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.
Addiction isn’t called a “family disease for nothing.” The family of an addict is just as impacted as the addict.
This is her story of her son’s addiction:
My child has become an addict and loving my child is so very hard. I’m trying to find my happy as I learn to deal with his addiction.
With the overload of health issues around here, along with the common “life stuff,” I willing took a break from blogging after the last attacks from trolls; trolls who don’t know me, know my child, know my life, know my situation, and will never understand my life or my thoughts.
Simply: I took a break because I wasn’t strong enough to keep going,
Three blogs, five days a week, and two little freelance writing gigs with groups have kept me tied to the computer dumping out my odd take on humor, insane fake advice, and occasional a vaguely serious topic.
I have decided I will blog, on my blog, and the trolls will not, cannot affect me. I won’t allow them that kind of power. I have to share this story because as odd or awful as this is, I can’t believe I am the only one. Sometimes knowing you aren’t alone, can make a differences on your life. It has in mine, just like everyone here at Band Back Together.
I call it “living” but it’s really just existing – when I can muster the strength to push the elephant in the room to the back of my mind. This horrible addiction elephant.
When someone you love makes horrible choices, you can still love your addict child, but you also have to make a choice.
I made a choice to love from a distance to allow my son to deal with his addiction on his own time, allow that person to do things at their will, wherever they wanted. The condition was: I would not support that person, their activities: not emotionally and definitely not financially.
Of course that comes with a higher emotional consequence for me, a soul-eating, mind -boggling, hellish existence.
Torn when the phone doesn’t ring, furious, emotional and torn when it does. There is no happy medium, is no mutual enjoyment of life, it’s an inner ring of hell.
It’s odd how the human brain learns to process things so completely outrageous and unacceptable if they happen often enough; the brain removes logic to save the heart. The brain knows if one more little piece of your soul falls to the floor, you will collapse and finally fade away.
You can’t fix it, they don’t want to be fixed, no matter how absolutely insane and ludicrous the situation, you cannot even point out how completely illogical the situation is, let alone offer solutions. There are no less than 683 million reasons why all of your ideas are completely stupid.
You learn to focus not on the highs, not on the lows. Not the shocking news, but only that you love that person, your child, who just happens to be an addict.
You make sure whatever you say won’t offend them, or their choices, and you make double damn sure that person knows you love them, you love them deeply, you love them completely, you love them from your soul. You only want the best for them, safety for them, happiness for them.
No one really has the same idea of happiness.
it took me 43 years to realize that.
Another thing I learned; just because it’s ” the normal” thing that you’d make anyone happy, happy and delighted and feeling so very lucky, this can seem like hell on earth to someone with a different view of happy. So who am I to attempt to enforce my idea of happy on anyone? Simply put, I am no one. I am just a daughter, a wife, a sister, a mother, an aunt, a friend.
I am made up as we all our of a unique cocktail of our childhoods, our teachers, our elders, our peers, our life lessons, co-workers, books, and shows we have seen. Just a big casserole of a human being trying to find “happy.” When I achieved happiness, I assumed it would be wonderful – more than wonderful – and that, in turn, everyone else would become happy. Everyone would see how hard work brings happy, how loving each other brings happy, how walking the right road, singing your own song, and smiling would obviously land you in happiness.
The past 20 years, I tried to shove people into the happy, I tried to drag them into happy, push them in, beg them, lure them, slide shows of happy, handmade cards, long emails, song dedications, heartfelt talks, and hugs, I could surely get them to happy. Once they saw happy they would be like “duh, I want to be happy too!”
I was wrong. Their happy was so different than mine so I had to accept they would not be in my happy with me. Maybe they were taking a different route, and we would meet up in happy. Maybe their happy just meant more pit stops, more experiences, different criteria, maybe their happy would never lead to the same location as my happy. What would I do then?
Their happy could be really good for them, so I will work on being happy for their happy.
Little crumbles of your heart fall as your soul tears.
