Tuesday, May 22, 2012

He Would Have Made the Difference

Holding back tears, I leaned back in our ugly green recliner. My shoulder held my iphone to my ear as my neck began to cramp. My hands grasped my ever growing belly much like I would hold a basketball before a pass. Six months pregnant. I glanced over at our coffee table and saw the small vase of gerber daisies that were delivered to me earlier in the week. They were from my mom. This was the second time in my life she had sent me flowers.

The first was my sixteenth birthday. She was about half an hour away with her boyfriend, too occupied to visit me on my birthday. But she sent me a dozen red roses. I had never been sent flowers, so the gesture overwhelmed me. A ring was tied to the bouquet. It was a ring like my mother was given by her mom representing a Never Ending Love knot. I was deeply moved and later in life lost the appreciation of it because I realized that all it took to send flowers was a phone call. It would have been nice to actually have a visit from her, but that's when I got a little jaded.

These flowers seemed a little similar. We had not spoken since Christmas. I had deleted her from my Facebook and had sent any of her crazy emails to a folder in which I never opened or read them. Neither of us called each other. Suddenly, she seemed desperate for me to call her. She had stressed it's importance and seemed to almost beg me via text. So I called her. 

My stomach turned as she said she had been to the ER and hospital several times since the last time I met her there back in September. They found blockage. Her two arteries in her neck had over 70% blockage. She wanted to meet to talk about it. 

She had pets and said she couldn't take care of them when she went into surgery. Would I mind watching her bird? My brother would watch her chihuahua, Scooby. She asked for us to meet her in the park in a town near her home. 

I cried at the realization that I might lose my mom. I decided not to be angry anymore, this was more important. She was not in good health. I was going to forgive her. I was having a baby, and I wanted things to be right between us.


We have not found out the sex of our baby, but I already know I am naming my baby after her brother, an uncle I have never met. Johnny. 

"He would have made the difference." There was a plaque at my grandmother's with his class ring and the signatures of his teammates. He was  in a purple high school uniform, kneeled on the ground resting his elbow on a basketball. It was a large tribute that hung on a wall in one of the coldest homes I have ever been in. His team went to state that year, but they did not win. 

Johnny and four other high school boys were killed in a car accident on the way to a school function. A man who had kidnapped a woman and child sped through town and slammed his car into theirs. Everyone died. I have seen the small town's newspaper dedicating their news and filling all of their pages with the tragedy that day. I read about each of the boys and saw the mangled mess of metal that was at one time two cars. Articles and interviews explained how the man had driven through road blocks, and there was a speed chase involved. 

This was right before the big state championship game. Johnny was killed instantly with a broken neck on April Fool's Day. He was a couple of years older than my mom, but he would be forever a seventeen year old boy in the memories of those who loved him. On my grandmother's wall, he still wore his high school uniform in a glass shadow box with a class ring he never had the opportunity to wear on his finger. Etched on a plaque inside, "He would have made the difference." 

My understanding is Johnny was a gifted basketball player, and they attribute their loss to the loss of someone on the team they loved very much. What little I've gathered from the very few people who talk about Johnny... He was incredibly bright. Naturally brilliant with excellent grades and little effort to do so. He was also a bit of a rebel, which makes me smile. After my grandma died, my mom was going through photos. She showed me a roach clip of his that he used to smoke marijuana. She told me, and this is probably the most she has ever disclosed to me about Johnny, that he had moved out of the house because he and his parents weren't getting along. He had move back in only days before his death, and things were still in boxes. She said they had wrapped the cigarette butts from his ashtray and kept them.

I talked to my uncle very recently about the concerns I had about mom. He was too young to remember much of Johnny. But he said it greatly affected his parents. They could not cope. They put all of his things in the garage and never sorted through them. He said then when his father died years later, his mom could not grieve over him. So his belongings were added to his dead son's. Then my Mema died when I was about 16. My uncle said that when they cleaned out the house to sell it, they had to grieve three deaths.

I've been told by many that Mema became overly protective when she lost her son. She took both my uncle and mother out of school. I know that my uncle quit talking for years. I think life must have changed and turned very dark for the family.

As a young child I sat in my Mema's living room sprawled across her green shag carpet. The house was only warmed through a space heater on the wall that we weren't allowed to stand in front of. The house was always cold, but there was a different type of coldness in the air. All three of her children had graduation pictures on her wall. They were incredibly large, but Johnny's was the largest in the middle. No one ever talked about him. No one told stories. No one laughed or cried. I could sense when I was young it was forbidden. 

I was always fascinated with him. I was always terribly sad at the loss of a boy with great potential who never had the chance to fulfill whatever greatness lay ahead of him. I yearned to know him and to know more about him. 

When we became pregnant the second time, I knew I wanted to do something in his memory. I wanted to honor him and in some way, extend what life he didn't have the opportunity to live.

I have been angry with Mom and haven't wanted to have her present when the baby is born. But as I sat on the phone with her, and she cried that she wanted to fix things between us, I held my belly and imagined my husband carrying out our child, boy or girl, and introducing "Johnny." I wondered if she would be overjoyed at us honoring her brother. I wanted that to happen. I can't help but wonder, too, if it would make her angry. But we have already decided that is the baby's name.

I often think that is what happened to my mom. Maybe his death triggered this sadness and anger and need to keep things that mean nothing. What makes a person lose interest in life? What makes them surround themselves with filth and seclude themselves from people who love them?

