I have been madly, ferociously in love with my children since the moment I held their soft sweet bodies against mine. Their powdery smell and clingy limbs filled my every organic need for a very long time.
Fast forward and they are beautiful adults. I still long for their embrace and miss their smells. I know I could go blind and know them immediately by scent alone. Or by the sound of them moving through a space. One is so quiet and the other is quite the opposite.
For many years, my favorite humans felt excitement at creating a special Mother’s Day gift for me. These are the one’s I long for. They told me that I was their favorite person on the planet and that they spent so much precious time working out the best gift they could co-create. Whether it was an inedible breakfast or a hike I would rather have napped through, each gift made me so happy and I knew I was blessed beyond what I deserved to have these precious, perfect humans create in their imaginations what would make me happiest; from snuggle time, age appropriately once and forever more called nuggle time, to culinary delights made by their sweet and probably dirty hands. I ate them all up, every meal, hike, and nuggle. I am sure I let them know that each gift they presented was a treasure to me, because it was.
As they’ve grown and found their own lives that no longer revolve around their Mommy, I can’t help but feel some sadness and loss. I miss those Mother’s Days so much. Even the ones when their dad gave me an hanging fuchsia basket because that was what my mom always wanted when I grew up. The girls always presented them like they were baskets of gold, and that’s all I wanted, was to make them feel good about giving a gift of such value to someone they loved. That was the gift I wanted to give them. To give them confidence and unconditional love. They could have brought me a mop and I would have been as happy with them..maybe not with their dad!
I have been a little sad this Mother’s Day because I felt forgotten, but as I recall the past holidays, I know how blessed I really am. I have known the love of having my children give me rocks that might has well have been diamonds, and what more could I ever want?
The girl is only 18. She wears a borrowed pink sweater that’s too tight across the chest. Poverty, humiliation, acne, peroxide, abandonment, and abuse have damaged her. Still, she is young enough to feel hopeful that this will be her last first date with a sailor on leave. The young men who serve at the naval base like to visit this port town before going overseas, and the girl and her only friend dress up tirelessly for the dance, waiting for their own ship to come in. She has faced humiliation at school for wearing hand me down rags, and believes no local boy would want her. She can be whoever she wants on these nights, but self doubt keeps her quiet. While the girl and her friend apply shared pasty-pink lipstick and powder in the backseat of the ‘67 Nova, the boy in front watches in the rearview mirror. She catches him spying and wonders if he is the one, but doesn’t realize how plainly the question shows in her eyes. She’s surprised when he doesn’t look away first. She thinks she’s found her answer.
The boy believes this girl has the prettiest eyes he’s ever seen. They’re almost black, like his mother’s. Her teeth are crooked, but whiter than the snow back home, and if she covers them again with her gloved hand when he smiles at her, he’s afraid he might turn around and pull her hand off her face. They’ve only met this afternoon, but he’s learned enough about her to know that in a few hours, she’ll pack her few belongings and quietly leave her foster home where her time is up, anyway. He sees her eyes searching his when she catches him staring. In this game of chicken, he doesn’t look away first. He intends to answer every question in her innocent eyes because he knows he has finally found the reason he survived two tours of duty on a riverboat in Vietnam. If there is ever going to be redemption for him, it is through this girl.
Later, after dropping off the girl’s loud, horse-toothed friend, the sailor and the girl walk on the beach and sip whiskey from his flask. Not used to drinking alcohol, the girl throws up. The boy kneels beside her and gently holds her hair out of her face. He doesn’t mind. The boy has futilely held his best friend’s guts in place while waiting for the medics. He’s not squeamish. He gently rubs small circles on her lower back and tells her he’d like to take care of her.
As he drives to the motel that will be their first home together, the girl slumps, exhausted, against his shoulder. They check into a room under a married alias. He sees the makeup wash away, leaving a clean, bright faced girl in a soft, worn ivory flannel nightgown. In the blackest night, she holds the sobbing boy with phantom wounds, huddled on the floor in the corner. For two days they whisper, dream, and cry in room six, leaving occasionally for long meals at the café, until the courthouse doors open Monday morning at nine o’clock. Then, purged of their pasts, they move to the honeymoon suite for one night, where their futures begin.
Johnny died today, eleven years ago. Well, it was probably today. He was found sitting peacefully against a tree by some hikers. They thought he was sleeping until they came back hours later and noticed he had not moved and had a needle in his arm. He had overdosed on an eightball- crack cocaine and methamphetamines.
