my daughter shrieked in terror. When I was done yelling we walked home while I cried.

I was embarrassed and ashamed. I worried someone would call animal control on me or DCF. I hid in my house with my daughter and my dog and just howled. All I could see when I closed my eyes where the faces of my neighbors just looking at me. They looked at my like I was a crazy person. Like I was unstable. I felt like I had no right having a dog or a kid to take care of.

A year later I can think of how different it would have been if one of those neighbors had come up to me and asked me if I was alright. Would I like them to walk my dog back while I pushed the stroller.

How different would I have felt if after witnessing me at one of my lowest points someone had said, “It’s okay. I’ve been there.” I swear to you I would have hugged that person and cried into their shoulder before picking myself up and going on to be the best mom I could be for the rest of that night. I would have felt okay about not feeling okay. My mood would have lightened. I would still be embarrassed but I wouldn’t feel ashamed. I wouldn’t feel alone.

It is time for us to bring back the village. Moms need a break. Dads need a break. We all need to give each other a break. It’s scary inserting yourself into someone else’s business. And maybe it will backfire and just get you an ear full of “Mind your own business.” But that person will know, deep down, that she isn’t alone. Or maybe she will sob in your arms for a minute before apologizing and walking off ready to deal with the next thing life throws at her. Maybe she will feel like she is part of a community that cares about it’s people.

Advertisements

Wisdom

People get wiser with age. Except me. I get dumber. I used to consider myself a smart person. I graduated high school early and went straight to college a week later. Then I graduated college early and got into graduate school. I crammed a three year graduate program into two and a half years and completed my dual masters program, with honors, by the age of 25. Now, when my husband enthusiastically asks “who’s that” while nodding towards the TV I answer “It’s Snuffy!” before realizing he was talking to our two-year-old daughter. I feel embarrassed because that’s one of the only right answers I’ve had all day.

Two year old tantrums in the grocery store and I cooked the wrong kind of macaroni and cheese for lunch. Again. When I give her a choice between the blue dress and the pink jumper her answer is NO! I burn the quiche and leave out a whole cup of flour from the chocolate chip cookies that lay steaming in a swampy puddle on the tray. I finish vacuuming the living room and find a whole box of crackers dissected on the kitchen tiles. Every accomplishment is shadowed by another disaster. My husband comes home to dishes stacked on the counter and a naked, screaming toddler. He always tell me how good a job I’m doing.

Escape

There is no escape. No way out. I try to quietly ease my body off the sofa, heart pounding, eyes sharp with fear. My breath sounds like a thundering herd of beasts stampeding away from a predator. I try to stop my breath all together, but it’s no use, my will for life betrays me and I let out a sharp, exhalation. Was I detected? No. My captor has not shifted gaze. Still transfixed on the images and shrill sounds coming from the television. My weight comes to rest completely on my sore feet. I’m up. I’m yet unseen. I edge quietly towards the kitchen. Not daring to look back. Fearful of what will happen if my movements are detected. I turn the corner into the dark kitchen and feel the cool linoleum under my toes. A wave relief flows through my core and I start my route towards the bathroom, but as I reach for the doorknob I hear it behind me. A scuddling and then a high pitched cry! “Mommy!” I’ve been detected. Yet another trip to the bathroom where I’ll be joined by my toddler.

Butterflies

I’ve been neglecting my blog in pursuit of another creative outlet lately. I hope to share it in the near future. I promise to come back. Here is just a quick free-write I did during a writing group. It speaks to the theme of this blog but is in no way a finished piece. The prompt was butterflies. 

 

We’ve watched the Elmo about butterflies about 30 times now. I’m starting to memorize it. But it’s the easiest to pull up on the TV and quickest way to distract my monster, I mean toddler. I wanted to be a good mom. I wanted to tell my daughter, Now we’re going to wash the dishes. Pull up a chair and role up your sleeves. But instead I turn on Elmo and listen to Telly and Baby Bear try to catch the butterfly that’s swooping around Sesame Street. I turn on the faucet as quietly as possible and load the dishwasher quickly so Azealia, my monster, doesn’t hear and want to “help.” She loves to help! She loves to help so much that we’re almost out of dishes.