I can't help but wonder, maybe he would have made the difference.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012


Very recently an episode of Hoarders aired that featured a mother and daughter from my home town. I was in awe over how people responded. Some were sympathetic, but many were critical and quite horrible in their reactions. The local paper did a story over hoarding, and for a while it was all anyone could talk about. The night of the episode, I looked on Facebook to see how my friends responded. One girl, who lived probably six houses down from me, was in complete shock that anyone in our small town lived like that. Many jokes were cracked, and I couldn't help but think that I lived so close to her with no one ever suspecting a thing. 

I realized from the replies of people I was friends with when I was younger that I was right in being guarded about our secret. I sometimes regret not telling family or a teacher I trusted. I start to think life might be better had I been bold enough to reach out to someone. Seeing the harsh reactions of people from my home town brought me to reality. We lived in a small town where gossip thrived. Children... even adults... are cruel and judging. Our family would have been in the same spotlight this family is in, and it would have been devastating for me.

Without sharing my history, I posted on Facebook my disappointment in peoples' reactions and simply wrote that it was fortunate we don't all have to air what goes on behind closed doors... it isn't always pretty.


It's Saturday morning. My least favorite day of the week. We switch off being at my Mom's and my Granny's every other weekend. It's an arrangement my parents made when they got divorced. This weekend we are at Mom's... at "Home." Technically, my dad is suppose to have us every other weekend instead of my Granny. But my dad has never been around. 

He is currently living in California, or is it Colorado? I can't keep up. He is a civilian working for the Airforce and moves frequently. I rarely see him unless he has driven his red truck to Granny's for a couple of days with bags full of laundry he hasn't done. Granny dutifully washes and folds his clothes. Dad sleeps. He takes off not long after, and Granny cries as she watches him drive away. He often calls her, and sometimes I get to talk to him. He never calls me at my home.

Granny has a black rotary dial phone that is in a fixed spot on her dining room table. Her dining room table is in the living room since she doesn't have a dining room. A hard wooden chair sits at the end of the table, and if you want to use the phone, you are stuck at that location... in the living room for everyone to hear anything you might say. But I love the phone. I love dialing a number and listening to it click as it rotates back to it's original position. I love winding my finger in the cord and the sound of the crisp voices on the other end.

"Do you accept a collect call from..." a recording begins. 

Dad chimes in... "Dwayne Henderson."

"Yes." I always reply. I don't know what would happen if I ever were to say, "No." 

Dad would later brag to me about the salary he made at the Airforce. At one point he would make up towards $50 an hour. Why he calls collect to my Granny who works as a librarian at the university makes no sense to me. Her salary must be so much smaller.

He will quickly ask me about school, but I can tell he doesn't listen to much of what I say. He inserts, "That's nice, hon," at the wrong pauses in conversation. Finally he will be bored of my jabbering and say, "Hey, hon... this call is collect. Can I talk to Mama?" So I tell him I love him and miss him. He repeats the same. Though, he has the power to visit me, and I don't have the power to make such arrangements. Often I will go a couple of years without seeing his face. Sometimes I will see him two to three times in a year. He can't miss me all that much.

After my Granny died, I find a drawer full of cards we hand drew for my Dad. Letters and sketches, even poems we had created for him. In the same drawer I find birthday cards to us signed by my Granny, my Uncle Bruce and my Dad. Always signed, Love, Dad. Until that day it never dawned on me that it was impossible for my dad to sign those birthday cards. Doubtful that he sent them from Alaska, Colorado or California for my Granny and Bruce to attach their names. It breaks my heart that Granny worked so hard to fill in that gap and with our best interests at heart, fooled us into thinking Dad remembered our birthdays. I crack a smile that she also hid away all of these pictures we drew while we were missing him. As children we imagined they were on his fridge wherever he was living. I believed in my heart that he missed us and looked forward to these tokens of our love. But Granny was the one collecting them. They were precious to her. When Dad "goes through" her home after her death, they will be among the first of the things shoved in black trash bags. 

"Mama kept everything," he grumbles while emptying drawers. And while it stings, I am so blessed to have someone who loved me enough to keep those things.

But today, I am not at Granny's. I am at 2613. And it is one of those Saturdays. My mom has decided it's a cleaning Saturday. She sits on her bed drawing immaculate sketches of where things should go. She pulls out a ruler and spends hours drawing the interiors of cabinetry and closets. She labels little diagrams of where plates and glasses should reside. She draws everything in detail with crisp printed letters assigning the positions of where items are intended to be. She spends so much time doing this, but she can't make herself put the things where she has them labeled.

She assigns each of us a room. We always have the same assignments. I have the kitchen. My brother, the living area. My sister has the smallest, but equally as nasty of a room, the bathroom. Sometimes we are fortunate enough to have paper towels to try and wipe down surfaces. Sometimes, we have only toilet paper folded into tiny squares that we soak with water to try and scrub. That always ends up more of a mess than anything because they crumble as you work. Today we have paper towels and large black trash bags that are really for yard waste. They are great though because they are thicker and larger than normal bags. 

I gather disgusting dishes that have been sitting for months, maybe even for years. Some have dried food plastered to them. Others are filled with mouse droppings. I particularly hate our coffee mugs. They have tinted residue at the bottom filled with small roaches that met their doom being stuck in sticky goo. Often, they, too, have mouse droppings. I hate the kitchen because when I disturb anything, gnats fly in my face. They are such a nuisance always seeming to float directly in your face as opposed to buzzing around. Sometimes I find maggots as I lift decaying bags of food from the counter tops. Flies of all sizes crawl and fly around me, annoyed that I have destroyed their hiding places. I wish I had gloves. I cringe and gag as I add things to trash bags. The smell is overwhelming. I am so disgusted and miserable.

