It’s been a long time since you’ve asked me to comment on the book you wrote about your mom’s suicide. I think you are amazing to write about it and I’m glad that you did. I don’t enjoy bringing that chapter of life to mind, given the chaos of those years, but I’ve thought about it often. Especially when I think about what it means to be a mother and uncovering fresh layers of fucked up that we both learned from our mothers.
I know it’s not fair of me to judge them now — but it’s hard not to.
Talking about my relationship with your mom is hard for me because I admired her very much — I was flabbergasted by the way that she slipped back into drugs and addiction.
I was shocked that she abandoned you like that. I was just shocked.
I couldn’t believe your mom would die by suicide.
I still can’t.
I remember the first time I met your mom, I was playing in the front yard while she moved in across the street. She introduced herself from over the fence and told me that she had a daughter just my age, with my name: “I have a Sarah too.”
By the time you came to visit for the summer she had already arranged that we would be playmates. She even arranged a phone call between us before your visit.
When you showed up at my front door, I knew we would be lifelong friends.
My mom worked a lot and my dad was physically or mentally absent most of the time, so your home was like a second home to me.
During these years, your house felt like a Norman Rockwell to me, though now I see that it was far from it.
My mom remarried a man who was addicted to heroin, while at your house, your mom packed lunches, set up the tent in the backyard for us to “camp,” and made goody bags filled with candy. She took us to the zoo, the mall, and the flea market. She prescreened movies, took us for mint chocolate chip ice cream cones, and insisted that you wore a bike helmet. I remember going with her to an NA picnic in the park and how proud she was of her sober chips. We’d to admire the shiny metal coins she earned for racking up months and years of sobriety.
I envied the amount of time and attention that your mom spent with you when she was sober As a kid, I saw your mom as kind, fair, the type who would take the time to listen.
It was very late and your mom answered the phone and insisted that I tell her what was happening. My stepfather hadn’t started hitting my mom yet, but the yelling was really over the top. She gave me a speech about how adults sometimes argue and it can be scary for children to hear and explained that my mom and step dad would never want to do anything to scare me. She told me to go downstairs and tell them that they were scaring me and I couldn’t sleep. They told me to go back up to my room.
Many nights of fighting followed with growing intensity and I tried to call you but ended up talking to Beth.
Beth eventually called my mom and told her that she was concerned about me – I was in big trouble. I was forbidden to speak about “private family business.” It worked: I didn’t speak of the violence again until after his death.
The violence escalated and my stepfather began beating my mom and my brother when he was angry. We moved on several occasions to get away from him.
The emotional abuse from my stepfather became our new normal and we began spending school nights on random people’s sofas, hiding our car down the street.
I spent as much time as possible at friend’s houses and took up babysitting to get out of the house on weekends.
Beth was the only person who knew what was happening; I’d assumed that she would be the person to help me out of that situation. I’m no longer sure she understood how bad things had gotten. She provided me a safe place to go whenever I needed one and a reminder that there are kind people in the world. She told me that I should become one of them. She affirmed that there were a lot of fucked-up things in the world and they would probably never make sense.
Honestly, I don’t know how I would have turned out without Beth as a moral reference point during those years.
Beth became addicted to codeine cough syrup and her behavior changed: she didn’t take us on outings she slept all day everyday. One occasion when she woke up, I remember her running down the hallway singing “boo boop be boo.” This is when I learned that there was something wrong. I was pretty sure that people with bronchitis didn’t do that kind of thing normally.
I knew things were coming unhinged for you, but was too young to appreciate the full weight of what was happening.
I lived in Beth’s house twice, once for a short time when I ran away after my stepfather died and for the school term after that.
By the time I officially lived with Beth she was pretty far gone in her addiction. She slept or was gone most of the time.
It seemed that you were on your own, too.
I still cared what Beth thought of me. She seemed one of the few people who didn’t see me as a lost cause and so I didn’t see myself that way when I was around her.