The first to go was the brand new butter dish I’d ordered from Amazon. I always thought that only rich people had butter dishes. The rest of us poor folk spread cold butter, strait from the refrigerator, onto bread that ripped under the force of the knife. So when Nick got his raise, I ordered the butter dish. It was only $11.95, but it made me feel rich. Then Azealia helped and it shattered on the ground a week after we got it.

Next was the plate that held the mac n’ cheese I was about to eat so that Azealia would see me eating mac n’ cheese, and herself decide to eat mac n’ cheese. A method learned from my monster’s nutritionist who helps her eat. Anyway, I was about to sit and eat this orange feast with my monster when she decided to “help” mom have some of her water bottle across the table, right onto my lunch and shatter the plate. Since then we’ve lost most other ceramic kitchen items to my child’s attempts to help. Now I turn on the Sesame Street about butterflies a little too loud, and the faucet on very quietly and half wash our plastic plates. Not the perfect mom.

Tomorrow Was my Second Child’s Due Date

TRIGGER WARNING:

Tomorrow, May 26, 2017, was my second child’s due date. I will never get to meet this baby but s/he will always be a part of me. This is the letter I wrote to my second child after an excruciating incomplete miscarriage. I’ve included this letter in a memorial box I painted of our family (pictured in the feature photo of this post). The design is one I saw online when looking for support and found comfort in it. I do not know the original artist. Inside the box is the pregnancy test I took in September and the following letter as they are my only tangible relics of this child. I’m sharing this letter as part of my healing and to lessen the isolation many feel when grieving someone no one else knows exists.

 

Dear Baby,

I knew the day before I took the test that I was finally pregnant with you. It felt like a long time that we’d been trying. So, when I got up to take the test at 3am I was so excited when the pregnancy pee stick read, pregnant. I couldn’t go back to sleep. I got out the bright-yellow t-shirt I’d bought your older sister months before. The words ONLY CHILD were crossed out and underneath it said BIG SISTER. I laid out the shirt with a new diaper and waited for Azealia to wake up. It was September 15th.

Azealia, you and me got up at 6am and went out to see Dad who was getting ready for work. He kissed us good morning and continued getting ready for work. Making his lunch, running to the bathroom, keeping your sister out of the kitchen cabinets, not noticing the bright-yellow t-shirt or the bright yellow sun beams coming from me. He’s a dad and sometimes dads need time to catch on so I put Azealia in her high chair and started to get her breakfast ready. Dad said, “that’s a nice shirt.” and mommy’s heart fluttered, but dad went back to his cereal. A minute later Dad was looking at the shirt again. Confused. “What does that mean? Like, Azealia doesn’t have a big sister. I don’t get it. If you were pregnant we wouldn’t know if it was a boy or girl.”

I tried, Baby. I tried so hard not to laugh at your dad, but I couldn’t help it. “Azealia IS the big sister.” I told him. “She’s no longer an only child because she has a younger sibling.” Daddy was so happy! He jumped up and gave us all a big hug! We were all so happy.

Later, after I brought your big sister to daycare, I started to feel the cramps. I thought it was because you were my second baby and you were going to stretch mommy’s stomach out faster. I wasn’t worried. I went to the hospital and did the blood work the doctor wanted because it was taking so long to make you. When the doctor called I told her the good news. “We had a positive test this morning!”

“Great!” she said. “Everything feels ok? No bleeding or cramping?”

“Some cramping this morning.” I told her and there was a pause that was just a second too long.

“Okay, I’m just going to have you go do one more blood test to check your levels in a couple days. Just to make sure everything is progressing alright.” She told me to call her if there were any more problems. I started to worry.

I called your dad and let him talk me down because that what he does. He told me not to worry and to enjoy being pregnant and to take care of myself and you. So I did. The cramps stopped. I started to get tired. Another week went by and I started to feel sick. The doctor kept making me go back for more blood tests every few days because my “levels” were low for your age, but I googled it and found out that levels are different for everyone. We were fine. When you were six weeks old in mommy’s belly we went for your fist picture. I couldn’t’ wait to see your little heart-beat. We didn’t get to do your sister’s first picture until about nine weeks and I thought I’d lose my mind waiting.