In the end, all you really want is for them to be happy. You convince yourself not to be such as narrow-minded selfish ass who demands everyone’s happiness is within arms reach of your happiness. We are not all alike, and really, what a boring world that would be. Keep telling yourself this as it makes it easier to persevere your heart, mind, and soul. Besides, it makes them happy that you are happy for them. It’s painful but it’s good for them and for the relationship.
Then the call comes, not a happy call, you are prepared because you know when this disease spins ’round, the calls come in two forms and two forms ONLY.
One, the world’s best thing ever, everything is amazing.
The next call, though, could be in a week, a month, a day, or within several minutes: the world is ending, there is no hope, no escape.
There’s not a single thing you can do to make it better. So you listen, try not to cry, remembering to love, offer helpful solutions, offer to make arrangements or calls, you do what you can and it’s usually for nothing. It rarely works out, but you make damn sure they know you love them so much you can’t breathe when they are in pain.
The calls – you see the caller ID – it’s a number from a state that you don’t know, but you do know who is on the other end, you never know the type of call, only that it’s from them. So you take deep breaths and you prepare to play the roulette game of their life. What kind of call you don’t know it could be: an incredibly fantastic words of grandeur.
Or the call can be gut-wrenching, heart-breaking, sobbing pleads for help.
You don’t know, because you can’t know but you answer the phone, inviting the roller-coaster of love and hate and pain into your world.
Nothing surprises you now.
As long as it’s their voice on the end, you are prepared, it’s now become common practice. You’ve learned to stop yelling, begging, urging, and learned to focus on conveying the fact that you love the elephant in the room. You love that elephant when your eyes open in the morning, and you love that elephant when your eyes close at night without a tear running down your cheek. No one sees your tear.
No one hears your cry and no one, no one can understand why this elephant is needed, deeply; it has become comforting.
Then as you are in your happiness on the back porch wind blowing you sit with your little family, cross-legged looking at your happiness, eating sandwiches, and thinking how peaceful and loving and happy this all is.
The phone rings.
The addiction elephant steps outside. The elephant sits on your chest, takes your breath, and overcomes you. Sometimes, when that elephant climbs on you, you compartmentalize you soul, your heart, and your brain as this allows you to attempt to speak in a sane, calm, tone, using gentle words, no blame, just love.
The call ends, with mutual ” I love you’s.”
The happiness is now gone for them as they are faced with a very adult matter that can’t be “worked away.”
You don’t remember the rest of the happy picnic: the people in your happiness with you do not have a conversation about it. You move on as you do after every call. But something is wrong, very wrong
You can’t tell anyone, yet you don’t cry, you don’t sob, you don’t fall to the floor, you don’t steal a car to get to the addiction elephant to hold them.
What the hell is wrong with you?
Why are you not responding like a human?
Why aren’t you happy?
Why not like the other times?
You haven’t fallen apart yet.
Will you fall apart?
Will this change your ability to move forward?
You know that If this person comes back, can you handle it?
Can the happy team handle it? What will be the cost of the elephant if you don’t?
What will be the cost of happy if you do?
I know the other shoe will fall, there’s just no way to process this without dying more inside. Maybe I am out of a soul, a heart, tears. Maybe I have been cried out, maybe I am stronger, maybe my brain is trying to protect me.
I am very much not okay, mostly because I feel okay, there is no way that I should feel okay.
Why am I not shaking, sitting in the shower crying, sobbing, and vomiting like I’ve done before when the bad news comes?
I’m not even shaking.
The shoe will drop, I hope, I beg, I have the strength, the knowledge, the wisdom, the compassion, the ability, the life experience, balanced with the brain, the heart and soul, to take this journey.
To share my happy, to understand their happy, to make a new happy, but most of all, to convey they undying, deepest of love and the basic humanity to make their happy the best happy I can.
Please find your happy; let everyone you know how much you love them – no matter what what makes them happy.
I see the elderly woman approaching us from across the mall. She is looking past me and at my children with that smile. My kids are at the perfect age to attract these smiles. They are just at the dawn of human interaction. Their speech is still garbled; their language and actions both aped from adults. They, in their search for the right phrase or movement, are often accidentally adorable.