On Fridays, Beth would take us to the grocery store. She taught us how to grocery shop and some very basic cooking skills.
Things went sour when my mom suspected Beth was using the money she gave her for things other than my upkeep. You and Beth were at odds more often than not. I decided it was best to move back home. Home was a sort of hell, but it was my own hell and I knew how to navigate it.
I didn’t see much of Beth after that.
I’d spend weekends at her apartment while she agreed to leave us totally unattended. The last time I saw her, she’d picked me up from my house to bring me back to your house for the weekend. I remember her being warm and chatting with me for the ride, though I can’t remember what about.
I remember her smiling and I remember that she mentioned that you were unhappy with her these days.
The next time I saw her she was in a coma.
Atrophied hands, hair cut short, dead to the world.
No warm smile, no more sun-kissed freckles, no more frizzy bun atop her head.
She was gone to the world and she couldn’t recover. That’s the last I saw her.
I couldn’t talk about her death with you. It didn’t seem like you wanted to and then you were gone I knew that she let you down and ultimately abandoned you with her suicide. You have every right to be angry with her; hell I was angry on your behalf.
I was just shocked and sad. I think I felt abandoned too.
The next few years were hard for us; the one person I saw as a safe adult had succumbed to drugs and took her own life. It didn’t add up.
Suicide was cruel and yet I remembered her as such a kind person.
There was nothing I could say that would lessen the pain for you so I said nothing.
You remind me of her because you look so much like her now. If you want to talk about what happened, I’d let you start.
What is there to say now, after all of these years?
That was fucked up. There is some fucked up bad shit in the world and it will never make sense, but there is some wonderful stuff too. I think that, despite it all, we both turned out to be people who contribute more to the good than to the uglyl.
I hold you close in my heart, my sister and my dear friend.
When I think back through my life, I feel pretty sad. It’s been a kinda sad life – at least I think it’s been. You know, childhood can be pretty rough when you’re the Outsider. No friends to speak of – token or otherwise. You’re just alone. Your folks send you out to play every day, but there’s no one to play with. No one you get along with.
Sure, you made attempts, tried to make friends, but it never happened.
That’s how my childhood went. I just couldn’t make a single friend, not for the life of me. So I focused on alternatives to social activity. Being alone all the time, books and video games quickly became my consolation. But I clung onto my anger at a world where I couldn’t have even one friend.
“Maybe when I grow up, I’ll be a librarian or a scholar.”
None of that ever came to pass, though. It was like I couldn’t muster enthusiasm for living after I gave up on the world around me. I never really thought about it at the time, however, I was caught up in myself. I was really, truly lonely, all the time. I didn’t think that would ever change.
Even today, I often can’t shake that feeling.
Have you ever thought about what animal best represents you?
I think most of us have. Maybe most people would think about the animals they like best and choose one of those: a lion, tiger, wolf, bear, fox, horse, something cool.
I think I’m most like a bunny: shy, nervous, and looking for social attention, cuddling, and friends. I’m more prone to flee than fight.
Earlier tonight I was feeling alone, frustrated, like my existence and struggles were all pretty futile and pointless. What I really wanted at the time – and even now – was just someone to hug me, hold me close, and be soothing and calm. To know someone was nearby who cared. What I have right now is not at all like that.
Part of the downside is that I don’t have good coping mechanisms. Talking – hoping people care, or listen – is the closest thing I have to someone being here and holding me so I feel safe. I feel like a nuisance because of my lack of coping mechanisms and because being held isn’t something that I only need a few times a month.
It’s a few times a week, at least. My anti-suicide mantra has been:
“Why bother rushing what’ll come soon enough anyway? Maybe I can use the rest of my life to be helpful, and if I’m really lucky, find some value in myself.”
I lean toward a belief in rebirth, that I have lived innumerable incarnations before this life and will continue to do so after this life. Going forward or backward doesn’t seem particularly important, it’s just a point in a stream. It’s what we do in the present that has more relevance, our planning for the future that matters.