The wind howls outside. To this day, I dread the sound of wind whistling through cracks in windows. It still makes me stomach sick and reminds me of my depressed mother.

Mom stands at the sink in the kitchen. She has yellow gloves, so I am envious. She is scrubbing dishes. The sink sits below a window, but the shades are drawn tight. No one can see inside, so windows are all covered by blinds or curtains. Natural sunlight cannot filter through. I wonder if the house would be less miserable if sunlight was allowed to shine through.

"Cleaning days" were formerly more enjoyable. Mom would crank her stereo with 80's country music or Neal Diamond. None of these were my type music, but my mom would smile and act goofy as my sister and I would dance around to my mom's favorites. That was during a time when after a few hours there would be carpet space, and we were allowed to play afterward. 

Today there is no music or smiles. Only the wind howls as my mom stares blankly toward a window that she can't see through. 

Several hours later we have many large bags filled with trash. We stack them in their perspective corners throughout the house on top of other black bags from cleaning days past. I'm not sure why we can't carry them out. We spent so much time filling them. But they just pile in corners, only to be ripped apart in a few days by dogs or mice. Their contents will be dragged out throughout the house, and the entire day will have been for nothing.

It's 2 pm, and my stomach aches. I am hungry. We have no food in the house. There is no where we can store it. Mice and bugs scavenge the pantries. Our refrigerator does not work. The thought of eating off of these plates that I just piled for my mom repulses me. Even if she washes them, they can never be clean enough. 

We always eat fast food or get food from the convenience store. Mom is needing a coke, so she loads us up to take us to the convenience store twelve blocks away. We each get a fountain drink and get to pick something for our indoor "picnic." I am annoyed that Mom has tried to make this a fun thing. It's not a picnic. I pick sweet pickles. My sister snags some Longhorn cheese and olives. My brother grabs a bag of chips. Mom has picked a loaf of bread. 

My brother has cleaned enough of the living room floor so that we can all sit together and eat. Mom takes off to her room. We eat as many of the treats as we can because we know without refrigeration the items will not keep until tomorrow. After we finish, I take the remainder of the loaf of bread and tack it to my bedroom wall. The mice cannot reach it when I put it directly on the wall. There is nothing for them to climb to access it. Sometimes, when we are hungry, we will snack on a few slices each with nothing else to eat. Often the bread will go bad too quickly, and the gnats will have already found their way inside.

After our late lunch I go to Mom's room. "What do you want?" she asks, sucking on a cigarette. 

"Nothing," I say. I don't know what I want. I guess I want for her to just acknowledge me or talk to me. She flicks her ashes in a coke can. Even though she is in the same room, she is so far away.

"Go call your Granny and see if she wants y'all to come over."

I can't hide my enthusiasm, and my mom slightly flickers with pain and anger at my eagerness to leave. She doesn't want to deal with us, and I don't want to be there. She always feels like I am making a choice to love my Granny more, but I don't. I don't have any choices anyway. I just want to be somewhere else and with someone who acknowledges me.

"Granny, Mom said we could come over. Can Bruce come get us?" I spit out as fast as I can once Granny picks up the phone. She is on her way, and I am glad I get a night without the mice.

I can't disguise my smile as I run to my mom's room. "They're on the way!!" I rejoice. Mom stares into nothing, puffing on her cigarette. "Then go pack a bag."

Maybe this Saturday isn't so bad after all.

Sunday, February 19, 2012


I have not heard my mother's voice since Christmas. For a while I ignored her emails, but I felt guilt for doing so. So I slowly began to fall into her trap before finally putting it to a stop a few days ago.  Her first email:
 I would like to call you and see how everyone is doing, but I don't want to upset you or cross any boundaries you have set in place.  If it is okay that I call, please let me know when it would be a good time.  
Love and miss you,
It took me a while to get over the irony in her phrasing. "Cross any boundaries you have set in place..." Her choice of words hit a chord because the most painful things for me in her disorder are her boundaries. Her secrets, lies, excuses, and isolation have always triggered flicks of anger in me that I have ignored to keep a relationship with her. She emphatically reinforces her right to privacy to keep us from her home. I reflected on her tone when she hung up on me last as I begged her not to. I thought a long time about how to respond delicately and honestly.
I have been thinking of the best way to answer you without getting upset. I don't really want to go back and forth in an email argument or anything and don't want to say anything that would initiate that.

This is not at all what I want. I had hoped to talk to you in person about some personal things going on in my life, but I'm not comfortable doing that via email, facebook or over the phone. So that leaves me begging my mother to visit her. That is a very painful thing to have to do... particularly when I am always rejected.

You have made your privacy a priority, and that is 100% your right and option. However, it does negatively impact our relationship. I am unable to read your mixed signals when I am unwelcome in your home, but you wish to talk to me over the phone. It's hard not to be offended and hurt. I feel constantly in limbo working to have a relationship with you that doesn't cross your boundaries, not mine.

It's really an unhealthy place for me to be stuck. It's uncomfortable and sad. At this point I cannot do it any longer. You have really given me a wide variety of reasons, and we have circled back to your secret project. It's been suggested to me that it's more personal, and you have hard feelings toward me. Michael and Jessica and their families shouldn't have to be punished because of something you think I've done to wrong you.

