Monday, December 26, 2011

Ben Taub County Hospital, Saturday, 2 a.m.

Ben Taub County Hospital, Saturday, 2 a.m.

The flourescent lights are blinding. I am alone in this never ending hallway of stark white walls and beige tile. Approaching the huge double doors that separatethe barren hall from the horrible world of hurt where my mother and others exist, I lift one foot and somehow it steps and I move forward. My body leans against the cool, dark, black steel. It holds my shoulder, I drop my head, close my eyes, press harder still into its comfort, until the door finally gives and swings open against my weight.

A barrage of white overhead lights and yelling, bustling people crashes into my senses. Worried families in cheap sweats gather in too few chairs, most with dark skin. Nurses scurry across the way with arms outstretched, directing, pulling IV’s, pushing gurnies, barking orders. Nearing them, I am consumed by and become them. I know that as I search for my mother I will see someone else’s mother before I find mine, someone else’s daughter, someone else’s sister, someone else’s ex –wife, friend, co-worker.

I am walking through the maze of halls, beds, moans, searching. I peer through a set of curtains as discreetly as I can. A tiny, black man with white hair tries to lift his withered face from his bed. Guiltily, I snap my head away from him.

Is she in the next set of curtains? I don’t look into the ones where someone is calling loudly for the nurse, where a woman is crying outside of them, where there is a scream. I can’t. And then I see her. Wait, is that her? Yes. I see the round curve of her hip. I see her roll onto her back. I slowly push back the curtain. She doesn’t see me.

I step further inside. I see her cracked and purple lip caked with blood against her yellow, leathery face. I observe her distended middle, her legs so small in comparison. I see her bloodied knuckles, split and thick, dirty fingernails. Hair that is dry, unwashed, tangled, graying.

This is my mother. My mother whose once slender hands used to play “Moonlight Sonata” on our upright piano. My mother who had gorgeous reddish, brown hair, a slender waistline even after two kids, smooth, freckled, fair skin. My mother who sang at weddings, was the church secretary, and taught preschoolers to finger paint with pudding.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Bring Me a Brewsky, Amazing Grace

Bring Me a Brewsky

Tie her down with the straps. Please. She is weak. She shouldn’t move. But she is detoxing so violently that she is out of touch with reality. Hallucinating. Just strong enough to move and fall out of the bed in her flailing attempts to get me to “bring [her] a brewsky!”

She reaches and claws. The worst mixture of love, sympathy, empathy, disgust, sorrow, nausea.
That’s what I feel. It actually swallows me. I am bound by it as sure as the canvas straps of her hospital bed bind my mother.

Her skin looks like some kind of leather dyed yellow; she is dying of alcohol-related cirrhosis. Her stomach is actually eating itself and she was found unconscious, hemorrhaging from mouth and anus in an abandoned gas station parking lot. The male voice that called the ambulance called to let me know, and remained anonymous.

Amazing Grace

Nothing soothes her. Not the Adderall, nor the pain killers. She is wild and virtually psychotic. I am completely helpless; I cannot help her. To watch her is torture. So, I do the only thing that I can imagine. I begin to sing a prayer that she used to sing to me. Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound. Immediately she looks up at me, mouth agape. Her eyes attempt to focus. I keep singing: that saved a wretch like me. She begins to sing with me, “I once was lost…” I smile at her, and she at me, “but now am found, was blind but now I see.”

Monday, December 5, 2011


Mom had been on the streets by now for about 5 years. I had learned to let her be. I had learned how to go on with my life. She had made a number of choices that I had tried and failed to stand up against over and over again. I had a young son, no husband, and a demanding teaching job with at-risk youth. To keep food on the table for him, I had to keep all these things juggled and could not support my mother financially or emotionally. I could not have her blacking out and becoming violent and trying to have bedtime at 8 for my son and me.

I don’t even remember which hospitalization this particular occurrence belonged to.

I just remember that she was there, in that bed, with the sun shining on her face and hair, and the lice were crawling. They were so large and so numerous that I could see them. I could see them past her scalp line in hoards. One crawled across her forehead, then another.

I said, “Mom, I think you have lice.” Her expression was startled and disbelieving. “No!” she half asked, half declared.

It was terrifying to know that she was so completely out of touch with reality, with her own state, with her own skin and hair. This is my mother who used to tediously comb my hair when wet, use a certain brush when blow –drying it, be upset that my bangs wouldn’t “lay right” due to the wave in them, give strict limits to the sitter not to put my hair in “wings.” I never once had lice growing up. Her own hair was always gorgeous.

What I feel guilty about is what I did next. I told the nurse about her lice. Mom felt beyond awful. She could barely get to the restroom, even with help. She should have died. And yet I was concerned about the lice. I pretended to myself that it was for her – and there is some slight merit to that. But there is a great amount of truth to the fact that I couldn’t stand for my mother to have lice in her hair.

And so, in her pained state, and as she complained about later, the nurse washed her hair not once but two times. And the lice were gone.

At least in reality, they are gone. I now have an obsession. I think I see them in my hair from time to time. I live in fear that I will be unaware and out of touch. So, I am hyper vigilant.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

VFW Pool Cue Ride

VFW Pool Cue ride

“The only thing I ever really wanted to say was wrong.” – The Sundays

Christmas Eve. Podunk, East Texas, my senior year. Mom took us to visit my uncle and my cousins to whom I had once been very close.

