Mothers’ Day isn’t- I drop my head. I never had a good relationship with my mom. I’d spent my early years until my maternal grandmother died with that grandmother and my grandfather. They were my parents until I was seven. Then I went to live with an aunt. How I came to live with my mom after that is a whirlwind of different explanations, the truth of it locked within my own mind. I’d gone through some hell, but life at my aunt’s was far from hellish. I had a lot of issues by the time I’d chosen to live with my mother; the choice was about- Taking care of- I had to bury them. The issues. Many of which weren’t issues but to me. Because we’ll often take something and make it serious in our own minds, regarding it as something that maybe everybody else has their eyes on. When they don’t. There might be the occasional question.
“Why don’t you live with your mom?”
It meant nothing. It was just a question. Never loaded with some kind of negativity. It was innocent. From somebody who’d never not known life with a mother, the kind of mother that could be defined as ideal. The state of being of not living with mine was foreign; they just wanted to know how or why I wasn’t living with mine. There was no malice in it. But I took it as being- I dunno. I hated having to answer it. That question. To explain it. To someone whose face would gradually blank out in- The inability to understand. My situation nor how I-
I would read their perceptions. Of anyone I’d try to explain it to, why I lived with my aunt instead of my mother. I hated having to explain. I hated the looks on their faces. Even though they weren’t looks of disgust. They just couldn’t grasp my explanation, never having had to have lived a similar life.
“I’d wanted,” I told a shrink, years later, “to not have to explain to some kid why I wasn’t going home to my mom. Why it had been my aunt or my grandma or whomever.” Everything we were doing would stop in order for me to go through the story and whatever we were doing would lose importance and even though there was no apparent maliciousness directed toward me, my friend or friends to whom I’d find myself explaining my story to would end up looking gut-punched and the theme of the day, then, became about my living arrangement and their minds were too busy being wrapped-up in trying to wrap themselves around my living arrangement to bother with whatever else we’d been up to and- Fuck. I hated it.
We spent part of the summer of 1977 in Nevada, visiting my mom. She was quiet. Withdrawn. Gentle. The anger and viciousness I remembered from years before weren’t there. I developed a tenderness in my heart for her, then, and began to fantasize a life with her.
In those days, I’d become hard to manage. I fought with my aunt a lot. Mostly out of my refusal to let my grandmother go. I’d become almost uncontrollable because I’d only grant my grandmother a right of authority over me and she was dead. There was a different philosophy of life in my aunt’s house than what I’d been used to in my grandmother’s, too. I couldn’t-
She wasn’t bad to me, my aunt. Unlike my mother, she always expressed affection. But there were rules. Rules for things I’d never had rules for while living with my grandparents. Times for bed. Rules for coming and going. Rules for the dinner table. Rules for interacting with others. These rules were in no way bad for me. I just wasn’t used to rules. Not that my grandparents had none in their house. It was just a different house. And suddenly a different life. I wasn’t ready to be thrust into a different life. I fought back. I was verbally abusive. Incorrigible. My mother had made a couple of visits around this time and it was during the last one that I, while in a fit, declared that I’d wanted to go live with my mom and my wish was granted.
For a few short months, things were probably okay. I saw that with the wag of my leveled palm. It was “iffy”. Life, then – at least for me – was great. I loved being back in Nevada. In the small town of my early youth. With friends I’d made during preschool. And others. For me, it was almost idyllic. My mom, though, never seemed to be very into me.
My Grandma Gwen- We were close. Today’s her birthday. It’s Mothers’ Day, too. Not the first time her birthday fell on Mothers’ Day. I remember believing, when I was just a little guy, that her birthday fell on Mothers’ Day every year. I thought it was appropriate. She took us to get a puppy, one year, as a present to both of us. As my birthday was only three days before and it was hers and Mothers’ Day, too, and- That puppy symbolized our bond. That dog. “Laddie”.
We had to leave him behind when we moved to California. After Gwen passed.
I left everything behind. Everything I knew, everything I was. Everything I loved the most.
I left myself behind.
One day, my mom’s boyfriend told us she’d be going out of town for a couple of weeks. To the hospital in Reno. And we’d be staying with various people during that time – including him.
When she returned, she was like an animal. Snarling. Shrieking at us. At me, mostly.
“It’s all your fault! None of this would’ve happened if not for you!”
I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t say anything. I remembered when she lived with us – my grandparents and me – a few years before, cordoned-off in another room. She’d not let any of us in. She lived in there, as did my sister Wendi and baby sister Trish, who was all smiles in her white bassinet.
One afternoon, she’d caught me after sneaking inside to see Trish.
She screamed at me to get out, slapping at me as I fled. Shouting, “You wrecked my life!”
The passivity I found in her a few months before going to live with her was artificial. I didn’t know until I’d become an adult. She was heavily-medicated. I don’t know what happened between then and the time she was hospitalized or when she was discharged. Afterward, though… Things began to go worse. It took a lot of time before they got-
I remember a day, years before, at my grandparents’. By then, my mom had moved out. To her own place. She liked to come over, though, now and then, to generally be disruptive, as I recall. She used to whisper into my sisters’ ears to get them to come across the room and pick at me, which they gleefully did. When I’d get upset, my mom would use it as an excuse to barb me. That particular day, though, my grandmother was sitting off to the side. “I saw and heard the whole thing,” she scolded my mother. “Leave him alone!”
I’ve likewise defended my grandmother. Most of my aunts have angrily explained to me that she wasn’t who nor what I like to remember, detailing moments before my time in which her behavior to them was terrible, her judgment something less than stable, maybe. But I can’t vilify her for any of that. I only know what I remember. “Maybe,” I suggested, “she was trying to make up for it through me.”
“Maybe,” one of my aunts snorted, not convinced.
I remember a woman who’d hold me and show love for me. Who’d feed me or see that I was fed when the end of her life came, who’d likewise see that I was dressed. That I had everything I needed and a few things I didn’t need but were nice, too.
I never asked to be brought into this world. I wasn’t the one who was doing the fucking.
I’d hide behind the house in San Diego not long after our arrival, there, following my grandmother’s death. Which was during the summer following her forty-fourth birthday. Thinking back on how, the on the night of her passing – after her passing – my grandpa had returned from the hospital to tell me. How, when he told me, I’d lost my mind, running amok through the house while the adults there tried to catch me and hold me.
He caught me and held me and whispered into my ear that everything was gonna be alright. “It’s gonna be alright, honey,” he assured me. Addressing me as “honey” – something he’d never done before nor since that still seems both weird to me and- Sweet. Like the word itself. Warm.
He took me outside, into the backyard. Under the clear, starry sky. He asked me to crouch as he did, then he – with one arm around me – pointed upward into the heavens and explained to me that my grandmother was up there, looking down upon me from those stars, and would always be there whenever I needed her.
I like being up at night. Through the night. I always have. I’ve always been a night owl. I used to stay up, waiting for my grandpa to get home from work. He’d bring with him a couple of packets of instant coffee, two Styrofoam cups, some sugar and creamer packets, and a couple of plastic spoons, and he’d perform the nightly ritual of fixing us coffee before we’d catch the news or a NASA launch if one was going on or the late night scary movie.
In later years, I’d sneak outside. To be under the stars.
He couldn’t take care of us himself. My sister Amy and I. I think to the day he died he felt guilty about it, but he shouldn’t have and I’d tried to talk with him about it for years, even as we hurried to California in his final hours. We didn’t quite make it. I wanted him to know that I understood. I still do. And that, in his absence, I’d sneak outside as a kid. Or, as an adult, I’d just go out. And stand under the stars for awhile. To be with Gwen. That was our “coffee time”.