I tend to ramble, sometimes I don’t make a lot of sense; I’m not even sure why I’m writing right now. A friend linked me here to Band Back Together, and I’ve held onto the link for a few days.
We all have letters we’d like to send, but know that we can’t. A letter to someone we no longer have a relationship with, a letter to a family member or friend who has died, a letter to reclaim our power or our voice from an abuser. Letters where actual contact is just not possible for whatever reason.
Hello Ex #1. You were wonderful. You were kind, thoughtful, loving, attentive. You were there for me through a very rough time when my parents were divorcing. You were loved by all of my family. You were an amazing first boyfriend and I loved you with all my heart. Thank you for being such a wonderful first.
Hello Ex #2. You were revenge on my parents for splitting up and “ruining everything”. You were MANY years older than me. You were fun because you provided everything I needed to escape my shitty teenage reality. I drank and did drugs. You became a heroin addict. I became pregnant. I made an incredibly difficult decision to abort and then a really smart decision to leave you. Please stop trying to “friend” me on Facebook. I am never going to accept the request. You are in the past. Stay there.
Hello Ex #4. You were very charming, sweet and funny. We had so much in common. Eventually I moved in with you. Then you stopped working. I supported us (and your friend) for two years. I kept giving you chance after chance to make something of yourself. How could I leave you high and dry? You had no job. You’d be kicked out of the apartment. Where would you go? What the hell was I thinking? When I finally left, I did it all wrong, but you were just fine. You found someone else to take care of you. I pity her. I was proud of me for thinking more of myself and wanting more for myself than what you were giving.
Hello Husband. It took these exes and so many more for me to grow up and learn self-respect; to learn how to love someone else correctly. And to learn to be loved the right way. Yes, sometimes we argue, but you know what? Those arguments are healthy. It took me a lot of years to learn how to argue healthily. We communicate, we share our feelings and our points (sometimes loudly, but always respectfully), we compromise where it’s appropriate, and give in sometimes, too. We work together to make us work. You always think of me, my needs and how things will affect me before you make decisions. I’ve learned to do that, too. You love me so much. I love you equally. We have a beautiful life and three beautiful girls. We have had some REALLY hard times in the nine years we’ve been married. But we work through them together and we are stronger for it. My love for you grows and my respect for you grows. You have my trust.
I’ve heard stories about the realities of the discovery, but never really internalized them because the journey was never that personal. It was always a distant family member of a friend. The degree of severity was never actually driven home until I became a member of the club.
Now, I have multiple myeloma.
I thought long and hard for about a week about I would, and how to, share the news. My wife and I had to explain it to our teenage kids. We had to explain the realities of my upcoming chemotherapy. We had to explain that “Dad may not be his usual self” for a while. I smiled all through the discussion. After doing so, and studying the varying communities where I chat and play, it occurred to me that a cancer diagnosis is not a widely shared struggle. Most do so surrounded only by the closest of family and friends.
Honestly, that’s just not me.
In a previous life, I was a master karate instructor. I only retired back in 2012. At my prime, I used to tell my students that if I can inspire just one person to keep training and become a black belt, then I’ll feel accomplished at my work. While I left the practice to focus on my family, a lot of black belts now claim me as an early influence.
So, I took the same approach with this cancer diagnosis and started posting about it on Twitter and Facebook. If, in my journey, I can inspire just one person to fight back, then I’ll have contributed. Yes, I’m going to make this personal. Yes, I’m going to push past this and live a long life. Yes, I’m going to take you along for the ride. If you don’t want the details, don’t read my posts, unfollow me on social media; but SOMETHING I say just may light a fire under someone and convince them to not give up.
I used to say that the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life was running a triathlon. Then it was taking my Master’s test in karate. Then it was maintaining a good marriage. Then it was raising two healthy kids.
Today, I realized my whole life has prepared me for the challenge of cancer. Y’all come along for the ride.