Whatever the reason, I don't feel it's in my best interest to pursue it further. You feel threatened and uncomfortable. I am hurt and left wanting. It's a no win. I am not wanting to upset you in any way.

Probably the best thing to do is leave it as it is. You have seemed to work very hard to push me a certain distance from you, and the best way I know how to respect that is to keep my distance. After several years of trying it your way, I really do not have it in me to continue at this rate. It is a constant heart break for me.

I have enough self worth to realize that this is truly unhealthy and worrisome for me. I also have genuine concerns for my son and husband, and I am at a loss as how to explain how we are not welcome at your home. It has truthfully been one of the most painful things for me to have to cope with.

I also have enough self respect that I realize I don't have to tolerate being yelled at or hung up on, and I won't continue to be treated in that manner. I understand that you like to end a conversation when you feel finished, but I am an adult and expect to be treated with respect. Any decisions that were made about boundaries were made at that point when I begged you not to hang up, but you chose to. It was very painful for me, particularly when I was calling for a reason.

If you would like to go to therapy as a family and get counseling, I would very much like that.

I would be most happy if you finished your project and allowed me to come talk to you in person. I'll wait until then, and in the mean time, I will see you as we do now at family functions. I just really need you to make the decision whether or not you want a relationship or  you want your privacy. I can respect either one, but I will no longer wait in between. I want a relationship with you. I want my son to know you and to feel welcome. If those are things you want, then we can work on them. If those things make you uncomfortable or if they are too intrusive for you, I can respect that as well. Really, it is your decision where we go from here."
After speaking with my counselor on whether or not I should share with my mother that I was pregnant, I made the decision to tell her via email... the way she likes to communicate. My counselor felt it would be best for me to tell her because I have to live with my own decisions at the end of my life, and the hurt that my mom could feel from finding out on her own might not be something I would feel comfortable with when I get older. After my email, Mom sent me a few more asking if I wanted to do an online devotional with her, asking if I would want to meet her in a neutral or safe space, and closed with the fact that she was praying for God to open my eyes, ears and heart.

I sort of scoff at the idea that we have to find "neutral" or a "safe" place to meet. Are we in danger? What does she mean? I know it's just another way of her refusing to let us visit.

Another part of her requests that annoyed me was that my mom has never been spiritual until after I was an adult. I am a Christian, but I feel like she is using that to manipulate me. An online devotional? Why can't we get together and meet in person to have a real devotional? Praying for God to open my eyes, ears, and heart? I'm slightly irritated that her prayers indicate that I have a hardened heart and need God's intervention so that I have a more open mind.

Annoyed, I email her that there is no need to meet somewhere "safe," I only wanted to tell her in person that I was pregnant and ask her not to share until February when we will tell our friends. She writes back and asks if she can call. I do not reply.

For several weeks I do not reply. She writes and tells me she would like me to write a letter telling her the kind of mother I think she should be. I see this as a trap and can only see a bad outcome of writing such a letter. I see this as an opportunity for her to basically  have a one sided conversation. It allows her to write pages and pages without being interrupted on her right to privacy, my lack of respect for her private life, twists on how I somehow deserve this treatment and am now being punished for ways in which  I have "hurt her," or long drawn out excuses of why now is not a good time for a visit... pointing out her secret project that she has been working on for the last several years.

Through counseling I have learned that Mom truly doesn't have the ability to be a normal mom. She is disconnected and takes cues from people on how she should behave socially. An example would be from my last pregnancy. Mom took a week off of work when I had my son because she knew that's what moms do. They help their daughters recover and help with the new baby. She made a big deal about taking off to help me. Mom came to see me at the hospital, but it was awkward. She didn't know what to say or do. She held my son briefly and was gone within an hour of his birth. I didn't see her again until he was six months old. 

Another example would be her behavior at my son's birthday parties. She comes but doesn't sit with the family or talk to him. She is present because she knows a grandmother should be, but she doesn't know how to act around people. She is uncomfortable, and it is obvious. My son sees her so rarely that when she came to the house this year, he opened the door and said, "Some lady is here." It broke my heart that he didn't recognize this "lady" as "Nana." She only lives an HOUR away. In her discomfort we are all uncomfortable. We force conversations in which she replies, "Yes," or "No." She doesn't offer up anything further. After making her cameo she is always the first to leave.

My counselor explained that Mom watches how people behave and tries to emulate it, but it is uncomfortable and upsetting to her. She more than likely has a personality disorder not unlike a sociopath. She warned me not to confuse that with the idea that she is crazy or some type of murderer. Mom just does not enjoy or know how to be around people. 

My counselor was sympathetic with me, saying I needed to grieve the mother that I should have had but did not. I needed to grieve the mother that I would never have. 

It is difficult for me to understand a mother wanting that kind of distance from her kids or to understand why my mom's two dogs mean more to her than her family. Dogs don't judge. Even if we aren't judging mom, she perceives that we are. She doesn't feel that with her dogs. 

A mentor of mine helped me a lot in saying, "Say you need a pen. The ONLY person who can give you this pen is your mother. So you ask her for the pen. But she does not have a pen. She can't give you what she doesn't have, but no one else can give it to you. Your mom can't be the mom you need because she can't give you what she doesn't have." 