Children at this age still act as if nobody is watching, and adults love them for it. We are drawn to this innocence, I think, for the same reason we are interested in the behaviors of chimps or sleepwalkers. We want to see what it is that people do when they don’t realize they have an audience. We want to see what we would do if we didn’t think so much.
She walks carefully and slowly over to accept the imaginary ice cream cone my son offers up and wins my heart by pretending to eat it. Taking the interaction a step further, she asks him which flavor it was. He tells her it’s chock-lick and her smile deepens with amusement. I am scanning her face, watching her the same way I watch the face of every stranger who approaches my children. I am waiting for the clues that all humans throw off.
I’m waiting to see why she’s doing this.
And so it is that I observe her lined face slip gradually from delight to despair. A line grows deeper across her forehead and her milky eyes fill with tears. Her painted smile is the last to go, proof in my mind that she didn’t even see the sadness coming until it was already written on the rest of her face. I realize that I am moving closer to her as her expression shifts, so that when the tears start to roll down her cheeks I am all but cradling her. She leans against me, frail yet adult-sized. I am not in the habit, anymore, of being needed by people who are not my children. It takes me a minute. I don’t know why she is crying. I only know what she needs. And I have it to give. So I hold her.
She wipes the tears away and catches her breath. “My husband of 49 years passed away 7 months ago. Seeing your children makes it hurt more. Even though they are beautiful. The holidays make it hurt more. Even though I love them.” I hold her tightly, softly offering my condolences. My son asks me why the old woman is crying, and I stumble for a second. I don’t lie to my children, but I don’t throw around words like “death” either. I tell him simply that this woman will not be able to celebrate Christmas with someone she loves.
As I say the words, my voice shakes and my own eyes fill unexpectedly. I close my eyes against the tears, while granting myself one full minute to be overwhelmed with this unforeseen grief. The woman catches me with my emotions and apologizes for making me sad. I shake my head: clearing it, emptying it. “The holidays can be hard,” is what I say as I help her right herself.
They told me back then that I needed to grieve my brother as though he were dead, but to expect the process to take longer, since he is not, in fact, dead. And although I am the type of person to tear at her flesh in hopes of getting the pain on the outside, in order to move past it, I am shocked to find that some days it is as if time has not moved at all for me.
The woman shuffles off in one direction as we continue in another. We meet up later, at the fountain, as I am explaining to my children the concept of wishing on thrown pennies. I have a wallet full of potential wishes, and so I do not need to accept those that the woman offers us. But I do accept because I sense that it will give her something to be able to give to us. I bend down, tuck my children in close. The woman steps in, and we all throw our pennies at the count of three.
You can’t wish for people to come back. It doesn’t work that way. Pennies can’t move mountains. A wish is only a goal, a direction in which to focus your thoughts. In my world, you can only reasonably wish for the things that you have some control over. So I toss my penny in and I hope, for all of us, that the future brings fewer and fewer moments when we are brought to our knees by our pain. We will carry it with us forever, and we should, because it makes us who we are and it honors where we’re from. But more and more we will be able to live with it.
The holidays can be hard. I have always known this. I push myself off my knees, smile at the old woman and grasp her hand for a minute before exchanging it for my daughter’s. We walk out into the cold air and breathe in the last few breaths of 2010. Soon there is chatter and laughter and bickering and sunshine against the cold. I rub my hands together for warmth, raising my face to the sun.
It’s the type of thing you hope you can forget someday…then spend half your life thinking about it. It’s always in the back of your mind – like a song that stays with you after you turn off the radio; no matter what, the song repeats itself in a loop in the back of your mind.
Recently, I was asked a question, and while thinking about the answer, I was suddenly overtaken by the memory of that day. It came upon me like a hungry tiger tearing me to shreds and leaving me a disemboweled lump of myself where only moments before I was a thinking, feeling, functioning man.
