Posts Tagged ‘not safe for mom (nsfm)’

two years.

26 January 2011

sometimes i wonder if there was anything that could have been done to extend her life, or to save her completely. you see those commercials about an advanced cancer treatment center or a new scientific discovery, and you can’t help thinking about the possibility of a different outcome if only you had the right resources, if only you had followed a different path, if only you had located a researcher that was willing to take the chance.

in the advertisements, a woman — it’s always a woman — talks about how she was on her deathbed, given two months to live, but now, five years later, thanks to the diligent people at so-and-so clinic, not only is she still alive, she is thriving, with absolutely no signs of the cancer that previously ravaged her body.

you can’t help not blaming yourself, in some small way at least.


illustrated man.

8 October 2010

many of my friends have tattoos, which has made me often wonder if i too should get one. thus far i’ve held off because there is no image with which i would be content to permanently have on my skin. it’s not that there isn’t anything i love, it’s just that i don’t expect my interests to look very good in ink. it’s like in ninth grade, when we had to do an interview discussing our future career, i switched from writer to rodeo clown in order to be more entertaining. rather than talking about how i sat at my typewriter for seven hours a day hammering out sentences that i would eventually throw away, i turned it into a show, detailing close calls and saved lives, wearing ridiculous makeup while a giant animal attempted to maul everyone in its sight.

the lure of the tattoo remains. maybe it’s kind of like beards. i mean, no one really likes beards — they make you look homeless or at least age you unnecessarily; no one takes you seriously because if you’re too lazy to simply shave, how can you be expected to run my company in my absence; women compare it to kissing a wild animal, and not in the pleasurable, that-was-so-fucking-amazingly-hot way, more like the my-face-is-abraised-and-i-have-to-apply-moisturizer way. still we grow beards because one time a girl told us (or someone nearby) that facial hair was an improvement and we’re too dumb to understand that meant either, a. i can’t see your double chin anymore, b. it really hides your acne/scars, or c. i do not know what i like but i do know that caring about your appearance is so mainstream and uncreative.

anyway, i’ve thought a lot about tattoos. if i were to get one it would have to be something i designed so that no one would have anything similar. unfortunately, i cannot draw very well. below is one of my ideas, a dragon sitting on a stool eating an apple.

i was told it looks like a tootsie roll holding a bomb, and if i’m going to go the route of humor i may as well go all out and get the following:

okay, there’s no way i would ever do that, plus the joke only works if pinocchio’s nose grows (nice self-deprecation there, eh?).

recently i solved all of my problems, however technology is not advanced enough to fulfill my vision. that is, i want to get a tattoo of a kaleidoscope where the colors and patterns change depending on the angle from which you are looking at it. even when i am ninety-five years old i will marvel at the loose beads, pebbles, and glass in my body.


30 August 2010

i cut myself a little over a week ago. i assure you that i wasn’t trying to kill myself. it was more like a young girl, locking herself in her room, music blaring, while she runs a razor across her inner thigh just so she can feel something in this terrible world. honestly, i’d rather be dead right now from self-afflicted wounds than admit that i’m a pathetic little teenager seeking attention, but it’s the truth, sort of. at least the sentence about cutting myself and the next one about not trying to kill myself are true: i mean, i barely even broke through the skin when i slid the knife back and forth across my upper arm a few times, i merely wanted to see how it felt (i’d remembered from years ago not feeling anything when i tried the same thing and this experience was consistent — the cuts produced a small crease, and the following day a scab formed, making it seem worse than it actually was).

recently i told someone that while i’ve had suicidal thoughts for most of my life i would never be able to carry it out. my ideas of death over the years have been focused on hoping something would happen, like a satellite falling out of the sky to crush me or an errant hoof hitting me square in the temple (you know, when i’m cleaning out the family stables).