I like to think he was smiling, that he had his most euphoric, happiest memories at the last moment and all the beauty flashed before his eyes, none of the ugly. I like to think he thought about how much I loved him, how he was my best friend and that he remembered before the drugs when he loved me too.
I don’t want to think that he remembered our last words: a fight on the phone a week prior. When he called he asked if he could go to our family cabin in Alaska and I said no. I told myself it was because I was worried he’d get in trouble there again. He had already been in prison for armed robbery that occurred when he was there last. It was another user and Johnny’s desperate attempt for meth money. I was scared of him traveling from Arizona to Alaska.
The last time I saw him, he drove up in a beat up old car with candles on the dash for defrost because it didn’t have a working heater. He had a girlfriend with a two year old son in tow and they spent a week sleeping on our living room floor, only getting up to eat chips and hot dogs, while I cared for the baby who had burned both hands on our propane stove right away while under their supervision. The poor little guy was miserable with gauze wrapped hands and diaper rash. He melted onto me in need of affection and love. He wanted me to hold him constantly, even when his mom was awake. I knew they had been on drugs and were crashing. My husband and I frantically thought of a way to keep the baby. We had already blown our grocery budget and were struggling. Then they were asking for gas money to leave and I was honestly relieved, although terrified for their safety. I regret that I didn’t save that baby. Or my little brother. I didn’t know what to do. I was in denial then. I stuffed the guilt away.
When he was found, I was on a fabulous, all expenses paid, 3 day wine tour with my coworkers and friends, our bosses, and our wine rep. We wined and dined, visited wineries and grape fields, had lessons from expert growers and were drinking expensive, beautiful wines from 8am until the bars closed. I was having a great time. On the long trip home in the rental van, I recounted the story of how Johnny and I had recently talked on the phone and it ended with him angrily shouting “Forget you ever had a brother, you fucking cunt!” then slamming the phone down. I told them that I felt so guilty because he had been living on park benches or in shelters in Phoenix and he hated it there, and called it the armpit of America. They all agreed that I’d done the right thing, forbidding him from the cabin. Little did I know what I was about to walk into.
As soon as I got home, I was so excited to see my family and give my little girls their presents. As we were hugging, I sat their dad’s gift of a few nice bottles on the table, noticed an alarming look on his face, then turned around with instant foreboding. Right in front of me on the counter was a scratch pad with the words Maricopa County homicide detective, a name and phone number. The last thing I remember was an inhuman howl coming out of me and falling to the kitchen floor. Later, I recall few moments of lucidity as I was in a sedated state in bed for some time. I saw my babies’ scared faces as they cuddled me in bed and gave me so much love. They took such good care of me.
Eventually I came back to life for my family’s sake. But inside, in the darkest place, I was hating myself. Our last words were vile and I realized that the reason I said no to Johnny about the cabin was because I was afraid he would steal everything and sell it. He had done that already when my grandma and dad were alive and had not been in their wills as a result, which is why he was asking my permission to go up there. I became aware of my ugliness, my selfishness. And I started to hate myself in earnest. This awareness started a downward spiral for me. I did anything I could to numb my feelings. I started to think my life would be better if I got a divorce and my husband was willing to support whatever I needed. So I looked at apartments and got really scared. Then cheated on my husband. I hated him then, unfairly. I turned everything that was miserable about my life into his fault. But I stayed and after awhile of hating myself and my husband, we reconciled..without ever discussing what had happened, although he clearly knew. I think he pitied me so much that he allowed all of my bad behavior. He took care of me and the kids when I was hungover in the mornings. I slowly returned to a stable place, but it was short lived.
It took a long time and a lot of struggles to get to where I am now. He’s been gone for eleven years. I can say that I’m happy that he’s not hurting anymore and I believe he is somewhere that’s better than here. I think he has that infectious smile on his face and giggles all the time.