The smell of it floating through the air, sweetening each breath. This, in no small part, is making the day better. What else could I ask for? Not only did I get to ride The Bullet this year (a big kid ride if there ever was one), but I also got to walk in the parade, too!
I am eight years old, and my father and a group of his “friends”(other men who lived their lives in the bottom of a bottle) are members of a Veterans group for people who saw combat in Viet Nam. They have been asked to bring their families to walk in this year’s parade during the regional Franco-American festival.
We have known about this for weeks so I hardly slept last night. We each have on a little t-shirt with the logo of the Veteran’s group on the front. I couldn’t be more proud. Some of us have little flags while others pass out bumper stickers, but we’re are all having fun. There is something about everyone looking at me, waving, and just generally having a good time that puts a smile on my soul.
Next, I’ll run for Senate and become an Astronaut. I am on top of the world.
Now, we are being addressed by the Governor of Maine. He is speaking of things I can’t and have no interest in understanding. I have better things to think about at my age: baseball cards, my next birthday, how to stop that stupid girl at school from pulling my hair everyday. I start to imagine pushing her down the next time she does. My imagination runs wild while the speech continues.
I wish Knight Rider would come out next.
That would make this day complete.
In the middle of my fanciful daydreaming, my father taps me on the shoulder and says, “Let’s go.” I don’t know where we are going and I have little time to ask before he starts walking.
Walking with him is always hard. He walks with fast, long strides that eat up the ground in front of him in big gulps. Today is especially hard because there are people everywhere, milling lazily around looking at the trinkets being sold by the vendors and watching the children on the Merry-Go-Round. I am small and not exactly built to push my way through a crowd.
We walk only a few short blocks when we come to this house. It looks like every other apartment house in Lewiston. Run down and begging for paint; sheets in more of the windows than the shades that are popular now. There are huge chunks of the asbestos siding gone to the years of harsh winters with bitter cold. There is a bicycle chained in front that is missing both tires, and the chain has discolored the concrete of the sidewalk from years of sitting there rusting. The body of the house is yellow with a dark brown on the windows and one door that once had glass in the top third of it. A condemned sign wouldn’t look out of place here.
My father knocks on the first door we come to after entering the building. We enter after a yell from inside. I know already what is in store for the rest of the day. I can smell the distinct odor of old beer that has been sitting in the can and getting hot and stale, a smell I loathe.
I see that the room holds the men from the Veterans’ group, and I can also tell within moments that few, if any, had stayed as long as we did after the parade. The slurring of their words, apparent in their voices, says that they have had a few drinks already. Five, maybe six, men and a woman who must be one of their wives. They are sitting around a glass-topped table with legs made of what looks like bent pipe – four separate pieces, connected, shaped like a large squarish C. The walls are dirty from years of cigarette smoke and not being cleaned, making what should be white look as though it were river mud; yellowish brown with hints of green.
In the adjoining room there are two other kids, so my brother and I know that these are our friends for the day, and we run off to see what games are currently afoot. This room is the same color, but much smaller, containing a couch which I am sure has come from the side of the road. The smell of cigarette smoke and body odor lingers everywhere, and I know it is safest not being seen or heard for the next few hours if we can help it.
The afternoon progresses like most of this nature; there are beer runs and arguments, the voices get louder as the hours pass by, and the thoughts get less coherent. I have been in this situation as often as I have been in a room with a window, so I am playing and not really paying attention when it happens.
Why? To what end? Have I looked too much like I am having fun? Was there an instant where I looked too much like my mother? I do not know. What I do know is there isn’t a warning – no loud crash or even an instant where I can feel the malevolence building. One second, I am playing happily, waiting for word to get ready for the few miles home with my father weaving on the sidewalk, and the next there is a hand on the back of my neck and it is squeezing. Hard.
I instinctively try to duck and run, but it’s too late. I have been caught unawares, and the fear grips me like a blanket wrapped around me in a restless sleep, getting tighter with each attempt at escape.
“Come ‘ere, I wan-na show you summten.”
