Sunday, May 10, 2009

Sure I'm sober, sure I'm sane

It's funny, when I set out to try and post something here-to bring context to what's going on with me, in New York, right now (because my life is so damn riveting-no, really, it is, it's more than a collection of unread book galleys and empty wine bottles, but if one was to snapshot any unspecified moment you'd think otherwise-or maybe that's just my creeping self-doubt that cripples me and keeps me from writing. It's way easier to think the former, though, because it negates any sense of personal responsibility to this blog), it hasn't worked as of late.

And then I woke up this morning with a melancholy in the back of my throat, like the natural progression of sinus congestion or too much crying (or, yeah, too much red wine). The flurry of Facebook status updates reminded me of what day it is-Mother's Day (or is it Mothers' Day? Are we celebrating the royal, ultimate, Platonic concept of Mother, or is that too pagan/hippie/Ani Difranco concert and granola-shoes for mass consumption?). That explained it. And, like a pensive teenage girl just informed that I can't go to the Tokio Hotel concert with my BFF Jill, I've run to my blog to sort it out.

There are two holidays that rip me up and under, front-to-back but gently and only on the inside, as though my emotions were trying to speed forward over those road spikes used to prevent cars from being stolen off of rental lots.......and those two holidays are Christmas and today. Granted, you could be argue the relative importance of each of those is, well, just that, relative-societally constructed, greeting-card-company-manufactured and all that Freakenomics Free-Market Major/Finance Venture Capitalist minor crap that has my eyes glass over when it comes up as a bar topic.

I mean, first off, you'd be right, and secondly I once got through three interviews to do copywriting and marketing for a not-going-to-be-named greeting card and gifts manufacturer, and in the course of those three interviews I realized that I would, in fact, love nothing more than to spend the rest of my life writing

(outside flap)"So you're six" (inside) "PICK UP STICKS...AND HAVE A GREAT BIRTHDAY!" (picture of clown holding chocolate cake with bunny on head)

and churning out cheap clichéd joy and cards for bridge club ladies to take to their ill friends in lieu of actually caring.

I can, in fact, mentally acknowledge that Mother's Day is all fluff, hype and marketing, just like Valentines Day, Greek Easter and the band Passion Pit. That doesn't stop the simple fact from sinking to the pit of my stomach every Mother's Day that I don't have a mother.

Ok, that's not exactly true-I mean, obv. I have a mother. Semen and eggs and all that shit, right? In the words of Jay-Z, explaining the birds and the bees:

"I was conceived
by Gloria Carter and Agnes Reeves
who made love under a sycamore tree
which makes me
a more sicker MC"

(hah, sycamore/more sicker. get that? God I love him)

I'm not a freak of nature (well, at least not in the "not born of human mother" sense...but wait, her womb was "untimely ripped"...which means, if I was Scottish, I could kill Macbet...I mean, "that Scottish play"), and my mom didn't give some sort of virgin birth. But, in terms of actual maternal figure-someone I can call on, someone I can write to, someone I even know the actual physical street address of-non-existent in my life. And sometimes-not always, not often, not really ever other than when it's waved in my face when I'm trying to shop for bread and the fucking Key Foods keeps the greeting cards, paper products and rat traps on the same fucking aisle-that fact presses a little, just enough, into that space in my chest between my ribs and makes it hard to breathe.

My mom was a single parent after my birth father, a Spaniard, fled this country for his own immediately upon learning of my conception (man, writing it like that fucks with my head-"the dude who fathered me left the United States when he found out that I was a concept"? That's how that reads to me). After weighing the options basically deciding that abortion, like a bud light, tasted great AND was less filling, my fate had seemingly been decided...until my grandparents stepped in and offered to raise me for my mom.

For my mom, possessing a dull wit, a rebellious, partying nature, a weirdly fucked-up affinity to adhere to Catholicism and nothing more than a high school degree, this was the ideal situation.