It’s cold. The trees are bare. The dirty, old mobile home really doesn’t contain all of us and has evidences of varying addictions. Evening comes. The kids, including me, decide it will be fun to go play pool. The parents (my mom and uncle) decide they will go to the VFW while we do that. The kids drop the adults off and all agree that midnight will be pick up time; time to go home.

At the pool hall, we shoot a few, laugh, make fun of our parents, acknowledge how weird it is that we are at a pool hall on Christmas Eve. Joke about how silly it is that we are going to pick up our parents. Midnight rolls around. I am the eldest of the kids, and we have my mom’s car, so I am the designated driver.

The Veterans of Foreign War Hall is a lonely, sad, quite literally backwoods wooden building. We steer up a winding, gravel driveway to get to the practically hidden location. Opening the doors to the modest place, there is a long bar to the left. The bartender who looks about 65ish with a baseball style cap on has a withering chin under a huge mustache. The floor is worn and faded wood. The room opens into other rooms dimly lit with smokey, yellowish light. We look around and, not seeing our parents, ask the bartender whosays they are in the next room. My uncle is walking around the pool table with a cue in his hand, looking for a shot. My mother is sitting in some man’s lap that I have never seen before, and I doubt she has either.

I am shocked, embarrassed, and then incensed. I tell my mom, probably in a decently bossy and sassy tone, that it’s time to go. Beer in hand, she argues with me that she wants to stay. I know how she feels. At this point in my life, I very much like drinking, hanging out with my friends, flirting with boys, and not so much spending time with the family. There is one major difference: I am 17. She 37. Not to mention “the mom,” while I am “the child.” I raise my voice. I insist that we leave, that it’s 12:00, it’s Christmas Eve. My uncle tells me that my mom already said she didn’t want to go. I am incredulous. I think it must have been at this time that my cousins – clearly more skilled at this than I was – leave in their father’s truck parked outside. In any case, I don’t recall their presence after this point.

Through the yellow haze I take a tentative step toward my mom, reach out my hand, and insist that she come with me. My uncle reacts immediately. He raises the pool cue like it’s a bat and moves toward me quickly. A nearby man steps in between my uncle and me, holding my uncle back. My mom yells. I back up slowly, then quickly turn, and run.

This crisp air breaks across my face and jolts me. I’ll have to leave Mom there. In the dark, between the pine trees, I locate the car. Digging through my purse for the keys, I am surprised to hear Mom’s voice behind me.

“I’m coming!” She is annoyed, exasperated, as if I’d childishly interrupted a phone call to demand a Popsicle. Fine, I think. But no way is she getting behind that wheel!

“Well, I’m driving!” Though I had my obvious reasons for this, some good ole teenaged defiance and rebellion was mixed in, as well.

I don’t even remember what she said. She could be scary when she was angry, clenching her teeth and sneering. In any case, she is the one who ended up driving.

I did know enough not to get in myself, though. This, of course, angered her. And so we both set off down the sloping, winding, dirt driveway – me, on foot and mom behind the wheel.

I jogged a bit before she really took off, so I was ahead of her when I saw the headlights careening close – too close! I darted into the trees along the drive and she missed me. I am certain it was a case of drunk driving and not mal-intent, but it was terrifying.

Out of breath from running and from fear, I gaped after her as I walked along the drive. She slowed, and then stopped.

As I neared the bottom of the hill I realized I was miles from my aunt’s house where we were staying and that I knew no one else in this town. I felt I had no choice but to get in the car.

That moment defines the way I felt during this time as a whole. I tried to fight and stand up against my mother’s disease, but it was no use. I had no choice but to either be run over, left out in the cold, or to get into the car with her driving drunk.

We eventually made it to my aunt’s house, where I tried to call my father on the phone – no cell phones at this time – only wall phones. When I was dialing, my mother yanked the phone cord out of the wall. So, I could not reach my dad. I was at the mercy of her disease. So was she.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Memoir peek

I have been diligently working on a memoir about how my mother died. Here's a little piece of it:

The Veterans of Foreign War Hall is a lonely, sad, quite literally backwoods wooden building. We travel up a winding driveway to get to the practically hidden location. Opening the doors to the modest place, there is a long bar to the left, a bartender who looks about 65ish with a baseball style cap on, and a withering chin under a huge mustache. The floor is wooden but not waxed or painted. The room opens into other rooms, all dimly lit with smokey, yellowish light. We inquire about our parents and are told they are in the next room. My uncle is walking around the pool table with a cue in his hand, looking for a shot. My mother is sitting in some man’s lap that I have never seen before, and I doubt she has either.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Freelance - and other - update

I haven't written on this blog in a while because I guess I feel sort of disloyal. I began to think that maybe freelancing wasn't my gig. I have been focusing much more on a larger project that I have felt really personal and private about. So, I haven't even wanted to share that writing here.

This came about as the result of watching a documentary that featured an aspect of my life that is deeply sorrowful to me. Since that moment, almost all of my writing time has been devoted to this project (and not to freelancing). At this time, I really want only to say that it is a memoir about the death of my mother.

I also have thought and re-thought freelancing. I still want to do it. I just also have incurred some more debt - or rather realized I have more debt than I thought. So, it seems that I should keep my day job for now, so to speak, and look at freelancing more gradually.

Since I'm a teacher, I am thinking that this summer will be a great opportunity for both projects (freelancing and memoir-writing).