His breath hits me in the face, and my stomach turns, making the terror that has settled in me even worse. It smells of cheap beer, Marlboro reds, and the not-unfamiliar stench of hate. It’s a seething anger that I know well; he had it rough, and I was ungrateful for all his sacrifices. I am just a spoiled little brat that doesn’t know how to be a good little boy – stupid and too much of a sissy-boy for his tastes, in need of a little mettle in my blood.
As I am being dragged across the floor, trying to wrestle myself from his grip, and getting nowhere, nobody seems to notice. There is no apparent lull in conversation. No people crying out for my father to release me; nothing out of the ordinary going on here at all.
“If you don’t quit squirming you little mother fucker…” the threat left open, allowing me poetic license to finish as I see fit. The things that my brain offer are no less frightening than anything he would have managed.
Where, I don’t know, but from somewhere there appears a set of handcuffs. The metal ones, not exactly police issue, but not the cheap ones with a lever that will unlock them if you can manage to get your finger on it. He reaches down, seizes me by the wrist, and clicks the first bracelet on me before I see what he has. The other people in the room have stopped talking. They have all noticed that something is happening and are transfixed by the spectacle of a man dragging his son across the room. They watch, fascinated as it unfolds; rubber-neckers to the car wreck that is in front of them.
Before he clicks the other bracelet in place, he runs it under the leg of the table so my wrists are together with the three inch chain under a leg of the table. Had he been compassionate and put the other bracelet around the leg, I would have had some movement. He is desperate to blame someone or something for the ruin that is his existence, and it is my turn.
My struggles to free myself prove fruitless very quickly, and I start to cry. Not a whining wail or a screech – just tears, silent and accusing, dripping from my chin, streaming down my face and washing streaks of red into the pale color of my face.
I am too young to tell if this is uncomfortable laughter or if the hate has spread to the others through osmosis.
I get tired fast, and my struggles start to come in spurts. I sit and try to find a comfortable way to position myself in order to rest between attempts to free myself. I try everything. Picking up the table. Pulling helplessly against the pipe. I am just too small and weak to get anything accomplished. My father insults me and pushes me down with his foot while the other men laugh at his words and even a chuckle or two at my tears.
It always makes these type of men feel better to see someone suffer and writhe in pain. It makes them forget that they are miserable human beings, each lost in their own tragedy.
After I have been sufficiently humiliated and defeated, I become boring, and they lose interest. They resume the conversation as though I am not even here. The woman that is here waits until it is obvious that she will suffer no ill will for doing so and gets up to find the keys. I have been under this glass table for almost an hour, and the men are no longer even glancing through the glass to get a look at the kid trapped down there. The woman comes back with a bobby pin, because there are no keys in evidence, and says something about how mean they are. This is greeted with some vulgarity and a warning to mind her business lest she finds herself locked there in my stead.
My wrists are hurting from all the pulling and moving about, red and scraped from the cheap metal of the handcuffs. My shoulders are burning from the struggle with my father as well as the exercise of trying to lift the table.
I run into the living room where I was playing so quietly only an hour before. There will be no more playing for me. Not today. Not for a few days. Once again, I have been reminded of my station in life and the reality of it all.
The woman comes in behind me and eventually does release me from the other bracelet of the cuffs. It takes her a few minutes, and the men start calling to her to forget it, get it later. Eventually, she tires of their remarks and risks their wrath by saying something back. I do not hear it against the thunder in my eardrums that is my heartbeat. I internally beg her to stop. Scared that her mouth will make this day worse for me.
I watch as she walks away after freeing me from the second bracelet. She sets the handcuffs on the table and grabs the beer she left there to help me. She sits down and tries to steer the conversation away from herself by saying something light and funny.
I sit on the couch, scared to move for fear of being noticed again. The tears are slowing, now but a trickle down my face as if they’re not sure I am finished needing them. Each one releases more of the emotions I have paralyzing me where I sit – washing away the pity and the anger that consumes me.