My counselor gave a similar analogy. "You wouldn't expect a person in a wheelchair to stand up and walk to you. You wouldn't ask them. Since we can't see personality disorders, it's hard to see them in the same perspective. But asking your mom to love you in the way you need is like asking a handicap person to stand up and walk from their wheelchair."

Struggling with the commandment my mom always stressed, "Honor thy mother and father," I told another mentor of mine that I felt guilt for no longer talking to my mom. I felt like I was disrespecting her. She told me we are to honor the position, but you don't have to respect what the person does or how they behave. I have to respect that she is my mother. However, I can love and work on forgiveness from afar. I do not have to sit through her being abusive or accusing on the telephone or via emails.  I can pray for her and love her, and in that, I would be honoring her.

Mom sent me another email today asking me to read an article on core values... primarily over respect and honesty. She clipped out phrases she liked and pasted them on the email. However, I googled the phrasing and found the complete article. The article is over adult children moving back in with their parents and how to respect each other's privacy, rules to be set with neatness, noise, and curfew, etc. I am tempted to email her back the article in its entirety and mention the dangers of quoting something out of context; I want stress to her that I have no intention or desire to move back home. For extra measure, I consider emailing her articles on children neglected by hoarding parents. However, I have just decided to ignore it. The email is just another way my mom manipulates. My husband warns that is is another way to invite me into an argument, and so I will continue to ignore her as tempting as it is to call her out. It is so hard not to fall back into the bad habit of walking into an argument. It's been two months now, and I hope it gets easier.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012


This morning I was a nervous mess as we sat in the waiting room outside of the lab. My son sat between my husband and I, impatiently squirming and commenting, "I wish we could just go in there and get this over with." He really had no idea why we were there. It hadn't sunk in yet that we were having a baby. 

At Christmas, I had revealed to both my husband and son that I was pregnant. Jason's last gift was a shirt that read, "Big Brother." My husband helped him open it. Jason was not impressed with his shirt and disappointed that I didn't include a pair of pants. My husband read the shirt several times before looking at me blankly. "Are you pregnant?" "Are you serious?" He repeated these two questions several times before it finally sunk in.

Two weeks ago I was here at the lab alone, and she could not find a heartbeat. She made a couple of jokes about how it was my right ovary that had gotten me into trouble, and she smiled as she pointed out that the baby was located in a good spot. Sensing my concern, she comforted me and told me that the baby was a little small, and more than likely, we were just off on my due date. It was still very early in my pregnancy.

When I was pregnant with Jason we had some problems in the first trimester. I had a lot of bleeding. My sister had taken me to the emergency room one afternoon when it was particularly bad, and after five hours in the waiting room, a doctor finally saw me. He said he saw a lot of blood, and it looked like a "threatened abortion." Of course, I had no idea what he was saying and got hysterical almost immediately thinking he had gotten confused on why I was there. I didn't want an abortion. He then told me that there was no amount of blood that was normal in pregnancy. I had no idea if he meant that a woman couldn't bleed or that there was no predetermined amount of blood that would be typical. All I had wanted was a sonogram, and when I asked he simply said, "We cannot change the events that are taking place, and even if there is a heartbeat now, that doesn't mean anything." He left the room leaving me more confused than I was when I had gone in. As I got dressed the nurse told me to go home and prepare for a miscarriage. We were devastated.

Obviously though, we have Jason. We did not miscarry. My OBGYN said bleeding was not abnormal, and about 30% of women do so during their first trimester. She put me on a high risk pregnancy label, and I had my blood drawn every few days to make sure the hormone count was increasing. Many months later, I had a healthy 8 lb baby boy.

With this pregnancy I had been bleeding again. Because everything ended up ok the first time, I felt a little better, but I was still nervous. My husband held my hand in the waiting room and gave me a reassuring look knowing I was anxious. I couldn't tell if it was nausea from the pregnancy or my nerves, but I felt sick.

We were called in, and I had to endure the uncomfortable invasion of a pelvic ultrasound. She made the same joke about my right ovary being the one that got me in trouble. She searched around doing measurements, and I lay in discomfort. She turned the screen toward us. 

"This is the "yolk sac," but you could call it the baby's halo if you wanted. And this... this is your baby. And you can see it's tiny heart flickering. Good job, Mama. You have all your parts, and there's a baby in there."

I relaxed and was overjoyed. She added red color that lit up the baby's tiny heart as it flashed with each beat. My son sat, amazed, and whispered to his dad, "How is Mommy going to get the baby out of there?"

A conversation for another time...

She printed out a few copies of the sonogram, and typed on one of them, "HI BIG BROTHER!!!" Very proud and relieved I left the office. Our baby is doing great. All I needed to see was that heartbeat.

But still I am battling over what to do next. Soon, it will be more obvious that I am pregnant, and eventually my mom will hear that I am expecting. Is it wrong of me to not call her and tell her? We last spoke a few weeks ago, and I vowed that I wouldn't keep letting her treat me badly. If she wanted distance, she was going to get distance.

Then I struggle with the idea that I should have more patience with whatever this is.... with whatever is wrong with her. Depression... a personality disorder... whatever... Can she really be to blame for being so hateful and selfish? 

But then, why does everything have to be about her? When does this get old? I have had a lifetime of it and am exhausted with it. She doesn't have much of an interest in Jason. She sees him only on the holidays. He has never spent any one on one time with her. He has never seen her home, that he can remember. He has never talked to her on the phone. 