When he died he was thirty-five and only 2 years younger than me. Emotionally and mentally, he was like a teenager, which is when he first started using anything he could to numb his feelings. There was no substance he would not eagerly and repeatedly use. From cough syrup to meth. I picked him up once at a crack house in Portland’s notorious Columbia Villa, a 1942 housing barracks for shipbuilders in WWII turned gang ridden ghetto to some 400 households, where drive by shootings were common, and I was terrified. When I parked my car and went into the dilapidated apartment, several people including Johnny were smoking crack on a sofa.They passed the pipe to me and I refused. The air was thick with smoke and I got him out of there as fast as possible, took him to inpatient treatment, and he soon ran away. There were so many of these incidents with Johnny, and they broke my heart over and over again. He abused my boundaries time after time, stole from me, and conned me in every way. But I still loved my brother fiercely. As much as when I hid him in a drawer to save him as a baby. As much as I do today.
I have forgiven myself because I could not save him. It was never in my power. I still feel ashamed that I didn’t do something for the toddler he brought to my home because I was ignorant and afraid to make Johnny hate me. I have forgiven myself for how I reacted to his death, for how I wronged my family. I accepted that my feelings of selfishness for preserving what was left from our ancestors were real, but forgivable, and that it was my great responsibility to protect the land they left. I have forgiven Johnny for leaving me alone. I know he was not meant for this earth. He was too sweet, loving, and hurt. He could never seem to hold onto a wallet or identification, but he always carried a picture of me. He would show it to his friends and say “You want to see the most beautiful girl in the world? My sister”. I know he loved me as much as I loved him. And I know he’ll be waiting for me one day. And we’ll build forts and climb trees, and it will be worth our time apart.
I am perpetually immature. I don’t seem to engage with people my own age very often. I have dear friends who are older than me and I tend to feel daughterly with them. This speaks to my mommy issues, I suppose. I feel the need to please them and bask in their praise. They may not be much older than me, but I count on their wisdom and seek their approval. I often feel childlike in their presence.
It seems that most of my friends are actually much younger than me. With them, I find myself being Mama Bear. Again, mommy issues. As my value lies in how well I care for my kids, I feel buoyed by them seeking my advice. I enjoy feeding, nurturing and caring for my young friends. I also feel less concerned with my behavior in their presence, and at times act like a child.
Now, I have only just realized this about myself, and find it curious. Does this mean that I only allow myself to be vulnerable with people when I’m acting in another role? Perhaps. It makes absolute sense that I would employ a defensive shell and revert to infantile behavior to protect my emotions.
Are these behaviors healthy? I don’t know, but I am certain growth only occurs with some measure of discomfort. So, I am going to reach out to my friends that are my own age because it’s more difficult. They really know me best and have known me the longest. With them I feel more exposed and can’t help but compare our lives, which always makes me feel inadequate. I know this is only in my mind, not theirs. It is an old, familiar, nagging beast that puts me down and makes me feel like a child. It is decidedly not healthy if I choose to listen.
Today is the day that my family and I have been waiting for and dreaming about. I expected to wake up with an excited outlook and a feeling of joy. Instead I awoke with the usual feeling of anxiety; worrying to excess about anything and everything all at once. Some days I’m able to push it aside, ignore the nagging thoughts, and function in denial. Some days I’m able to rise above the constant chatter in my brain. I thought today would easily be a “best day ever” kind of day, however it hasn’t started that way.
Last night my daughter called me upset, asking if she could be self-sabotaging herself. We both suffer from chronic migraines and she had convinced herself that somehow she was causing her headaches. I asked if she had stayed away from triggers like sugars and carbs and she recalled that was all she’d eaten the last couple of days. This realization only intensified her feelings of guilt. I told her of course it’s not her fault. It took forty five minutes to dissuade her from these ideas. I even had to pull out the tough-love card and told her she was feeling sorry for herself, which was very difficult for me. As I was telling her to rise above these persuasive voices that fuel her anxiety, I realized that I should be telling myself the same things, “You are not self-sabotaging and it’s not your fault.”
My intention now is to rise above the voices in my head that say “You don’t deserve to feel hopeful or happy.” I’m going to tough-love the hell out of myself. If things don’t go the way I expect or desire, I won’t worry about it. I’ll just roll with it and not feel sorry for myself. I won’t allow myself to think I have the power to self-sabotage. I will thank my daughters for the lessons I learn from them every day and while I can’t promise that today will be a “best day ever”, I will certainly give it my best shot.
