Not having my mother breaks my heart every single day.

I went days without thinking about my mother when she was alive. It was easier that way. If I thought about her, I had to think about the time that was passing. If I considered trying to rebuild a relationship with her, while I still could, I had to think realistically about how that would look. At first, she’d be thrilled. Then she’d be clingy. Then she’d be pushy. Then she’d be hostile. I had to consider how that would impact my life. If she started showing up at my work again, how would that effect my career? If she showed up at my home, how would that influence my marriage and eventually my children? If she could have a relationship with me, what would she demand of my relationship with my grandmother, my father, my step-mother? It was easier not to think about her… about who she once was… about who she’d become… and most of all, who she could have been. If I didn’t think about her, I could hold onto the idea that there would always be time to fix things… somehow.

My mother died a year ago on May 10th. After six years of not thinking about her, I don’t think there’s been a day that’s passed that I haven’t grieved her loss. I try to focus on the good memories, but after all this time, they’re just so tangled up with the far more plentiful bad ones that I can’t separate them. I know my mother loved me. She just wasn’t very good at it. I wish I could remember more about the former than the latter.

The other night, I dreamt that I traveled through time and got the chance to speak to my mom at some vague point in my life when she was mentally well. I told her that I missed her, that I missed what we were supposed to have together. When she asked me why, I told her she had died at 60 and that we hadn’t spoken in four years when she passed. It broke her heart, just as it breaks mine every day. I told her that I loved her and that I knew she loved me, but that she wasn’t mentally well, that she hurt me, so we couldn’t be together. I apologized for being so mean to her as a teenager and told her that it was okay that she wasn’t perfect, that I knew she tried. I cried and hugged her and she cried with me. I tried to hold on as the dream faded, begged her to get the help she needed, to fix things. I’ve never been so heartbroken to wake up.

My mother broke my heart a hundred times when she was alive. She broke my heart when my dad left and she pulled me out of bed in the middle of the night to bury a statue of Saint Thomas Moore in the flowerbed and pray for him to come back, while I stood there freezing in my nightgown every night for a week. She broke my heart the time she chased my brother and I through the house beating us with a belt buckle… when she stood slapping me in the face over and over again until I took on what she considered a respectful tone…when she dragged me across the house by my hair and nearly broke all of my toes. She broke my heart when she kept me from my dad with lies about child molestation… when she hit me in the face with a stepladder… when she found out I was cutting myself and used it as leverage to threaten me with institutionalization… when she dosed me with 250 daily milligrams of Wellbutrin to make me more manageable. She broke my heart the countless times she chose my dad over me, my brother over me, and most of all, when she left me my senior year, to go live with a man she met online.

My mother wasn’t a good mother. I know that. I also know that, at one time, that’s what she wanted to be more than anything in the world. She wanted a daughter so badly and I am just so fucking sorry that I couldn’t give that to her. She abused me, mentally and physically, from the time I was eight years old. What would another few years have really meant in the grand scheme of things? Why couldn’t I have just accepted her relentless drama, paranoia, hypochondria, and hostility just to make her happy? No one ever made me her happy. I don’t know if she was ever truly happy in her life. It would have made her happy though, if I’d responded to her last text message, six months before she died, asking to get lunch. I considered it, but we were in the worst of the pandemic and I was just wrapping up a round of IVF. I couldn’t risk exposure. I also knew she’d only bring stress and chaos into my life. It would have made her so happy to know that I was having twins, though. I wish I’d told her.

I don’t find motherhood difficult, despite what all the mommy blogs warned me to expect. It’s heartbreaking, however, not to have my own mother here. My Gramma is a wonderful figure in my life, in many ways the woman my mother never could be for me, but she’ll also be 88 soon. I know that the time I have to call her and share stories of Scarlett trying to climb the dog and Violet chewing on Jake’s Crocs is limited. I know that one day soon, she’ll be gone too and I’ll have no one, in that sense. My mother should be here. We should be having the standard mother/daughter fights she had with my Gramma when I was little, about buying my kids too much stuff or giving them too much candy. She should be accompanying us on zoo trips, watching the girls ooh and ahh over the fish. She should have 20 years of shopping trips with us to look forward to… but it’s just me, doing all these things alone, because my Gramma has grown too old.

I’ve always wanted a healthy mother/daughter relationship, even if that meant being on the other side. It’s okay that I’ll only ever have that with my girls. I am so grateful to have even that much after all it took to get them. Every single day, though, I look at the picture of my mother and me on my first birthday. I look like the perfect combination of Violet and Scarlett. I think about what they would say to me now, if they could travel back in time, what kind of mother I’ll be to them and how it compares to my own aspirations. I think about the relationship my mother wanted to have with me and how sour it turned. Every day, it breaks my heart all over again… for me and for her. I am so sorry this is how it all turned out and I will never forgive myself for not trying harder.