i came across something i wrote over eight years ago: every time i breathe, the earth’s supply of oxygen is depleted to such a degree that other people begin to gasp and, after the blood vessels in their eyes burst and form branches, die. a couple of years ago, while walking between the lines of a crosswalk, i started to become plagued by the thought that, instead of pavement, the road was composed of babies, staring unblinkingly into the sky. no matter how gingerly i stepped, my footfalls crushed them, suffocated them. since then, i haven’t been able to walk through the full length of a crosswalk. i wonder how much longer it will be before i decide that breathing is not worth the possible fatalities.

i want to draw lines across my back yard, forming a grid. in one square, a land mine would be placed. if i were feeling especially charitable, i’d take bets (in which square resides the blast? how many steps before i choose poorly?) with all proceeds going to a worthy cause, like my parents’ son’s funerary preparation fund.

i know what you’re thinking — how is it possible that this guy used to be even more melodramatic? — but let us try to overlook this stunner. the fact remains that i’ve obviously been failing at treating my mental health on my own, and pretending that sometimes-debilitating depression and suicidal ideation is somehow necessary for creativity has robbed me of a good number of satisfying endeavors. and it goes further back then the text above: it’s just that my writings from the womb have been obscured by amniotic fluid and such.

it’s not too late to change. life is what it is, not what it was (yes, that is a conor oberst quote, evidence the melodrama is still present).

coming to terms.

19 August 2010

when i purchased the stone diaries for my mother, i didn’t realize the book was a bildungsroman where the main character’s mother died during childbirth. i only knew that she had enjoyed a few of shields’s other books (unless and swann are beside me on the shelf) and that shields herself died of cancer (breast). also, the book was only a dollar at edward mckay’s.

i don’t think she ever read it, receiving it just a month before her death, but i wanted to isolate one section, spoken by (the character) labina anythony green dukes:

i held my tongue and tried not to scold or fret too much over the things she’d do. i’d say to myself, remember this poor child is motherless, and there’s not one thing worse in this world than being motherless

i know i’ve talked before about the concept of being an orphan, growing old enough to, in a sense, be my mother’s mother, and, as her biographer, so to speak, being the one people rely on for the story behind her life. i’ve written at length about the way our legacy changes once we die, with some uplifting us to pedestals we have never reached (and would be uncomfortable to reach) and others (this is where i, hopefully, come in) clinging to veracity, attempting to stay as close to reality, even when it is stinging.

i would love to give you a review of the book but anything i write would be filtered through loss and tainted by grief. obviously it can be argued — and i would not win this argument — that art is always shaped by experience, but still i don’t really want to talk about the book, okay?

i think i want to talk about my mother. it’s been slightly over a year and a half since she died. sometimes it feels like she died during childbirth, my memories of her foggy and made up from stories my family has told me, at other times — more frequently — it feels like it happened yesterday or is continuing to happen, playing on repeat to relive continuously.

while my mom was dying i sought comfort wherever i could get it, mostly in the wrong sources, mostly in dangerous places, because, so my flawed thinking went, if, for example, i was held at gunpoint with only a slight possibility of surviving, perhaps i’ll concentrate on that and not on the fact that my mother is strapped to machines, progressing quickly toward death.

for a long time afterward, i continued, keeping people at a distance, thinking that if i didn’t let myself become vulnerable, thinking that if i didn’t grow attached to anyone, then i could never possibly feel that amount of pain again.

i was wrong. you grow close to people even if it’s not your intention. we’re like stones, over time tiny cracks form and water freezes inside those cracks and the cracks become larger. it doesn’t make you a failure to confide in people and show that you are not as strong as you’ve let on. not that it makes you a success to confide only in the four people that consistently read your blog, but i’m just saying.

i guess i’ve recognized a lot of things lately, over the last few months, and i’ve tried to quickly fix those things without asking anyone for help. maybe it’s time. maybe the people i have hurt along the way can forgive me for not being strong enough to tell them the truth in the first place and being too stubborn to speak to someone who could help me.

i know i’m being vague, but some of you know what i’m alluding to, and others can at least glean some form of advice, a primer for how to act, or a moral behind the fable. but i’m not asking anyone to make excuses for me, to restrain from scolding merely because i’ve been left motherless.

a call for bayou justice.