I had to go alone because Daddy’s new job wouldn’t let him take a day off yet. I tried not to look too excited in the radiology waiting room because then people would know why I was there and you’re not supposed to tell people you’re pregnant until about 14 weeks just incase something happens. When we didn’t see you on the screen at first I wasn’t worried. We could just see the sack you’d be in on the tummy ultrasound, but that early it’s easier to see a baby with the wand. The tech let me empty my bladder before it burst and then started the less-than-glamorous probing. I’m not great at seeing things on an ultrasound, but I started to realize I still couldn’t see you.

Right when my heart was about to break the tech assured me that I’d gotten the dates wrong and that you were only five weeks in mommy’s belly. That’s why we couldn’t see you in there. I knew I wasn’t wrong and that she was, but I let us both believe her. I had to believe her while I was stuck there. Skewered on the elevated table.

More blood tests. Two more ultrasounds. Lots of calls with nurses. Finally, on October 13th, they told me you had stopped developing right around five weeks in mommy’s belly.

Mommy’s body broke down. I started sobbing, but my mind was in a different place. I thought maybe they made a mistake. Well, I knew they didn’t. But, I told myself they made a mistake and I kept this secret place in my mind where you were all right while the rest of my body crumbled onto the ground and I watched it happen, but I didn’t feel it in this small space that I crept and crammed myself into. It was sad to watch everything happen from that space. Like watching a really sad movie. You feel for the character, but you know it’s not you and you can walk away from the sadness.

I’m really not sure how to describe it, Baby. I knew I was hurting, but I didn’t know exactly how much or exactly why. I knew I loved you. I knew it before I made you. It took me longer to fall in love with your sister. Not because of anything she did. I think it was just because I’d never had a baby before. I didn’t know exactly what it meant to make an entire person who is her own self and who I had to protect and comfort and teach. But your sister taught me how to love someone more than myself and that’s why I loved you so early. I knew what you could be.

Your sister would have loved you, too! You were going to be born in May, just after her 2nd birthday. I’ll tell her about you when she’s a little older and can understand a little better why you’re not here. Did you know that Azealia learned to say “baby” the same week we made you? After we knew what happened, when she would say it, it felt like a little tickle and a pin prick both at the same time.

On October 28th, I gave birth to you. I felt the first contraction in the grocery store. We’d just gotten the ice cream and were about to leave anyway. By the time we got home I felt like I was having real, active labor contractions so I called the doctor. She told me to take Advil and use a heating pad. I have never in my life found a heating pad effective enough to relieve the feeling of being torn into two from the inside out. I fed your sister lunch with my regular, old heating pad tucked into my sweat pants and tried to smile through the pain so I wouldn’t scare her. I couldn’t do it. I started crying.

Finally I couldn’t take it anymore so I put Azealia in the living room and ran to the bathroom, but she was worried about me and insisted on following. Your sister sat on my lap and hugged me while you came out.

But, you didn’t leave me completely. Or maybe I wouldn’t let you go. The next time they took my blood to check my “levels” you were still there, but a little less. And the next time a little less. You stayed with me for a long time. I kept you with me for a long time. Mommy kept bleeding, but you’ve stayed with me through Halloween, then Veterans’ Day, then Thanksgiving, then Christmas, New Years and Valentine’s Day. Leaving just a little bit at a time so that mommy wouldn’t have to lose you all at once.

On March 4th Mommy had more blood work and for the first time in 28 weeks you weren’t there. I love you. I loved you before I made you. I never got to see you, or hold you in my arms, but I love you. You were real. I know it’s just a story, but it says in the Velveteen Rabbit, “Once you are real you can’t become unreal again. It lasts for always.” I will always love you. You will always be part of me.