So, why would I think she would be excited about a new baby? Why should I put my children through something I can't explain to them? I struggle between being a better daughter or a better mother. Either I can be an empathetic and forgiving daughter, dutifully carrying the burden of her mother's disease, or I can be a fierce protector of my children, and not tolerate nonsense and hatefulness.

I imagine how angry she will be if she finds out from someone else. Then I imagine how I will tell her, and she will be flippant. I haven't any idea what to do.

I am so excited and so scared. Every day, I look up my baby's progress. I want to share that with my mother. I want her to cry tears of joy. I want her to take me shopping for baby things. I want her to want to be there. 

But that is not my mother. Even if I told her, she wouldn't respond the way I wanted. So, I'm at a crossroads, confused as to what I should do. Am I being immature? Or am I justified?

If only I could have something similar to the sonogram I had today. If only there was some way to illuminate her heart with a warm red. Maybe then I could know that she really does have a heart beating in there.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Red Ink

83. The felt tip red ink the number is written in is bold and screams disappointment, so much so that the marks bleed through to the reverse side of the paper. She had underlined it with dramatic force. I can sense her frustration without even reading the additional yellow post it attached to my test. I know I have let her down. 

In blue ball point pen she had written, "What happened??? Is everything OK?" I want to cry. I hate feeling like I have let my teacher down. She had just suggested I be moved up to accelerated history. How do I show appreciation for that recognition? I barely hit a low B.

It would be one of the only three times I could ever remember someone asking me in my life if there was something wrong. She never confronted me again about it. She never stopped me after class. I would never have to answer her. Even if she had asked, I would never have had the courage to say, "No. Everything is not OK. Can you help me?"

I've heard women carry on about the abuse they have suffered from men they knew. I'm ashamed to say I am always skeptical. I find it unusual to almost brag about being mistreated. In my experiences, one holds it in as a secret they keep close with a great fear someone could find out. What if people knew? What would they whisper behind my back? Would I be an outcast? Would I be a headline in our small local paper? Would I be removed from my home?

Out of that fear I will never answer Mrs. Boehning. I am not sure how serious her inquiry really was or if she wanted to stress her disappointment. I don't make the same mistake twice, and my next paper has the familiar triple digits of which I am accustom in her class. She always makes the zeros have dots for eyes and the enforcing line underneath the grade curves and smiles upward so that the 100 has a friendly and approving grin. When I have a goofey smiley face celebrating a perfect score I don't cause suspicion. Nothing can be wrong if my grades are good. No questions asked. But, Mrs. Boehning, everything is not OK. I am too timid and fearful to tell anyone the truth, and no one has taken the time or responsibility to notice.


5:00 pm. My mom gets off work at 5:00 pm. My stomach turns a little as I realize she is about to come to our neighbor's home to pick us up and take us home. 

From about 3:30 pm to 5:15 pm, our neighbor Debbie watches us. She picks each of us up from school and somehow manages to get to each of three schools on time. She has two children of her own, as well. After school we act out our favorite video game, Mario Brothers, with her kids in Debbie's back yard. We pretend to smash bricks with our heads and run the outermost boundaries of her fenced yard. We follow the trail her dogs have already beaten down for us. I always get to be the princess. This is one of the few areas I tend to get my way. My younger sister always is stuck being King Koopa. Luckily for me, the boys seem annoyed with her, so they gladly equate her with the villain of the video game. In real life, I always considered her to be the princess. I am not sure if it is because she is the youngest or if my mother truly resents me, but Jessica always has had better favor with Mom. But before 5:15 pm, I am the Princess.

One day many years later, when I am 18 years old, my mother will have a moment where she is unable to control her anger. She will tell me why she hates me. She will tell me she could have aborted me when she got knocked up with me in the back seat of my Dad's car. She will tell me how she tried to make him stay by having two more children with him, but Dad wouldn't stay. She will look at me so coldly I will realize she blames me for the life she did not have and for the bad decisions she will not hold herself accountable for. I will begin to understand.

But for now, I am Princess Peach, a sixth-grader playing in the backyard of the house next door to the one that stole my joy.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Last Straw

"Bye!" she says aggressively as she hangs up on me. Somehow she manages to turn a one syllable word into two syllables with a heavy accent on the latter half. I wait a couple of seconds to let it register that she has actually hung up, but it is silent on the other end. I burst into tears hysterically, half shocked that I still react this way to her dramatic exits.

I am no longer a child but a 33 year old woman still haunted by that old house and its secrets. I am a woman who is still intimidated by her mother's anger and easily manipulated by her mother's extreme emotions. My four year old stands quietly outside of my bedroom door, shyly questioning what he should do to console me. "Mommy? Is your mommy being mean?" He is anxious with his fingers in his mouth as he whispers. It is a nervous habit of his I have been trying to address as I myself look down at my bitten cuticles and short nails. I'm sure he's watched and picked up my bad trait.

I had a fear the call would end badly before I even had made it. My hope was that it wouldn't. I had a plan to be calm and careful with my request. I had a pressing need to see her, but I knew before dialing the phone that I would be rejected. I thought I was ready for it, but somehow it still stung so deeply. I was startled at my pain and tears. I knew better, but I still had asked.

Ten minutes ago I sat on my bed next to laundry I had just folded and held my cell phone in my hand. I had already dialed her number but waited to hit the word "call" and tried to build the courage to ask. It was never easy to ask to visit. I had already asked two weeks ago.

"We'll just have to see how it goes," was what she left me with.