Hey, Jude

2021 has not been a difficult year, comparatively, for Jake and me. In just the first two months, we’ve received a few financial windfalls, bought a new car (with far less friction than The Great Car Fight of 2019), and have both received our first Covid-19 vaccinations. We can have lives again, y’all!

Now that I’ve given credit where credit it is due, I can share how, just eight days into the new year, I experienced one devastatingly unavoidable tragedy. I had to say goodbye to what was once the only boy I’d ever need: my thirteen-year-old beagle, Jude.

I got Jude on Christmas Eve of 2007, just months after my ex burned down my house and killed all of my pets. I was 20 and Jude was six weeks old. At the time, I had a yard and high hopes that my life was headed in a stable direction.

Of course, that’s not how it all panned out. The next few years held seven more moves (because that’s what happens when your ex lies about paying the rent), a miscarriage, the death of a child, literally countless bottles of Everclear, my graduation from college to an empty job market, entry into graduate school, and ultimately a divorce during my first semester, (between jobs substitute teaching and cleaning rec equipment at a community center for minimum wage). These were not good years and, as I’ve written in detail, Jude was not unaffected. My ex was psychotic and abusive and, with me at school and work during his refusal to attend either, my poor Jude bore the brunt of his cruelty.

When Jude and I emerged from the rubble that was my early twenties, we were both worse for the wear. I’ve shared my own trauma, but Jude showed all the signs of a dog abused. Despite my busy schedule not really changing, he developed horrible separation anxiety. I’d leave in the morning and he’d howl at the window as I drove away. When I came home, he’d still be in the same spot, waiting for me. I hope he didn’t spend all day staring, but instead recognized the sound of my car, but I guess I’ll never know. As I’ve admitted in the post linked above, I had no business getting a dog at the time in my life I got Jude… but there we were and rehoming him would have been equally cruel, if not more so.

For years, Jude was petrified of men. I’d invite my guy friends over to my apartment and find myself forced to crate the normally sweet and docile beagle, for fear his aggressive barking would turn to biting. My time was limited, working two jobs and going to graduate school, but I ended every night with Jude by my side, often into the wee hours of the morning, as I did my homework. He slept in my bedroom, preferring the blankets on the floor to my incredibly uncomfortable $300 twenty-somethings mattress, but I called him up every morning to snuggle, before I went to work. I took him on late night car rides and fed him people food, to his detriment, surely. He played in my Gramma’s yard whenever we had the time and camped out in the bathtub with me during tornado scares. I used to say that I wish I trusted anyone as much as that dog trusted me. He even let me bathe him, despite the terror of bath time ingrained by my ex, as long as I sang him through it.

When I met Jake, I took Jude for weekend visits to Wellston, where he’d curl up on Jake’s work coveralls, finally trusting a man, too. He was the ultimate vetting tool as he grew to love Jake as much as I do. Jake, having the typically rigid view of pet rearing that comes from a cattle rancher, showed gentleness and care to Jude and all of his little abused puppy issues, from his food insecurity to his disdain for having his nails clipped. I regret not having more time with my boy when we were both younger, but more often than not, he was the focus of the time I did have. As much as I wish he’d had a better life, it comforts me to know that Jude was so central to mine, that I could literally tell the story of my adulthood trough pictures of him, alone.

There was/were the study sessions and craft marathons…

… the consoling after bad dates…

… the times we got snowed in and someone even got a fancy hand-crocheted sweater…

… the single girl holidays…

… the summers when I worked only twenty hours and simply didn’t know what to do with the rest of my time…

… hangout sessions at Gramma’s house…

… late night drives and exercise…

… the literal moment I got the phone call promoting me to full time librarian…

… obtaining the financial stability to buy the occasional frivolities…

… finally meeting a man worth loving…

… getting a new buddy…

… major life changes with a big move and a wedding…

… more new buddies…

… and finally owning a home, with a great big yard.

Up until his very last day, Jude was by my side, as our lives got progressively better, supporting me through it all. He may not have been the only boy I’ll ever need anymore, but he was my best friend for so very long. After coming home one Friday night to realize that he could no longer move the back half of his body or uncurl his front foot, my rational brain took over. I’d promised us both that I’d never let him linger for the sake of my own feelings, so I called the 24 hour vet, wrapped him in a towel and silently cried as Jake drove us to the city. I fed my boy one last cheeseburger, grateful he could still eat and stayed by his side, tossing the mask so he knew it was me, petting and kissing on him, as he closed his eyes for the last time. I woke the next morning, devastated that I’d had to make the decision to say goodbye, agonizing over whether I’d called it too soon, so grateful to have a husband who would bury him while I slept, as I’d asked. I cried on and off for a week, knowing that despite my love for the others, I’d never love another animal as I did my Jude.