With all my love,

Mommy

I Lost My Phone and My Mind

I couldn’t find my phone. I knew I’d just used it to call the landlord and now it was gone. My first instinct was to check the couch cushions where I’d been sitting. All I found were some Cheerios, a pen, two blue monkeys from the Monkeys in a Barrel game my daughter was playing with earlier in the day, and a random assortment of crumbs that jammed in under my nails. I tried back-tracking to the bathroom. Not there. Nor was it on my desk, on the kitchen counter or in the laundry room.

The next logical conclusion was that I’d lost my mind. It’d finally happened. Without any warning I had begun the steps to insanity that I’d witnessed in my mother ten years ago. I’d first started noticing that she couldn’t find anything. The spaghetti strainer mostly. Regularly, even. That red, dented spaghetti strainer with the paint wearing off around the bottom. My mother would scream Where the fuck is it? Someone stole the spaghetti strainer again! I could hear her slamming cabinets, roughing-up the dishwasher, and opening the fridge before starting to cry. I’d wait until her tears stopped before going into the kitchen. I knew her sadness could easily turn to anger and didn’t want to be on the receiving end of that.

“Have you seen the spaghetti strainer? I think someone took the spaghetti strainer.”

I’d open the cabinet next to the sink and pull out the strainer. “This one, or the little one with the handle?”

“Mother fuckers!” Her screams were shrill. “I looked there. They took it out and put it back to make me look crazy. I’m not crazy!”

Then her beads started going missing. The pearls she’d just bought at the gem show, the molds for her island charm collection, her needle nose pliers. She would scream and tear her workbench apart looking for what she knew had been stolen only to find it sitting in plain sight a week later.

I figured my mother was just getting older. My grandmother will use a ladle to stir soup then walk over to change the volume on the TV and return to the stove ladle-less. Then I started noticing the notes. The hand-written notes in the bathroom, under the mirrors and by the windows. Stop spying on me you perverts! You have no right!

As I opened the dishwasher my heart was pounding. No phone. It wasn’t in the fridge. I even opened the tupperware lid to the salad to make sure it was phone-less. Then I had an idea. I ran to my computer and pulled up iMessage. I fumbled my fingers over the keys and send “lsdfj” to my phone number as a text message. Nothing. I started to sweat. Could someone have taken it? Holy shit, it’s happening. Did someone take the spaghetti strainer to fuck with my mother? Is someone fucking with me? My breath was coming quickly now. I could feel a hot fluttering in my chest and I thought about what the doctors had said about stress. About what my husband had said. I needed to calm down if we were ever going to get pregnant again. I started to get dizzy and tears came to my eyes. They burned like vinegar. You need to be calm. If this is happening you can get help. This isn’t the end. You aren’t your mother. I told myself and collapsed in full panic-attack onto the couch.

“Ouch!” I yelled out and a wave of realization and shame washed over me. I reached my hand into the crease in the top couch cushions and pulled out my phone that had been weggied in there.

I don’t know if or when I will start to loose my mind. And if I do, I don’t know that it will look like my mother’s decent into madness, but I do know that I am terrified of it happening to me. What will happen to my marriage? My daughter? What will happen to me if I loose touch with reality? It’s this constant weight thats hanging over my head. But, at least for now I found my phone.

Daughter of a Schizophrenic Mother

I am the daughter of a schizophrenic mother. Because of this I have been raising a child without a village. It has been a long two years. Two years full of unanswered questions, uncertainty, and a lack of physical and emotional support. When my baby was up with her first fever in the middle of the night all I wanted to do was to call my mother and ask her what I should do. But I knew that was not an option. There was the chance I’d get the loving, eager-to-help mother I needed, but equally likely I’d get the mentally unstable mother who would turn my child’s fever into part of the crusade that she believes has been waged against her.