For a while, my mother and I lived with my grandparents, in a doublewide trailer in Marietta, Georgia, which is just like Atlanta only stupider, fatter and with more bacon-grease. This arrangement allowed my mother to come and go as she saw fit, and "as she saw fit" was defined by essentially sleeping until mid-afternoon and then immediately heading out with a different guy every night.

My grandparents (who had their own issues, but that's a therapy session/blog for another time) didn't take kindly to what they saw as my mother's, um, abject fucking refusal to do a damn thing with her life? Yeah, let's call it that. So, they kicked her out, with the understanding that she and my grandparents would share custody of me-my mom would get me on weekends, and, during the week, my grandparents would keep me and she'd look for work.

I remember the first apartment my mother moved into mostly for the fact that it's where I developed my need for background noise in order to fall asleep. With the windows open (she couldn't afford air conditioning, and fuck you New York, you think you know dry, stagnant heat? Try not having A/C in the SOUTH in the summer), I'd drift off every Friday and Saturday night to the sounds of police cars and what only in my later years I realized were gunshots. Often I'd spend these nights alone in the apartment, as my mom wouldn't return from her job as a waitress at Old Country Buffet, choosing instead to go home with...well, anyone, really, I guess. I wouldn't know. I never met any of her guys. So I'd lay in her bed on weekend nights, alone, listening to the popping caps and the wails in the dank, hot night.

Once, my mom did bring a man around for me to meet. He showed either how little he'd asked or how little he'd been told about me by showing up, with her, to the apartment on a sunny Sunday afternoon, before I was to be taken back to my grandparents, with a football to "throw around".

This is way funnier if you know me, trust me. I don't "throw around" a "football". Never have. Never. Will. Plus, at this point I was fat.

I appreciated the effort, though, as my mother let bags of cheetos and MTV (the latter of which was fruit highly forbidden by my grandparents) do the majority of entertaining when I was with her. As far as throwing anything around, she preferred to throw things at me rather then with me. Sometimes, the object that got thrown was me.

Let me say this-I understand entirely my mother's position in resorting to physical abuse with me. I had been unwanted from the start, an accident (as she would tell me many times) and then a thwarted abortion. The stress of being a single parent, of working a job that paid, at best, $2 with minimal tips (coming from the fact that it was a fucking BUFFET RESTAURANT) and being saddled with the societal obligation that is the phrase "good mother". Also, she was very, very frustrated by the fact that, with my only visiting her on weekends, she wasn't really the one doing the raising of me, and as such wasn't really a contributing force on molding me into anything. The fruit of her womb was falling far from the tree as I, directed by my grandparents, fell in love with books (which she hated) and became a sissy (her words), and so she resorted to the only thing she knew to do-rather than gently mold the clay of my forming personality, she decided to pound the living shit out of it.

I can honestly say I've been hit in the face with a hairbrush more times than I can remember, and that's probably because a few of those times knocked me out. The physical abuse was really bad one specific night, when she came home from work (a little drunk, it seems) and found me not-yet-ready for bed. When I had trouble removing my shirt to put my pajamas on and asked for help, she began foaming at the mouth and raging about how I needed to be "mature" (a word she'd always pronounce as "matte-your", sounding very close to "manure"). Her anger escalating, she threw me into a dresser. Or a bookcase. Or a door? Fuck, I don't know. I remember waking up in the shower, cold water covering my head, as my mom touched my face in a gentle way that could only ever be a result, the reaction to an action that had come before-it never, ever happened unprompted.

I remember the ride to my grandparents house that night as my mom realized there was no way she could take care of me. I remember being taken to the hospital because the bleeding wouldn't stop.

Long story short, as I got older, my mother and I ceased communication. My one serious pass at therapy found my therapist confronting my mother with the fact that she'd never be a maternal figure in my life, and the best she could hope was to be my friend.

These are the memories of my mother that float under the surface, like watching fish swimming underneath a sheet of ice on a frozen pond. They're always there, but I don't really ever have to deal with them except on a day like today.

I've had girlfriends try to have me assimilate their moms into being mine. It works to varying degrees of success. The fact is, though, having grown up without a maternal figure, I tend to just genuinely appreciate the kindness.