A Pandemic Blogiversary and Birthday

Eight years ago today, on my 25th birthday, I started this blog. Since then, I don’t think I’ve ever taken a five month hiatus… but there also weren’t any global pandemics in that time. As much as I’ve enjoyed chronicling my day to day and making self-deprecating jokes, as much as I love viewing snapshots in time of my life and my person, I just… haven’t been able to bring myself to share these last few months, because 2020 is kicking my ass.

For nearly 10 years, this blog has predominantly been a positive form of self-expression. Sure, I’ve shared tales of frustration with bad dates or disappointment over friendship breakups or work woes and stress, but never have I experienced a full year of devastation… at least not since that 25th birthday.

Jake and I are okay. If anything, this wretched year has made our marriage stronger. I know it’s made me love him more. As for the reverse, well, if I didn’t really know why he liked me before, I definitely don’t now, because I’m a complete and utter mess. We’re both still employed in our fields. He’s actually looking at a promotion. Our pandemic suffering has not been a career crisis, but I can’t bring myself to share all of the horrible details as they unfold, because I don’t want to look back on my worst year since 2010.

I’ve been making annual photo albums, through Mixbook, for years. I started with 2010 and began working my way to present day in 2013. I’ve always been a record keeper, even in my teens, when I carried a film camera to school every day, until I upgraded to digital. I eventually scanned every one of those photos into an album and had it printed, as well. My Mixbooks are one of the first things I’d grab under a tornado warning and I can barely bring myself to compile 2020’s. It’s a good thing I’ve forced myself, regardless, because I guarantee that I’ll have no desire to look back and create it later… something I genuinely enjoy and which makes me feel immensely grateful for my life and all the blessings in it.

So, today, on my 33rd birthday, I’m updating you. Where have I been? I’ve been at home… almost exclusively. I’ve been at the library, where there are almost no customers. I’ve been wiping down tables in gloves and a mask and goggles. I’ve been spending days in bed, because I can’t bring myself to get out of it, sometimes watching Netflix and sometimes doing nothing. I’ve been missing my family and friends and normalcy. I’ve been crying… a lot. There’s of course more to all of this and I will share in time, but the pandemic has hit me hard… and that’s not a snapshot I’ll want to view in five years.

This blog has long been my pride and joy. I’ll try to post more, perhaps sharing my thoughts on the 25 classics I’ve vowed to read this year or who would make a better president than our current terrible options. I am not gone… just coping. Thank you for sticking with me. Check on your friends.

Library school didn’t prepare me for losing a teen.

Everyone hates teenagers. We all know that, I more than most, as their champion and advocate. They’re mouthy and hormonal and loud and mischievous… and that’s all most people see. Unlike the villainous dislike of children, everyone’s allowed to voice their disdain for teens… and they do, usually within earshot of their subjects.

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Adults don’t care about teens’ confusion and widespread abandonment issues, the extreme self-consciousness caused by the live streaming of their very existence, from their friends and parents and enemies. They don’t care that they’re coming into their sexuality in a minefield of consent and its constantly changing definitions, that their most private texts and photos are often traded among their peers like collectible playing cards, that they’re expected to trade them, themselves. No… most people just assume that if they could overcome their adolescence X years ago, then so can today’s teenagers.

Last night, I learned that one of my daily library kids didn’t overcome his teenage years. I don’t know the circumstances of his arrest, his guilt or his innocence… but I knew him and I liked him. I hadn’t seen him since a program in January. I was beginning to worry, but I was looking forward to having him as one of my teen volunteers this summer. I knew he was looking forward to it, too, since he was the first to register… but I won’t see him this summer. I won’t see him ever again, because he died this week. He was alone and scared and thought he had no future… a self-fulfilling prophecy, because he was discovered hanging from a light fixture in a county jail cell… and that’s all anyone will remember. They’ll whisper about rape charges and suicide and they won’t question why or how it could have been prevented. They’ll only condemn… and my heart is breaking, because I couldn’t help him. I wasn’t that person, wasn’t in a position to do so, but I wish I could have helped him navigate whatever it was to which he was lost. Could I have been clearer, that time on the patio, when I talked to him about the rumors the girls were spreading and the behavior that might lead to them… about respect and consent? Could I have been clearer with the girls about the consequences of such accusations, when upon further investigation, I realized their terms weren’t entirely fair or accurate? I tried, within all my power and professional boundaries, to explain it as thoroughly as I could, without accusation or dismissal… and one of them is still dead.