21 June 2009

in youth, our bladders send a signal to our brains when they are half full; as we grow older, this signal is less emphatic, causing our brains to receive it when our bladders are almost completely full. as we age our bladders become less elastic, preventing them from holding as much liquid. due to the union of these changes, i am sometimes forced to wake in the middle of the night to use the bathroom.

on one such occasion, i awoke in an unfamiliar room to see a hazy shadow in the doorway. it disappeared before i could focus, blinking my eyes to erase the film that had collected during sleep. i sat on the edge of the bed for a moment and then stood up, testing my feet on the carpeted floor, advancing slowly. from the entrance i looked left, again seeing the figure — at this point i was certain it was human — at the end of the hall. he was partially hidden behind the corner of the wall, sporadically revealing his head to see if i was still present. once in the bathroom, i quickly locked the door and washed my face in the sink in an effort to wake further.

the only scenario that seemed possible was that i had risen, by coincidence, at the exact moment someone’s boyfriend wandered into the room while looking for the bathroom himself. walking in on us, albeit by accident, gave him an intense feeling of awkwardness, so he tried to hide. the next morning i told my theory to the girl who slept through it all, the girl to whom the room belonged, and she brushed it aside, ruling that i had probably been dreaming. after all, her roommates never had guys over.

honestly, in her defense, there were a lot of loose ends: most notably (and embarrassingly), why would i lock myself in the bathroom like a chicken rather than approach the stranger? also, we had to account for my vivid, childlike imagination: that is, it wouldn’t be the first or most outlandish story i had conceived.

still, the next day, details kept filtering in, details that could never be confirmed and didn’t lead us any closer to determining fact from fiction, like, he was wearing a green or brown t-shirt, or, he had straight hair, sort of long. it wasn’t until after lunch with one of her friends, who chided her for so easily dismissing my vision, that she confided and, thus, my grasp on reality was confirmed: hey, i know who you saw.

it was someone from work who had dropped her off near her house once. they had had an abbreviated relationship that she ended. she didn’t seem shocked by this revelation, even after remembering that, while i was in the bathroom, he had sneaked back into her room, lowered the covers, and fondled her.

her friend and i were nonplussed by her relative stoicism. she appeared bothered more by our complete bewilderment than by the fact a guy had forced his way into her house in the middle of the night to touch her inappropriately. she assured us this wasn’t the case, regardless of her tone in discussing the matter, and that she planned to confront him at work.

i wish this story ended with a degree of retribution. anything, from him being hit by a car while leaving her house to his open eye being seasoned with a mix of cajun spices, would have been better than the truth. honestly, i don’t even want to type it out.

so let us pretend that he never had the opportunity to ignore her when she registered her complaint, replying that he had no idea what she was talking about. let us pretend he didn’t later apologize for his transgressions, but only because the course changed, robbing him of that chance. let us pretend, obviously, that she didn’t answer that late apology feebly, with, well, don’t intrude on anyone like that again.

let us, instead, pretend that when he returned to work the afternoon following the incident he was greeted by the large alligator statue, miraculously come alive, that balances on her hind legs in front of the restaurant. picture her draping a limb roughly across his shoulders, in the process, letting a claw or two scrape against his cheek like an omen, and escorting him to the walk-in freezer where she slowly — and excruciatingly — gnaws off his limbs.

birthdays in wartime.