We all, at some point in our lives, scream out My mother is crazy! Or something similar. And yes, to a certain extent all mothers are a little crazy. It’s what happens after years of sleep depravation and chronic whining and screaming from the little terrorists we hope to turn into responsible, well-mannered adults one day. But, what’s it like to have a mom with a mental illness? It’s unpredictable. It’s never knowing what is okay to talk about and what might set-off the alarms. It’s knowing exactly what’s going to happen next because some poor soul walking down the sidewalk happens to pull-up his pants, or wave to someone, or touch his ear. It’s making excuses for your mother’s yelling and accusations while trying to calm her at the same time. It’s never talking about work during family gatherings and not inviting coworkers to your wedding or baby shower because they are part of THEY. It’s rocking your screaming baby through another excruciating episode of pain due to her food allergies and not being able to ask your mom to hold her for just one minute. Just one minute so you can recharge and be the best mother you can be for your child. You can’t ask your mother about cradle cap without a lecture on the doctors who signed her up for experiments without her permission. When you are the daughter of an unmedicated schizophrenic mother is means never saying I love you. Because you know she will just tell you to fuck off.

My mother does not receive help for her condition. She believes it to be a problem with the people and agencies out to malign her and destroy her life rather than a problem within herself. A person cannot be treated involuntarily for a mental illness unless that person is a danger to him or herself. My mother doesn’t want to hurt herself. She doesn’t want to hurt anyone else. She wants to be left alone by the people who are after her. Because of this my mother has gone from job to job and rented-room to rented-room trying to stay afloat. She does not receive any government aid because there is “nothing wrong” with her.

Over the past several years my mother has learned to count on me for help. From leads on jobs to paying her phone bill for 3 years to listening to her scream and sob on the phone almost daily. I was her advocate, her friend, her court-ordered-supervisor when she had visitations with my younger sister. Constantly running from a force that never gives up has got to be terrifying, exhausting and lonely. I love my mom and I want to make things a little easier for her. But, now I have a daughter.

My daughter will be two in May and I am just learning what it means to protect her and give her the life she deserves. I’ve realized that living under an unpredictable and sometimes scary mother has taught me to be a nervous person who feels like she doesn’t deserve a calm, predictable life that includes things like self-care. I don’t want that for my daughter. I want her to expect others to talk to her respectfully and to know how to leave an abusive situation. I want her to understand that she is just as good as anyone else and that she deserves all that she can make for herself. I want her to know that she is not responsible for any one else’s feelings. I want her to be able to let her guard down and have trusted people in her life. I want to take care of my daughter instead of having her take care of me. So, I’ve begun to set boundaries with my mother.

I’ve started three major areas of boundary setting with my mother. Number one: When she starts to scream or rant on the phone I now hang up on her. I was terrified to do this initially. I thought she would have no one else to turn to and she would kill herself. She is still here. Number two: I schedule less time with my mother than I used to. It helps that she moved off the island I live on, but even when she visits I insist she stay with my grandmother. Number three: I refuse to become involved in any legal/family drama. When she starts going on about getting custody of my sister back I tell her I am not involved and will not become involved. Which results in screaming. Which results in the use of technique number one. One of my mother’s greatest attributes is her persistence. Unfortunately for me this means continually reestablishing boundaries I’ve already thought were pretty solid.

For now this is working. For now this feels like I can breath and raise my daughter in a healthier atmosphere. In the future I may have to establish more boundaries or even cut my mother out of my life completely, but I still struggle with the need for my mother’s love and approval. I wish I could look to her for advice and help raising my daughter. This won’t ever happen unless my mother seeks help.

If my mother ever read this (or any of my blog) I’m not sure what would happen. I’m worried that she might never talk to me again. I’m worried she might scream at me. But mostly I’m worried she would hurt herself. I’m worried she would be hurt. She would say it was all untrue and I am part of what is trying to destroy her. I’m worried I’d loose what little of my mother I have.

Breaking the stigma of mental illness is a cause that’s been championed by mental health advocates for decades now. It’s not working. Maybe with depression and anxiety, but not with schizophrenia. My own schizophrenic mother doesn’t understand that having a mental illness does not make someone a bad person. If she could see that mental illness is just like any other illness maybe that would make it less scary to consider that the people out to get her are just in her head.