This time when it happens, I hear his chair. It drags across the floor ever so briefly. It sounds like nails on a chalkboard – not fingernails, but nails. I am afraid to hope he is going to the bathroom. Too frightened to turn my whole head and watch him, I try to use my peripherals to see, but the question is answered when I hear the clink of the handcuffs as he picks them up. I try to make myself smaller. Try to climb into the couch as if I were really the cockroach he makes me feel like.
The tears start afresh as his shadow comes near me. This time the sobs over take me. They are so powerful and deep, the world swims around the edges from oxygen deficiency. I do not fight him this time. Years of life with him taught me to know that I am better off not resisting him too often. It doesn’t matter, though; his grip is a vice around my wrist and the nape of my neck.
He is saying something that I can’t hear. The anxiety and fear have deafened me to anything other than my thoughts. I wonder why he hates me; why his love always hurts. What I do hear is the click of those handcuffs as he starts putting them on me again. Snatching me around like a doll to put me under the table once again. This time he puts them on so tight I think they are cutting into me.
I don’t hear the second one click. I hear my innocence being severed from my eight-year old soul. I hear my sanity as it grips the edge of the cliff and struggles not to fall into the darkness that awaits it. I hear the sobs of the little boy that I once was as I enter a maturity I won’t catch up with for almost twenty years. One I still struggle to keep in front of me.
When I think about it now, I can’t remember how long I was locked there the second time or how I got out. I can’t remember going home or if my father tried to be nice to me later. I can’t remember anything after the snap. If you ever ask me what I once wanted to be when I grew up, you will see me think about it, but I won’t remember. I can’t. I don’t remember ever wanting to grow up. I can’t remember anything about that child – who he was or what he dreamed about. He is a far away little boy that couldn’t be invisible.
Couldn’t not look like his mother. Couldn’t find love in a world he never asked for and never wanted.
That little boy is still handcuffed to that table. Still struggles to free himself. Still hasn’t hated himself. Still doesn’t think of death when he wakes up in the morning. He still hasn’t found the release of drugs and alcohol. He will never be mean to someone because he thinks that is how to deal with disappointment. He will never love anyone, ever again. That little boy still sobs in my heart late at night as I try to fall asleep and reminds me that I deserve what I got coming.
That little boy will never hurt anyone because that little boy is trapped in a room somewhere in Lewiston, Maine.
Fortunately, my daughter Sam, who has ben recently diagnosed with Triple Negative Breast Cancer, has medical insurance through her employer.
As long as she can keep her job during all of her treatment, it covers a fair amount of some of her costs. At least after her catastrophic cap was met for the year (didn’t take too long to reach it).
We all consider the deductibles and copays, and prescription copays in our lives, but be sure to check your policy on investigative drugs. Medical trials. Travel and time off work. Did you know that many insurances do not cover care if the “Standard of Care” doesn’t work? Some don’t cover food unless it’s eating out instead of buying a loaf of bread and lunch meat. Some only will cover hotel rates available to AAA members in the 1950s. Some will pay a portion of their “idea” of what your gas should cost, but only on the DATE of your appointment, even if you’ve had to drive out of state the day before or after.
Pray you never need to know the intricacies of your health insurance. Even if you mange to jump though the right hoops and snag every receipt, it would take a team of dedicated government trained legal assistants to maneuver through the paperwork. Oh, and then you can wait for over a year for any reimbursement.
Moral of the story.
Including your 20-something year old child should have some type of additional policies, because my 20-something had never been sick in her life. She had to use her insurance for the first time and we learned a very hard lesson: chronic health issues and cancer do NOT care about your age, your gender, your race, your educational level, or your income bracket. Buy that add-on policy you pray you never have to use. I mean, yeah, it’s going to crimp on picking up that name brand mayonnaise, skip a few cups of designer coffee or don’t upgrade your phone to get it, because you don’t know how important it can be.
Pray you never need it, never have to walk this walk or fight this fight while being financially sucker punched at every turn.
Traveling 400 miles for treatment in Houston, TX, at MD Anderson alone adds up. Lodging is expensive. On her third trip out of state, she and I were in Houston away from home and family for several weeks straight. After that, we’ve got weekly visits for treatment and tests will go on for the foreseeable future.