29 April 2009

today would have been my mother’s fifty-sixth birthday. instead she died, as many of you know, in january. i take some amount of pleasure from your momma jokes, especially informing the person once the punchline is delivered that my mother has passed away. i enjoy the awkward moment created much more than the apologies that ensue. certainly none of them were the cause of her demise. they were merely responsible for a bad joke, which is not a punishable offense, or else i’d be writing this from humor death row, which is to say nothing about where david sedaris would be.

recently a friend told me her mother wasn’t doing well and that she may have to move in with her. i remained empathetic, even after learning the lady was in her seventies (seriously, people, how long do we expect our parents to live?). after all, i myself had basically moved in with my mother toward the end and it allowed us to gain some closure, if such a thing is honestly possible. we continued the conversation as i learned that not doing well meant she hasn’t paid her mortgage in a year and was risking foreclosure. perhaps i’m being too harsh, i’ll acknowledge, and this represents the actual definition of someone old not doing well. it’s certainly possible that some unfortunate turns and unlucky breaks have skewed my mind to the point that i hear six months to live when someone means may have to move to an apartment. oh, and one on the first floor at that because, did i tell you about her ankle? well, she sprained it cleaning the garage and it’s still bothering her. that was two weeks ago — can you believe it?

i took this incident, as i have all those concerning life and death in the past year, to my sister for further study. she said that it annoyed her when friends talked about their mothers, when they complained about them and when they celebrated them, when they rolled their eyes while talking to their moms on the telephone and when they answered gleefully telling their moms they’d see them soon. honestly, don’t even get her started about her friends’ grandparents — it’s unfathomable to her that our peers can have so many relatives remaining while we are ostensibly half-orphans.

i don’t think i share my sister’s (quiet) rage. inside me exists a mix of bewilderment and indifference. on one hand i’m shocked by the different levels of doomsday predictions and their meanings conjured (and felt) by other people, and, on the other hand, i don’t care about the problems of others, whether real or imagined. the latter, i feel the need to explain, because i have a hard time quantifying the problems, placing them along a reasonable scale, so i just list them all beside each other, where someone’s declaration that they lost a ten-dollar bill while walking to work occupies the same space as someone else having to have a piece of their hip removed in order to reconstruct parts of their face. i’m no longer able to question what is worse — it doesn’t matter, as long as each person treats it as devastating. i’ve let people be themselves and speak, where i listen sometimes in a semi-daze, wondering how it’s possible that their thoughts could diverge so much from mine.

my sister confided with me recently that she’s no longer able to cry. it seems pointless. further she said if she developed cancer right now she wouldn’t care. i think we’ve learned, all too hard, the absurdity of life, how devastating it can weigh on you but also how you have to adapt, poking fun at its inconsistencies, preparing yourself for anything, and finding humor in the inadequate sources you can. such as:

your momma’s so fat that whenever she goes to the beach the tide comes in


your momma’s so poor that she goes to kentucky fried chicken to lick other people’s fingers

anyway, happy birthday, mom. i wish we could have spent thousands more with you.

my girlfriend is a watermelon.

27 March 2009

a girl once told me that she likes the way i tell stories, not eliminating or glossing over the parts that make me look bad. let me point out then, before i begin, that the following incident has nothing to do with me. i repeat: i only transcribed the text you are about to read. it happened to a friend (also, those italics mean nothing — my finger slipped and inserted some html code that i was unable to erase).

perhaps you’ve been looking for love but the conversations you’ve started with potential suitors in the produce section of grocery stores or between games of billiards at a bar or outside the church where your alcohol anonymous meetings are held have yet to bear fruit. some people, i’m told, turn to nonhuman companions, items that remind them of their desired suitor. they may only be able to fall asleep when they cuddle up next to a pillow or a stuffed animal. the more perverse-minded may seek out items with which to pleasure themselves. the friend to whom i alluded in the first paragraph falls into this last group, and the events i’m about to chronicle follow a similar vein, so if you’re a family member or you’re under some delusion that i am anything but a base creature then you may want to skip to another entry.

throughout history men and women have contemplated using food, primarily fruits and vegetables, in a sexual context. women probably have an easier time of it with all the phallic cucumbers and bananas at their disposal. men, on the other hand, have to do a little more work: research is involved, not to mention some tools. my friend relayed this information to me before saying that he settled on a watermelon and then cut it into eight equal wedges — he used one of them.