Tornado

Dinner at our house was a time for tornado. Wet hair dripping, arms flung out, out of control bodies twisting and slamming. Bare feet climbing up blonde-wood cabinets, trampling the rest of of the Macaroni n’ Cheese. Slamming both the door on the cup cabinet and the plate cabinet or jerking the faucet violently off and on while piercing the room with high-pitched howls. Long, painted fingers my mother thought could have played piano or modeled rings, now snatched up by my mother and held just high enough to stretch out my toes to meet the ground as her other hand landed on my butt.

Hot body and steaming tears chased me to my bedroom where I upturned every doll, marker bin and box of legos. Hurling the hardest objects at the door I was aloud to burn out into a puddle on my bed. Other times being held with my arms crossed either direction around myself and my mother trying to keep her head clear of my jerking. Sitting on the floor. I, almost on her lap, fought with everything to get away from her body. More fuel added to my cyclone. Needing to run, get away. Don’t touch me. “I’ll fucking kill you, Mom!” Until I had to give up again to another person. My body not my own, it could not run away and break things but it had to do as it was told. I didn’t think about it that way when I was seven, I just thought “I have lost.”

Dinner at Grandma’s house was stuffy. We knew the restrictions before getting there. My heart would beat faster, my temperature rise, my teeth grind in preparation of the carnage. “Ill stay quiet. I just won’t talk.” I’d plan it out with myself. Along with breasts and hips for days, 6th grade had given me the gifts of forethought and reflection. “I’m going to make it through this Easter dinner under the radar. No disasters this time.” It’d start out nice enough, Grandma asking how we were and complementing us on looking so nice.

Soon enough Fred would start in on me. “Why aren’t you talking? What’s wrong with you?”

And my mother joining in, “This is the first time I’ve heard her quiet all day. Usually it’s non stop arguing.”

And Fred, “How come you give your mother a hard time?”

Grandma, “I wish you two would just behave for your mother. After all she does for you and all her hard work. You need to be nice to your mother.”

Fred, “If I ever talked to my mother the way you do or if I acted out my father would be there with the belt…”

I was gone. Anger, tears, hot skin pinking, reddening and ripening ready to fall off. I wanted to run, scream, kick, bite, hurl myself into something solid but I was too old for that now. I had only my words. My body was, except for the age-appropriate door slam, stilled years ago into submission. No longer able to fight back. And words came. They weren’t nice ones. They couldn’t stop. They were out of control tornados hurled at the people who’d just wanted to have a nice dinner. “Saundra, why can’t we just have one nice dinner?”

Dinner at White Hall cafeteria at Lesley College was unrestricted. I was alone and I could think of whatever I wanted. Or I could not think. I could have chocolate pie every night. I did. It was soothing to eat in peace. Even while the rest of the cafeteria was noisy with the chatting voices of newly freed young women. I could sit and eat and eat and eat.

And then I would go home to the Vineyard on breaks. Home to my family. Home for the holidays. Home for dinner at Grandma’s house. Newly sophisticated, learned, better than my family who hadn’t graduated from college in four generations. Home to, “Why aren’t you talking? What’s wrong, you don’t want to talk with your family?”

“Oh, Fred,” my mother would say, “Don’t get her wound up already. You know she’ll get going and we just want to have a nice dinner.”

“Oh yeah, did they teach you to behave at school?” Fred would ask.

“At least she’s not climbing on the counter tops like when she was little. Do you remember how horrible she was, Lor?” My grandmother would ask my mother.

“She was swinging from the chandeliers!” my mother would chime in.

We didn’t have chandeliers! I’d want to scream! But I didn’t.

“Have you heard of traumatic response?” I asked my mother one time after she’d, laughing, recalled one of my childhood tantrums. She had. She knew. She had been told how I sometimes couldn’t stay in my body. How I needed to destroy–the way I’d been destroyed. How the screams let out the violations against my child body. She’d explained to my grandparents on the phone and quietly while the kids were in the other room. They all knew I wasn’t acting out. That I was reacting from within.

“Why didn’t anyone tell me?” I wanted to ask her. Why didn’t any of you tell me? Help me to understand where my rage, and running, and screaming tornado body had come from? Why didn’t you tell me to tornado in the living room with the soft pillows? Teach me to tornado safely. Tornado with art, writing, moving. Why did you spank me and tell me I was a bad kid?

