April 18, 2016
I am nearly 37 years old.
I dream a lot of more of my parents since Wilder’s birth. Maybe this is because they are on my mind much more than before. I dreamt a few weeks ago that I was ill in a big fluffy bed surrounded by down blankets and pillows. I was sinking uncomfortably into them, almost becoming smothered. My mother was there and I was calling out to her, but she couldn’t hear me. This dream was accompanied by sleep paralysis which is something I have experienced since a child. It was jarring and I woke sweaty and unhinged. I dreamt about my father that same night. I walked into Venezia Italian Restaurant where my father and I would always go for dinner when he was in town. He was standing at the bar talking to Mr. Tony. He was dressed finely in one of his suits, sporting his jewelry. I walked up and said, “Dadee, this must be a dream because you are dead.” He smiled, held out his glass of (cheap) tequila on the rocks and said, “Have a drink with an old friend, won’t you?” I obliged.
I have always foolishly prided myself on my ability to remain calm and somewhat aloof in tragic situations. I have always equated vulnerability with weakness. I cannot stand to show sorrowful emotions in front of people that I don’t trust. I have a hard time showing sadness in front of those whom I do trust, and in the past it would come across as anger. I have always chosen anger as my go-to emotion and it wasn’t until my pregnancy that I began to really think about this character trait. My father could be hot-headed and growing up he yelled at us as a form of correction. My mother was unstable for most of my life and she also would yell, but often threatened to “make a Christian” out of me, which is something my cousin and I chuckle about today. Both my parents were stubborn and strong-willed. They stood up for what they believed in. They demanded respect. They were imperfect. I inherited a lot of their strength and stubbornness. I always thought that crying made me weak. I didn’t cry when I found out my brother died of an overdose in my house. I yelled. I didn’t cry when I discovered my mother and two of the most influential women in my life – dead in my mother’s home. I calmly called 911 and then alerted the rest of the family. I didn’t realize just how eerily calm I was until I later heard the taped 911 call played back on the news. People talked about my strength when I delivered the eulogy for my mother without crying. Therapist and counselors were shocked when I could tell the story in full detail with little emotion. As much as I knew these things had happened to me, I felt like they had happened to someone else whenever I had to tell the story. I felt removed from the situation. When my father died I almost declined having a wake because I didn’t want to have to comfort other people. I knew I would give the eulogy without crying and then be forced to hug people who would be visibly upset. Just being that close to others’ vulnerability made me uncomfortable, because I couldn’t allow myself to feel my own.
You know what makes you face your vulnerability more efficiently than anything else? Becoming a parent. One day you wake up and you have this little creature staring up at you, and your heart bursts with love and fear. Fear you will somehow fuck up. And at some point, you surely will. By the time our son was born all my nuclear family was dead. My brother died in 1999, my mother in 2005 and my father just 9 months before Wilder’s arrival. I thought I had settled the score with the ghosts of my family. I believed I had worked through the majority of the trauma associated with my brother and mother’s deaths. I was wrong. My mother would always warn me, “Just wait until you have children of your own.” I hated that, and swore that I would never be like her. I would mentally remember all of her bad traits and if I ever did procreate I would NEVER be anything like her. Ha, fucking ha.
My mother was bi-polar and had OCD. She was obsessed with cleanliness, to the point that as children my brother and I would often get sick from things being too sterile. She would bleach her walls once a week. She mopped the floors every other day and moved the refrigerator to mop underneath it. She stripped her floors once a month with ammonia. You could eat off her toilet seats. There were no shoes allowed in the house and there were no fingerprints allowed on anything, including the refrigerator door handle. You wouldn’t even consider leaving water spots in a sink. You had to wipe it completely dry after washing your hands – for the millionth time that day. She needed everything to appear perfectly put together, so people wouldn’t know how imperfect she was. She needed control.
When I got home from the hospital after an emergency C-section, what was the first thing I did? Vacuumed the entire house – all three floors – carrying the vacuum up and down the stairs. Andy tried to stop me, as I was told not to lift anything other than our 6 pound son. I yelled at him. I told him that if I didn’t clean the house I couldn’t relax. That old apple wasn’t too far from the tree. I’ve worked hard to overcome my tendencies for unrealistic cleanliness. In the past when I would cook, I would have to plate all the food and then do all the dishes that were made preparing it before I could sit down to eat. These days I often go to bed with an empty cup or plate in the sink. Baby steps.