he detailed making a circular incision through the rind and into the pink flesh, adjusting it to make the hole larger, carving the bits like a master craftsman. he reported being in a sort of trance as he continued, as if a higher being was guiding him to put the fruit in the microwave for thirty-second intervals until it was warm, then placing it on the kitchen counter, his hands steadying it.

the whole thing was kind of surreal to me, envisioning the process and the dedication required to achieve the goal. when he finished, after i had returned to equilibrium, my mind was filled with jokes, so i tried one out on him. i guess you’ll think twice now before spitting out a watermelon seed since it didn’t seem to have a problem with yours.

mothers die too young.

18 March 2009

again i’m reminded of the vastly underappreciated thomas bernhard’s the voice imitator, a collection of one hundred four short stories, none longer than a page. one such story is reprinted below:


for years after our mother’s death, the post office continued to deliver letters addressed to her. the post office had taken no notice of her death.

it’s left me wondering what happens to people when they die. i don’t mean to suggest that i’m suddenly questioning the existence of heaven or the role that souls play following our deaths. instead i’m thinking about how strange it is that someone’s passing can have such a profound effect on one person, while not even registering with another.

it speaks to our isolation in the world — why we form friendships, why we procreate, why we marry, in order to feel less lonely. we are forced to weather great losses, more or less alone, as others can continue through their daily lives completely unaware of the things that keep us awake.

there’s such a push to find peace, to move on after suffering a loss. there are countless books which purport to help us overcome grief and reconcile ourselves to casualty, but i’ve come to find this approach rather naive. why are we expected to ignore or dull our feeling of emptiness? why is it considered healthier to act as if we aren’t shaken?

it’s sobering enough that we die with so few people who care about us even before taking into account that the bereaved are being advised not to worry, are being told that we are now in a better place free of pain, are implored to choose the route that distances them from their sorrow and connection to the departed. i think to promote these as the only viable options is to reject humankind’s capacity for resiliency. certainly we can relive or immerse ourselves in difficult emotional situations in our past without causing massive disruption in our own life. we can be productive even if periodically held captive by depression.

in every culture and throughout history there exist rules governing mourning, determining such things as length of the mourning period, clothing, and behavior. these practices are seen as statements of respect, solidarity, and commemoration, but if that is indeed the case, then why do they require a finite duration? it seems arbitrary (and heartless) to conclude that we cannot, in our own way, lament eternally. otherwise we eventually become like the mail carrier in bernhard’s story, pretending that nothing has changed, imagining that, this afternoon, the phone will ring, our mothers waiting for us to answer and tell them what we ended up making for dinner last night.

in opposition to hagiography.

2 February 2009

i’ve been thinking a lot about the fact that we lack agency in posthoumously appointing a biographer, a theme prevalent in the work of carol shields, insomuch as the women’s lives detailed in her novels could appear mundane from one vantage point, but remarkable and heroic from another. obviously she thought about how one doesn’t have to pass a test in order to write (or speak) about the deceased, how we are all limited by certain biases and experiences, and how these cannot help but color our retelling.

back in october, when death became omnipresent, i told my mom that i planned to document the remainder of her life and its impact on us. i felt obligated, as i’ve touched on in a previous post, to present the facts unedited, to express the pain and joy in honest — and believable — amounts.

a week or so before her death, we met with a minister, the only time, during her stay at beacon place when at least one of the three of us wasn’t at her side. as part of my mother’s service, the minister was giving a speech about her hobbies (drinking tea, gardening, reading, traveling with my dad). she asked us questions and took her own impressions from them, eventually weaving bible verses in with her prose.