Yesterday was Christmas, and I had already talked to her on the phone today for 45 minutes. She calls several times a week and talks to me about her job and the ladies she works with. She rarely asks me questions, but at least she calls. Sometimes I try to share something personal, but I can hear her typing on her keyboard, and shortly after she will ask, "I'm sorry, what did you just say?"

Having just spoken with her hours earlier, I encouraged myself to call. I reflected on the last several times I had tried to ask for an invitation. (My mom's "policy" is that you are to be invited to her home. Never do a drop by. She won't answer the door. It's quite rude to just show up, you know.)

I have not been to her home since my son was six months old, and my plumber husband had worked on her hot water heater. She lives only an hour away, and I have requested to visit several times. Always, I am denied. I began getting suspicious about her home. It had been several years since she had surrounded herself in filth, but I was getting more concerned that she was doing it again. My son is four and a half. He does not ever remember visiting his "Nana." A couple of years ago she told me she was working on Christmas gifts and didn't want the kids to get into needles and supplies. Somehow that shifted into a top secret project she was working on that had things scattered around her home... in every room... Of course, that project was absolutely none of my business, she said. For several months we couldn't visit because it was election time, and she was unsure of her work schedule. She swore the city would use her on weekends, even Sundays, and they would not give her any notice of what days she was expected to work. One excuse was Jason use to have ear infections, and she thought it best he stop coming for a while. Angrily she told me one day things were the way they were because she claimed I always chose my Granny over her. The best, by far, was when she said her chihuahua had a cough, and she didn't feel like it would be good for my son or her dog to be around each other while he was sick. My sister said Mom told her no one could visit because once I had requested that she visit us instead of the three families (my brother, sister and myself) loading our four small children under two years of age to travel to her house. She said I had said it would be easier for her to drive to visit us. I cannot remember making that statement, and I'm pretty sure I didn't. Regardless, I don't see it as all that offensive of a request. My sister, however, was given this excuse as to why no one is allowed to visit. Mom huffed, "I would have never said something like that to my mother."

All of her "reasoning" seems to hold no actual logic and only creates suspicion. I know that I can't do anything about her hoarding. I know she won't be honest about the real reason no one can visit. I'm not sure why she insists on lying about it since we grew up with her for so many years knowing the truth.

Mom answers the phone. After a few moments of small talk I get the courage to ask, "So, I was calling to see if you had given anymore thought to us visiting you in a couple of weeks."

She says, "Well, I told you a while back about that project? I'm still working on it."

I am heartbroken. Really? Does she think she is fooling me? I delicately try to respond. "Mom... you've been working on that project for two years."

She immediately becomes defensive. "Ammmmaaannnnddaaaa..." she drags out raising her voice in a scolding manner which automatically annoys and angers me. "DO NOT PUSH ME."

"Don't, Mom. Don't yell at me like I'm a child. I'm just asking if we could visit. You could put everything in another room and we would stay in only one room."

"I can't. There are... things... for the project... all through the house."

I am exhausted with this game. "Can I know what the project is?"

She becomes even more angry."No!"

"Well, can you give me a deadline of when the project might be over?"

Again she yells over my voice, scolding me for asking too many questions and "pushing her."

"Mom, I'm seeing a counselor because of all of this. I'm trying to handle it the right way. It's been two years since you last said you were working on a project, and I haven't asked you since. I just want to see you and want Jason to know you better. He is already four and a half. Time is fleeting, and I think you'll regret this. I'm not sure how healthy this is for me anymore"

"Are you THREATENING me? Are you giving me an ultimatum?"

I roll my eyes and rub my forehead. I try not to lose my temper and choose my words carefully, but she is already emotional and angry.

"I'm not giving you an ultimatum, Mom. I just would like my son to see you. I would like to visit. I'm just unsure of whether or not you even want to see me. It seems like this 'project' is getting in the way of spending time with your family."

"DON'T you do that, Amanda. Don't you tell me that ANYTHING is more important than my grandchildren or children."

At this point I am lost for words, fighting tears and realizing what a total mistake this was. It is so hard to reason with someone who works so hard to be offended at every corner.

"This project is NOT about you, Amanda."

"Mom, I realize that. I'm just saying, it does affect me. It affects my family. I don't think it's fair for me to try to explain this to my son... why he can't go to his grandmother's house. You've given me so many reasons, from your schedule, to your dog's cough, to some alleged statement you think I made..."

The word "alleged" threw her into a frenzy. I should have refrained from saying it. I had done so well at remaining calm.

"I don't have to talk to you about this. I'm saying goodbye."

"Mom, please don't hang up on me," I plead. I'm ashamed at myself for begging her not to hang up on me and in an instant where I actually had a backbone I say, "If you hang up now, you hang up forever. Please don't hang up."

Then the one word transformed into two syllables broke my heart. "BYE!" she says with force and a bit of sarcasm. Then silence.

I am so broken with all of this nonsense. I am annoyed that I have allowed myself to be treated so badly for so many years. I'm not sure why I ever chased a relationship with her when she has made it so obvious she doesn't need or want it. I burst into uncontrollable tears, and I try to rush into the bathroom to hide my sadness from my son. This is it... the last straw.

My face pressed against the cold tile floor and having just failed to get my mom to allow me in her home, I yell out to no one... "I'm pregnant, Mom! I just wanted to tell you in person."