Imagine you are just finishing college. You’ve invested all these years into student loans and grades and worked from the bottom up in a field helping others, so you’d be all set in your field after just one more test. You’re 20-something, but you’re invincible; you’ve never been sick.
You’ve got all your ducks in a row and have considered every possible decision.
You have spent your entire life on college student budget working your own way through school, accumulating debt, but going into a field where you are guaranteed to be a super star. Soon, you are going to kick open the doors and rock the world.
You dream of the vacations you didn’t take because you had to write papers and pay for copies and laundry, and you begin to plan them in your head. You go to sleep, dreaming of how great it’s all going to be now that you’re done. Once that last test is passed, you can consider your future. You have dreamy conversations with your parents about how one day not only will you buy a house, but this will have a little retirement cottage in the back for them, and they won’t have to worry about anything.
You tell your baby brother to keep up his grades, you bribe him and tell him to work his way to and through college, but you will be there for him if there are any hiccups along the way.
Your phone rings on a Friday afternoon as you’re in a store looking for a pink bow tie for your little brother’s prom coming up this weekend. It’s the doctor you saw, and out of nowhere, he says you have cancer and he will see you again next week. Just like that.
You’re alone. All alone.
You’re holding a bow tie for the baby brother you adore and have dressed his entire life. Your life just changed. The air is sucked out of the room, and nothing moves. You walk over to the dress shirts and begin looking for his size, but now you can’t remember for sure if he has that adorable little boy neck or of he has now grown into a lumberjack.
You call your mom to check, but instead, “I have cancer” falls out of your mouth.
Everyone’s life just changed and it all hits you.
Imagine dropping everything to live in a city far away for a month while still having to pay rent, utilities, and a car payment. Leaving your bed, pets, plants, and family behind. Being afraid of checking the mail or answering the phone: there will be bills in there with numbers that look like jackpots for the PowerBall.
Seeing things you never wanted to see. Learning a language you didn’t want to learn (Cancer Speak). Realizing you aren’t in invincible 20-something with the world at your feet, that you now must depend on the kindness of strangers when you don’t even recognize yourself in the mirror.
In the meantime, you travel every week to Texas, three states away, sleep, eat, get prescriptions, anything else you might need. Make sure you keep your job so you can keep your insurance and have a life when this is all over. Oh, also, you’re fighting cancer, so we are going to dump some of the most horrible chemical combinations known to mankind into your body and you are going to be sicker than you could ever possibly imagine.
Lucky that our family is tight. We pull together we pull through. All of my kids have sacrificed what they have and the course of their futures for family members and this is no exception. WE ARE LUCKY.
Samantha’s cancer is rare, which means she’s interesting to the scientific world, which opens us up to the option of seeing the Most Genius Medical people on the planet who study her type of Cancer. WE ARE LUCKY that we were able to get together the resources to get her to the people who could try to help her in the first 3 months.
WE ARE LUCKY that friends, family, and strangers have taken it upon themselves to raise money, cook dinner, open their homes, offer a ride, send a card, give a hug, and pray for us.
We are simply terrified, we know the first chemo regimen and treatment plan failed. We see the doctors and nurses faces when they hear her diagnosis. We realize what it means to be in trials, research programs, and testing studies. We know that we can only get the only hope kind of help out of state. We don’t feel very lucky because we know as a family that as the expenses, bills, costs pile up, the income has gone down on several fronts. Things like car repairs, broken air conditioners and power going out don’t stop because of cancer.
We don’t feel lucky because there’s interest on the credit cards and interest on the payments, and we are paddling like a herd of ducks in a hurricane just to get thru every day. We don’t feel lucky because it’s unnatural, it’s unnatural and soul-emptying to be a parent whose child has cancer. We don’t feel lucky that ”she’s grown up.”
We are her parents and she will always be our child. We don’t feel lucky that “at least she doesn’t have kids,” because she loves children and wanted to be a foster mom, because that’s who she is.
We don’t feel lucky because no one who has cancer is lucky.