it felt odd, and i didn’t offer much even when prompted. after all, i was planning my own eulogy and didn’t want someone who had never even heard my mother’s voice stealing my good lines. more than this small concern, however, my reticence was caused by the fact that her presence was superfluous. none of us are typical religious believers: my sister follows, in mind if not always in practice, various eastern flavor-of-the-month teachings; my dad oscillates for fear of being wrong when it counts (when asked, during our meeting, if he had a prayer he preferred, he stumbled, you know, um, the lord is my shepherd, that’s always a good one, yeah). my mom lived, not because of rewards guaranteed in a potential afterlife, but because she liked to make people smile, she wanted to help others realize their best.

the pious tend to become sanctimonious when people are dying. we began to hear often that it was part of god’s plan that we were not made to understand, as if that should provide solace to any rational person. on the day my mother died an elderly man told my father that god wanted her more. if my dad hadn’t been so weak from mourning his loss, he would have guaranteed that god also wanted that elderly man more.

in her speech, the minister detailed my mother’s work with the mentally retarded: managing group homes in canada; finding advocates, raising awareness, and educating the community here in the united states. she summed this section up by referring to her actions as dare i say, christ-like.

i don’t understand the rampant desire to misrepresent someone once they have passed away, when they are cherished abundantly for their actual biography. while my mother and jesus have the same initials, they are not the same person. in fact, legend says that one died for the other’s sins a few millennia ago.

a more valid appreciation for the way my mother touched lives could be found later when those in the audience were invited to say a few words on her behalf. a neighbor spoke of how she would watch her in the backyard, tending to her flowerbed, and was now struck with a gaping void. she beseeched us to get to know those around us before it was too late, before we made the same mistake she had. her words were delivered with such vitriol that one would believe if they didn’t introduce themselves to their neighbors that very afternoon they would have to deal with this wild-haired woman’s admonishment in their dreams.

a bunch of people who love you like crazy.

27 January 2009

friends and relatives gathered at the house, bringing along every snack known to heaven and every liquor known to hell. we shared stories and looked through family photographs, laughing often, eating and drinking a lot.

as night fell, some guests returned to their houses and hotels, leaving empty bottles of vodka and rum, two of wine, and eighteen cans of beer as reminders. my sister’s and my friends remained to finish what was left, and to watch intervention on a & e, as we have on many previous monday nights.

the episode centered around lawrence, a guy in his early thirties who owned a chain of prosperous tanning salons. throughout the day he filled large brightly-colored plastic cups with vodka. testicular cancer weakened his body, and his resolve. he had surgery to remove the tumor, but rebuked the doctor’s pleas to get frequent check ups. his torso heavily bruised, a sign of low blood clotting as a result of diminished liver function.

lawrence’s loyal employees took over the operations of his company, even visiting his house daily — bringing him lunch, reading his mail, and tucking him into bed. his younger brothers obviously admired him years before but now avoided him. at dinner, his mother skirted around his problems, frightened of the confrontation.

i always feel compelled to act antithetical to a program’s message, continuing to drink while i watch people self-destruct due to alcohol addiction, eating during a show about a half-ton teen undergoing gastric bypass surgery, having sex every time abstinence is promoted.

those familiar with the show know that following the intervention, once acquiescence is reached, the subject is sent to one of various recovery centers throughout the united states, usually in california or florida. then the davenports five steps begins to play, as viewers learn the results of treatment.

as we raised our glasses to what would no doubt be another successful journey, we learned that lawrence was asked to leave after thirty days for failing to focus on his recovery. he retuned home to las vegas, remaining sober for another three weeks before relapsing and dying due to complications stemming from cirrhosis of the liver.

honestly, i’d like to blame cancer for everything. one night, walking out of beacon place, my dad said, fuck cancer, under his breath. it was only the second or third time i’ve heard him use the f-word, all in relation to this disease. i’m against anything that can repeatedly bring a two-hundred-twenty-five-pound man to tears, so i will blame it for everything without impunity, not just my mom’s death, or lawrence’s, but war and genocide, rape and murder, tsunamis and hurricanes, and my sixteen-hour post-intervention hangover.

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