I am five years old and hiding in the closet, the baby safely hidden in a bottom drawer; waiting for the shouting and screaming to get quieter, to know how long to stay hidden. And finally, loud knocking on the front door and a man yelling my name, promising it’s safe to come out. I peek around corners cautiously as I make my way through the broken glass and wood. Then I see the man in the small window of the door up high. A kind smile and “Open the door, Honey. It’s ok now. We’re going to take you to your mommy, ok? Just unlock the door, Honey.” I open the door and men in uniforms rush past me. “Where is the boy?” Strong arms are lifting me. Shock and terror are preventing me from being able to speak, unable to tell them where I hid my brother. Now I am being rushed out of the broken house into the night and Daddy is there with the men with guns. I hear him saying, “Where’s my Camels?” He sees me and is crying and shouting at me “Baby, don’t let them take me. Daddy’s so sorry.” I’m being carried to the neighbors where I can hear Mommy screaming. I’m put in bed with her and she’s still crying and screaming for Johnny.
“My baby, where’s my baby?” The wailing is as scary as the yelling and hitting only moments ago. I just want everyone to be quiet. It’s so loud. Her clinging to me is oppressive, and I want to be back in the soldier’s arms. My inherent need to survive is what led me then and from that, a seed of self-worth was planted. Are survival and self-worth the same thing or is one born from the other? I was able to protect myself and my brother. That time. Not because I felt worthy, but because I had the primal instinct to survive. I think that the deliberate act of survival is self-worth in its truest form. If I am worthy of saving myself, then I have value.
I thought I had very little self-worth. I thought my low self-esteem and general dislike of my face in the mirror were the truth. I thought I was an ugly coward. I was simply breathing and waiting..to not. Only forty-eight and already so tired, the best experiences in my rear view mirror. I am too young for health problems, no longer contributing to society in a meaningful career, and a wax figure of a mother, no longer necessary for my children’s survival. The distinction between worth and self-esteem is necessary because one is truth and the other is what I have created in my mind. I have to remind myself of that. I have worth, I have value. I am loved. So the real question is; why am I so determined to take away any value I might have? Because of my failures? Why am I so quick to erase my worthiness? Because I’ve been hurt? The lies I’ve told myself keep me quiet and subdued, unable to answer. The voice that says “you’re an ugly, no good, piece of shit” was born to protect me, to remind me to stay hidden until it’s safe to come out.
For a long time, I thought someone else needed to save me to prove my worth. I searched every face for a glimmer of kindness; I looked outside of myself for someone, anyone, to value me. I went to bars alone and went home with men I didn’t know. I did so many needy things that I am ashamed of. I let myself get hurt time and time again. I was vulnerable and broken. It was like the flower I grew from a seed. I stayed in that shameful place for a very long time, not knowing that the seed of survival was germinating and every time I was abused it grew stronger. Each stress to the plant, every time the dog stepped on it or I forgot to water it, made it impervious to the blights, and strengthened its roots.
Recently, I had to tap into that well of strength, revisiting my childhood. Buried emotions rose to the surface and overflowed. I found myself sobbing, wailing, and slobbering in the fetal position. I didn’t eat or sleep and I cried so hard I threw up and wet my pants. I would catch myself in the mirror and couldn’t recognize the swollen, lined face I saw. I expected to see a child’s wide eyed face looking back. The reflection I saw filled me with pity, sadness, and dread. What I thought was ultimate weakness and my sanity saying “I’m out” was, in reality, a brief, intensive, grieving period. I had terrorizing nightmares when I could sleep, with old monsters visiting, and real monsters occupying my waking thoughts. I was irrationally afraid all the time. The phone ringing, a text message, or dogs barking sent me through the roof. Then my old friend, Self-Worth showed up and it changed.
I told Kristy I was sorry for what happened to her and it wasn’t her fault. I told her she was loved and worthy and innocent and pure, and that I would protect her at all costs. I told her she was not alone and I honored her and her brother’s memory. I got angry at all the predators, abusers, victimizers and bad guys who prey on the hurt and weak. I took action and said NO. I talked to my children, I reached out to my family, I found a way to reconcile the past. I reached out for help and let myself be vulnerable. In doing so, I gained a confidante, another supporter, and found out I’m not alone. I became a survivor, when I used to be a victim.
Like a seedling stretching towards the sun, I have grown stronger. My roots are deep and I won’t be stomped on or crowded out. This flower will bloom! And it will be glorious.
“I hope you will go out and let stories, that is life, happen to you, and that you will work with these stories… water them with your blood and tears and your laughter till they bloom, till you yourself burst into bloom.” ― Clarissa Pinkola Estés