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Only a Door

Strange, perhaps, that when I think of that house, 2613, the first image that appears in my head is a door. A door probably wouldn't cause very much anxiety for most people, but a door and a door alone hid the truth about us from people. All anyone would have to do was open that door, and the burden would be lifted from us. But no one opened the door. No one asked why they couldn't. No one questioned anything, and I still don't quite understand that.


When my mom picks us up from the neighbor next door, my anxiety rises as we cross into our yard and walk toward our front door. I don't want to go in. As she opens the glass door and fumbles to unlock the wooden door with her key, we can hear our two mixed chihuahua/dachshund dogs fumble through the trash in the foyer. I wonder if people can hear that when they knock on our door. The dogs bark and make such a fuss. I wonder if people are curious as to all the calamity. I don't know anyone who keeps a bunch of trash in their foyer, so I don't know how people don't suspect something. Mom can only narrowly open the door as we squeeze through. The trash bags are even behind the door, so it only opens enough for us to push our way through. Brandi and Misty, our mixed mutts, greet us happily with tails wagging. Our friends. As I squeeze through the door I notice the mouse hole to the right wall right above the baseboard. It's getting bigger as the mice have chewed through the sheet rock. I imagine one of the dogs could slide in there if they wanted. I step over piles of laundry and trash dispersed over the floor trying to balance and lug my red book bag. 

I turn to the right toward the side of our house that has the three bedrooms. If I turn to the left I would walk toward the kitchen and the living area which we never use. The trash is piled so high in both rooms that it is impossible to navigate anywhere. There is nowhere to sit any longer. The mice have taken over both couches. They have chewed through the tapestry and made their nests inside the frames of the couches. Not to mention the dogs now use that one corner in the house... the corner where we use to set up the Christmas tree... as their preferred "bathroom." That doesn't get disposed of either. None of this trash leaves the home.

There is a back door in the living room that leads out of the house to the back yard. However, the trash is piled especially tall there, taller than myself, and that door never gets used.

The kitchen is full of worthless appliances. The stove does not work. We don't have gas or heat. The refrigerator does not work. It stinks, has dead bugs and has food several years old inside. We don't dare open it. It is not cold, so I'm unsure if it is unplugged or just out of service. I have not used the sink in the kitchen in years or sat at the kitchen table. Dishes and trash cover the table my dad crafted himself. Excess food cakes the wood - mostly ketchup. I can not remember the last time my mom cooked dinner in the kitchen. I know she use to. We use to sit at the table, too. The counters are covered in filth, dead overturned roaches, mouse droppings, and dishes that haven't been washed in years. If I go disturb anything on that counter dozens of bugs scatter from their hiding places, and mice dart to new hang outs. The cabinets are open but mostly bare.

I never enter either room any longer but only follow the path to our room. My brother first departs to his, and then we split from our mother at the end of the hall because our room faced hers.

Watching her from my room, I see Mom slip off her high heal shoes leaving on her dress and pantyhose. She plops on her queen sized bed that sits opposite side of her bedroom door. She always has to sleep on the right side as you face the bed. The other side is piled with clothes and trash. Mom lights a cigarette and I admire her beautiful long nails. She lifts her chin, closes her eyes, and inhales deeply. I have her mannerisms memorized. I imagine I could mimic her perfectly if I ever chose to smoke. I know how to hold my hand, inhale and flick the ashes. She picks up the phone. I'm not sure who she calls, but Mom will be on the phone the rest of the evening. She still makes us go to bed at 8, even though I'm in junior high. She will sit on her bed until bed time. I don't know what my mom sleeps in. I have never seen her in pajamas.

My sister and I go and sit on our bed. It's the only place we can sit. I pull out my algebra book and start working on my homework. I don't understand and feel like crying. I'm too proud to say I should not be in advanced algebra. I have been advanced to all honors classes, and I'm acing everything but algebra. I don't want to be in regular classes and my classmates notice that I have been "demoted" to regular math. I am struggling and know I won't do well on Mr. G's mini quiz tomorrow. For the rest of my junior high career I will spend my entire evenings working on my algebra homework. I am nothing if not a good student and don't want to accept this failure. I do not want to be regular.

I wish I had a desk to do homework on. My neck begins to hurt as I bend over my algebra book. I readjust and try to maneuver myself somehow so that I can be covered by the electric blanket and do my homework. It is so cold, and I just can't understand the equations. I am anxious and sad.

The doorbell rings. The dogs bark and chase toward the front door. I am sick at my stomach and Jessica and I panic. We know to be very quiet and pretend not to be home. I tiptoe to the foyer as the dogs bark at whoever is behind the door. I can't go near the door because it would be possible for the person to hear me as I crush the trash below my feet. 

The doorbell rings again. Someone is persistent, and we get more paranoid. No one can see the inside of the house. I finally make my way to the peephole and see the top of a child's head. The peephole acts as a fisheye lens, but I can make out that it is a neighbor kid wanting to ask if we can come out and play. If I were to open the door he could see the trash in the foyer, smell the stink of the house, or see the hole in the sheet rock. So I watch as the neighbor gives up and leaves.

I am too old to play with neighborhood kids anyway. But that's all I can do. I can't go on dates. I can't have my friends over. I can't go hang out with kids my age. 

I become more and more withdrawn, more anxious, and even more sad. People have begun to comment on how shy I have become. They don't ask why, though. No one asks me if anything is wrong. I stare through the peephole wishing I could open the door to this kid who is five years younger than me. I would be happy to go outside and play. But, today, I can't even do that. 

I hate this door.