If you had told me that my mother would die when I was 30, I wouldn’t have believed you.
I’d shake my head, chuckle softly, and say, “I fuckin’ wish.”
When I was 11 years old, my memories came alive. This isn’t to say that I didn’t have a life prior to puberty, but whatever had happened — I had no recollection of it. My first birth was not in some hospital, but when I discovered the grimness of life. My conception took place down the corridors of junior high, my hair colored black with smudged liner beneath my eyes, rubber bracelets adorning my left wrist and a sweatband hiding my right, and some shitty-materialled, over washed dark pants covered in silver chains. I don’t remember why my mother allowed me to dye my hair, once a mousy brown, to pitch darkness; nevertheless, the era was a beckoning of sorrow.
I do remember the feeling of a cage around me as I had isolated myself in my bedroom while screaming ensued downstairs. I had once believed that I was a victim of my own self-imprisonment, but as the decades have progressed, I understood that my bedroom was the only safety I knew. I was not imprisoning myself; I was protecting myself.
My father was a bottle-a-day type of man. Though despite his Italian ancestry, he chose vodka as his vice. For years, I was convinced that I had Russian blood as the drinking came so naturally to him, but the stubborn German genes in my mother shattered the glass, literally and figuratively. Specks of time transitioned from minutes to hours, days to weeks, months to years, before I understood that my father was not the transgressor. In my teens, I forced blame on him, crediting him for the dissolution of my parents’ marriage and the turmoil that infected the house. I was wrong.
He sought the bottle to escape, much like I sought isolation from all livelihood. In our typical nuclear family there existed a hurricane, and the sharp winds of abuse touched upon my cheek like winter. The flood of alcohol down his throat complemented the drag of the knife across my skin, all the while my mother sat composed at the kitchen table with an evil, yet stoic grin.
Escapism was my middle name because I couldn’t change my legal name that bore her crest. As the blood crept down my arm, my fingers dashed wildly across the pages of a notebook. Fervent, desperate writing was inked into the paper. I couldn’t tell you what those words were now 19 years later. In reflection, much of those early years appear to me as a vibrant blur; the encompassing darkness of my bedroom illuminated by a light that silhouetted my hunched frame. Red to black.
I had wished for death. The subject of whose death was, at that time, uncertain, as I flickered between killing myself and killing my mother. Did I dare sacrifice myself, thereby not only ending my own servitude but also the colossal grip she held over me? Or did I dare unleash my insanity upon the woman, meant to nurture me, who perpetrated my imprisonment? These questions, monumental and unjust, drowned my thoughts nightly. I was unsure, and thus, stuck.
The mutilation then continued. I was eventually whisked away to a therapist at the age of 13, my mother’s crocodile tears coasting the office floor with cries of confusion, pleas toward God, affirmations of her alleged pristine treatment of me, her child, her only daughter. “I raised her so well,” my mother would insist. She would continue, “I did nothing wrong.” Oblivion jaded the therapist’s mind, and like a fool, she believed my mother. I spent the following month pretending I was clean, feigning forgiveness and assuring stability.
The therapist faded from my life, but my pain remained. I didn’t expect to live until 18 years old, let alone 30. I had begged for death upon my mother on countless occasions while the abuse splintered my mind, but I didn’t expect her death to be so swift. When you reach adulthood, parts of you discover denial, and that denial acts as gasoline to drive you forward amid whatever chaos laid elsewhere. I was in late-stage denial by my 30th birthday, unaware that my mother’s last days would be in approximately eight weeks. Blissfully unaware, I might say, as I had already resolved to estrange myself from my family in the forthcoming year.
Her death, nonetheless, came as a shock. In the span of six days, her once healthy face turned cold and pale, a virus raging through her lungs until her heart couldn’t save itself. She had died alone, and sometimes I wonder if there was even a nurse nearby. Not that my mother would notice had someone been by her side; in her final hours, she sat deluded, semi-conscious, empty. No tears pooled in her eyes. No hands reached forward for absolution. Her last rites were likely read behind glass, the chaplain decorated with a hazmat suit with his breath fogging his sight. Even if she wasn’t alone in person, she was alone in spirit. She died with nothing but voiceless thoughts and unanswered questions permeating her mind. Alone.
“I fuckin’ wish,” I had said in my teens. At 30 years old, I’m still not sure if those words held merit, if behind my pain existed empathy for such a sad soul. Postmortem, my senses are brimming with a toxic combination of grief, sadness, wonder, anger, relief, liberation, and confusion.
But there is no closure.
The closure that I sought died alongside my mother, set ablaze as her body turned to ash in the crematorium. While the fire licked the corners of the furnace, my opportunity for closure burned and burned and burned. Like newspaper clippings cast aflame in the forest, closure ascended into the canopy until bark turned to soot. My questions, still monumental and unjust, will remain unanswered.
Perhaps that’s how it was always meant to be.