3 Nights

My mother made it three nights at her new job. Three nights. She got the soda prices right away, she told me. She never stopped, never sat down, she said. But there was something going on. It had to do with the high school. They wanted to prove it wasn’t them, it was her. She’s just stupid. Too dumb to be taught. Too dumb to learn. 

You’re not dumb.” I forced out. She’s not. There is nothing wrong with her processing except that she’s usually too busy processing false information to pay attention to what’s going on around her. When she doesn’t respond right away it’s not because she didn’t understand the question, she’s weighing her options and fitting it into the matrix of the world she’s created. How can this question hurt me? Who else has asked this question? What is really being asked? Where is the hidden code? I imagine her sorting through the answers to those questions before she can reply.

Three nights. Earlier today I’d told my psychiatrist how impressed I was with my mother’s ability to get this job, show up, and go back the next day. Maybe it’ll be good for her. I’d said. She can’t anticipate who will come in, what will happen. She’ll have to learn to deal with stuff as it comes up. Dr. Merion agreed that it would be a good measure of how much my mother can tolerate and give her the chance to practice facing difficult situations and working through them. I had hope that she could expose herself to enough shit that she could start to negotiate having a child in the real world. I had hope that my younger sister could have her mother back and I could have my life back. I hoped so much but I must have known because I wasn’t surprised when my mother said she no longer worked at Edgartown Pizza. I must have known, that’s why I asked the question. She hadn’t said anything about her new job in two days. Not even a complaint. That’s probably what triggered my suspicion.

Three nights was enough time for my mother to ruin her chances of a new life. After her second night she told me about the “crazy stuff,” that goes down at the pizza place. “This woman, I mean, every time she bends over you can see her entire tattoo on her back! I mean what’s that about? So I just gave it right back to her. I said, ‘Did you know that every time you bend over, everyone can see your whole tattoo?’ You have no idea the shit that I deal with. No idea.” When she mention, upon her third telling of the tattoo tale, that the woman was her boss I think I just started counting down her time there.

The thing is, when she came into my store after her second night at Edgartown Pizza she looked complete. She was wearing her Edgartown Pizza t-shirt under her new, second-hand, North Face jacket. She looked like she’d worked an eight hour shift and was proud to have put in her time. Tired. But accomplished. I felt so happy for her. I felt like she could be happy. It breaks my heart to know how she must feel now. Another failure. Another trap. Another step away from the woman she used to be.

Coincidences

The day after they identified the Boston Marathon bombers my mother texted me a picture of a teenage boy by Edgartown harbor. He was facing away from the camera and wearing a white, backwards baseball-cap and a backpack over one shoulder. “The Boston bomber?” her caption read.
We call them coincidences, but for my mother they are her daily hell. I started noticing it when my mother was in her 40s. Maybe it was there before and I just didn’t notice because she was my mom. We’d talk about someone and later in the day see the person in the grocery store. “That’s just a little too coincidental, don’t you think?” My mother would say to me in her I know what’s really going on, voice. “I’ve been looking for the pasta strainer all day and then it just shows up in the dishwasher,” she’d accuse. “Who is telling you to say that?” she’d demand when my opinion differed from hers on anything.
Now, six years after her brother’s suicide triggered a complete mental breakdown, my mother calls me from her rented room on the Cape to ask me about conversations I’ve had with random people in the past or to ask if I’ve heard from my ward-of-the-state-little-sister who lives with my brother and refuses to see our mother. “What exactly does Rebecca do for a living and where did she go to college?” was the text message she sent me this morning about a friend of mine from childhood. I mostly ignore these inquiries along with the long texts about the vibrations that stalk her wherever she goes.
I want to tell my mother that no one is after her. That she is safe. That the NSA, the local high school and the counseling center did not team up to ruin her life and take her daughter away from her. But I know that after she stops screaming at me to believe her and support her she’ll ask me, “It’s just a little too coincidental, don’t you think?”