I wish I could help my teens more, without crossing a line. I wish we were all more invested in protecting them, providing them with the love and care we were so intent on giving them just five years earlier. I wish we were more comfortable and transparent in guiding them through their social and sexual interactions. Mostly, I wish a sixteen-year-old boy hadn’t killed himself in a county jail last week… that whatever landed him there hadn’t happened… that he had a chance to make better decisions and figure out who he could be… that I had any idea how to process this.

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Losing an Unwanted Child

Eight years ago this week, I found out I was pregnant. I know, because it was my brother’s birthday, and also because I’m the guy from Rain Man and can remember exactly what I was wearing the first time I saw Jurassic Park, when I was five.

Miscarriage is a common topic for bloggers. Women everywhere grieve through writing, discussing their struggles with infertility, their fears that they’ll never have a child, and perhaps even previous losses. When we know them personally, we weep for these women and pray for them, as we should. We tread lightly and try not to look their way when someone else announces their own pregnancy. Hopefully, we celebrate with them when they refer to their first live birth as a “rainbow baby.” It’s really quite beautiful to see how kind and loving people are to a woman who loses a wanted child.

At 21 years old, married to a lazy sociopath, one year from my college graduation, which I intended to follow with grad school, I did not want my baby. I hadn’t figured out how to take care of myself, yet. I couldn’t imagine another human being relying on me, particularly when I could expect no help from my ex-husband, who I suspected was lying about his employment, again. I was heartbroken that another thing hadn’t gone as planned in what was a pretty wretched existence, at the time. I prayed. I did not pray for the strength to be a good mother. I did not pray for my ex-husband to shape up, as those requests had previously seemed to fall on deaf ears. No. I prayed for God to take it back… to make me not pregnant.

I was supposed to hear my baby’s heartbeat on my 22nd birthday. My first trimester was coming to a close and I needed to pull up my big girl panties and get happy, because there was going to be a baby. I cleaned out a room. I began to look forward to the ultrasound. I tore the tags from the clothes I bought and registered at Baby’s R Us. I tried. In spite of all this, on the first day of my senior year of college, at eleven weeks and one day, my prayers were answered. I started to bleed.

No one ever talks about what actually happens during a miscarriage. I never gave it much thought, myself. I had always just vaguely understood it to mean a woman went to the doctor and wasn’t pregnant anymore. Being on state insurance and having visited the worst emergency room ever, no one told me what to expect. The pain, the amount of bleeding, the baby coming out in the toilet… I had no warning. No amount of prayers reversed the course of the one that was being answered. I had no one with me as I lay on a beach towel and my body ripped apart my child… just as I had requested.

When you lose an unwanted baby, there are no flowers. There are no tears, at least not from anyone else. People still have good hearts, but they’re… well, they’re glad for you. Perhaps they wouldn’t word it that way, but you can hear it in their sighs of relief, in their condolences. Your life is back on course, just a little bumpy, and you’ll get through this… certainly more easily than you’d have gotten through that unplanned pregnancy. Despite any pro-life convictions, they even speak of the baby in less significant terms, as if you weren’t really pregnant. There’s a lot of emphasis on how “sometimes this happens” and “chromosomal abnormalities,” things they would never say about a planned pregnancy. Now, I know each scenario is different, but I promise there is no woman on Earth who wants to hear that the baby she just flushed was probably defective or that it’s “for the best.” In general, it’s a safe assumption that, regardless of the circumstances, you should just keep your fist bump to yourself.

When a woman loses a wanted child, she feels guilt and even betrayal from her body. She feels as though God is punishing her. Years later, when she’s melancholy after looking at an ultrasound photo of equal gestation to her own pregnancy, people mourn with her. For me… well, I quite literally asked for it. I should feel guilt. I should be punished. I should feel heartache when I look at the same photo. I didn’t want the baby and God reclaimed that blessing.

My reasons for asking God to take my child back, have only been validated over the last eight years. My ex-husband is still psychotic and neither I, nor a helpless child, have any ties to him. I had only just gotten to a point where I could afford to take care of myself before my wedding. Despite two incomes, I don’t feel we could fund a baby, even now. Although I married a wonderful man, we have financial and career goals. Personally, I’m still a couple of years away from being in a place where I can properly prioritize the needs and wants of another little life with mine and be a truly good mother. No one talks about what it means to lose an unwanted child, to feel grief and relief simultaneously, even years later. That doesn’t mean that I don’t still weep over tiny overalls as I thank God for the way things turned out… just that I do it confused and alone, as I deserve.