I have spent a lot of time analyzing my behavioral traits, and trying my hardest not to carry on the negative traits that I subconsciously learned from my parents. It has been a long time joke for people to tell women that one day they will become their mother. Anyone who tells me this is met with a stoic, “What, a murderer?” That usually changes the subject. But there are times when my reaction to something comes out so quickly that I am taken aback of by how much of her resides in me. Sometimes down to the very same words. It’s powerful and frightening.
I am also completely overcome with empathy for my mother now that I am a parent. She was never a malicious or evil person, although the final act of her life was for some rightly unforgivable. She was a human, with many flaws and insecurities. She was unfortunately set up for failure. She grew up in a Catholic home with an alcoholic father and a nervous mother. She was a lesbian, back before it was acceptable or “cool” but when the DSM considered homosexuality to be a mental disorder. She was afraid of being stigmatized and was never comfortable in her own skin. She didn’t have the tools that I have, or the social acceptance of depression and anxiety that we have today. She was constantly putting on heirs to such an extent that she never really made many true friends, and none that she could really count on. She was lonely and sad a lot. I remember as a child her lying on the floor in the living room listening to Whitney Houston by candlelight and sadly saying to me, “Please make sure there are a lot of candles at my funeral.”
Her unwillingness for honesty made her unreachable for me. I have an inherent disgust for people who lie to me because of this. We had a very strained relationship. Aesthetics were paramount for her. If things could be perceived as perfect to outsiders then she was safe. I was always too fat or too thin. I was never classy enough and my intelligence threatened her. She would brag about me behind my back, but rarely would she ever tell me that she was proud of me. When my brother Davin died, a huge part of her did too. She told a person at the funeral, within my earshot, that she wished it had been me. She was so distraught that she lashed out. She couldn’t be vulnerable either, so she got angry. She couldn’t see that she was destroying everything around her with her anger – she felt she was in control of at least one thing. I think her unrealistic need for control is what finally drove her to murder.
As difficult as she was as a mother, I was an equally difficult child. I was in my mid-twenties when she died. The pinnacle of when I knew everything. I am grateful that my mother taught me how to be a strong woman. She was the one of the first female roustabouts to work offshore, which is awesome considering she had also worked as a playboy bunny at the Playboy Club in the quarter. She was a petit, beautiful, hell-fire of a woman. She had a compassionate heart and was known as “mom” by hundreds of people when she died, due to her final job as a house mom at a few of the most successful gentleman’s clubs on Bourbon Street. She is still remembered fondly, which is simultaneously comforting and heartbreaking. It has taken me years to admit this, but I really do miss her.
I know something inside of me has changed. Now if I talk honestly about my mother to people that I love, I will cry. If I try to talk about my love for my father, I will become a blubbering heap of tears and snot. My relationship with him was so special that it requires thought and time to put into words. He was by no means perfect, but he was my hero. I struggle with my sadness in knowing Wilder will never know my family first-hand. I see so much of my brother in Wilder’s expressions that it is bittersweet. I lament the fact that I can’t ring any of them up to brag about how sweet, intelligent and amazing our son is. I wonder how much I was like him as a child. I guess I’ll never know. I hope I can remember all the good stuff so I can share it with him one day. I hope he will want to know.
Sometimes I find myself overcome with emotion. I’ll be playing racquetball at the gym and a sad song will come on my Pandora station and I’ll just cry. Sometimes people will see me, and honestly I don’t give a fuck. I am currently going through a bout of heart break and my dear friend Jackson said “Pain multiplied by resistance equals suffering.” She told me to simply BE with that pain and let it resonate with me, to essentially be vulnerable to it. So much grief is pouring out of me. I believe this relationship that ended allowed me to finally begin to feel and heal from some of the PTSD that I’ve been harboring for years. This shit isn’t easy, but I’m losing this pain by drops, one tear at a time.