(I had one girlfriend who actually told me I needed to fix my family so that she and I could get married. Suffice to say, I bolted the fucking shit out of that relationship.)

Child abuse stories, shattered families, etc, are a dime a dozen. If one was to gather up mine and nine others, you'd be able to get soda from a vending machine. There's more to all of this, little facets and fragments and pieces that fall out of the boxes that I've put on the shelves inside me, like emotional packing peanuts. The last time I spoke to my mother was in 2006. She called to tell me she'd lost her job as a waitress at a steakhouse, and wanted to know what, at 47, she should do with her life, because she didn't want to "end up a failure" like me. Her words. I didn't quote the last bit because, well, ok, here's the exact wording, sticklers:

"I don't want to end up a failure like you."

And then she probably said my full name, Russell, to ensure that I was aware she specifically meant me. Her son. The failure.

I hung up. I cried. And that was it.

So when I made the decision to move to New York, I debated: do I tell her that I'm leaving the state? The only address she'd had for me for years was Wordsmiths, having seen my name associated with it in the paper many times (which, ahem, is nothing but a testament to my own major awesomeness at promotion), and I wondered-what if? What if she dies? What would I say-like Tracy Bonham, would I just be "calling to say hello"? What if she's right-I'm unemployed. I'm a failure. She won. What if. What if. What...

and then I realized I just...didn't care. That part of me, where a mom goes, isn't "hollow" or "empty"-it's just non-existent. If there was once a pot hole there, it's been paved over for so long the entire thing has grafted together naturally.

It feels like this is a conversation I've been having a lot lately, that of family and origin and and and Wolverine? No not Wolverine. But of family. I blame the conversation I had with Evan Mandery the other week for uncorking the bottle of ponderance that I'm still pouring out.

So no, I don't have a mother's day card for my mom. I don't know where she is or how to get in touch with her, and I really have no desire to. I have friends that have sweat and bled for me in my life that are across the country that I neglect, never call or write to-what moves my mother higher up than they on the list of people who should get my attention simply because she birthed me?

Now that I've said all of this, my hands are literally shaking in nervousness to hurry me on to say the following:

In Heartbreaking Work, Dave Eggers wrestles with the idea of his personal pain making him special, elevating him to a higher level. I'm the opposite: I do not think any of my familial bullshit makes me any better, worse, or different from anyone else. This is not art. This is everyone's story, everyone has that weird list of things that, if this was Dungeons and Dragons, would be easily listable on a character sheet. I'm just -10 family, really, and I don't regret it. It's not some party-killer, the thing that gets dropped like a bomb at a bar and sends everyone scattering (that's a terminal disease, not my useless fucking family). I've learned self-reliance as a result. And, frankly, if that's her one lasting gift to me (other than an affinity for substances and a fear of everything I ever love leaving me), forced or not? It's the best thing I ever could have been given.

And to those of you who have mothers-loving mothers, who you hate sometimes and who frustrate you to ponder murder sometimes but who you could, who you can, go home to? Hug them. Fuck it-yes it's a Hallmark holiday, so hug them tomorrow, too.

And yeah. Everything's fine.


Jared said...

Hug them, for sure.

I don't like to bring up my personal "trauma" of my parental relationship reaching its untimely...massacre. Demise? Bludgeoning to death? The relationship is done. But I do think it's taught me a thing or two about self reliance and loving and nurturing your friendships with those who mean amazing things to you.

And instead of friends trying to get their parents to adopt me, I tend to adopt parents. Whether they like it or not, and they usually end up liking it.

Like your mom, although I can't hold a candle to your experience, mine suffers from severely low self esteem (and perhaps a little bit of self delusion) - and will never recognize my achievements (in the event we talk, once or twice in a year). In kind, that makes me about 100 times more likely to achieve. It's sick, it's twisted, but it's how it is.

Thanks for writing this Russ. I'm really glad you did.

beccaweber said...

i can't believe you wrote this! you're so brave. et cetera. ;)


Splotchy said...

I found this post in a roundabout way. I appreciate you for sharing this.