Bright-eyed

I’m continuing my final series of blogs inspired by Michael Swearingen‘s chapter illustrations for my Weepy Memoir trilogy. I’ve got about 2 or 3 more blogs to go before I give it a rest. This last lap around the pool uses images from the second book in the trilogy. Determined Weeds is an eulogy for my mother.

The sketch above introduces chapter nine. A sad cat has cut off their arm with an enormous butcher knife. Scribbles hang in the air above the cat’s head. The arm lays in a pool of scribbly blood.

What a picture.

I glanced through chapter nine this morning. I wanted to remind myself of what might have inspired Michael to conjure a cat hacking off its own limb.

Chapter nine is a doozy. I tell the story of selling Mom’s house after my stepfather Jim shot himself. I write about trying to manage Mom’s finances while she descended further into her addictions. Finally, Mom made it very clear that OxyContin was more important to her than me. But this story has all sorts of complications. After describing many of the awful things my mother was doing to herself and others, I wrote this paragraph at the end of the chapter:

“Still, I did not see a manipulative junkie when I looked at Mom. I saw the woman who gave me life and would have given hers for me. I saw her ornate stained glass windows and heard the childish stories she made up for me about Cato when I was a little boy. I saw my mother as a frightened and wounded child, bound by her limitations and scared of experiencing the pain that comes from being alive in an enormous, complicated universe” (p. 202).

Man. What a paragraph.

It hurt my mother to hurt herself. But that’s what she did. Over and over again. Cut off her arm to spite her shoulder. With big sad eyes, underneath a complicated sky. The end of my mother’s life was grotesque and tragic. And yet, somewhere beneath the smell of vodka and those vacant eyes, the woman from thirty years ago still existed. The young, loving mother who held me close like nobody will every hold me close again was buried beneath so much pain. I saw glimpses of her then, even as I watched her violent, often obnoxious death wail. It hurt to watch Mom hurt herself, to watch her die.

And God only knows where Mom is now. What she is. Energy can’t be created or destroyed. It can be transferred, though.

Being alive is so complicated.

***

Being alive is also hard. To quote my favorite author Kurt Vonnegut: “Life is no way to treat an animal.” All the material or social privilege and power you might accumulate, probably at the expense of others, can’t shelter you from the pain that will eventually come. Emotional, physical, spiritual, existential, etc. Over time, our energies transfer in all sorts of ways and, eventually, it hurts.

I’ve had something that might be heart palpitations over the last month. Is it stress? Is it too much caffeine? Is it another healthy dose of Sam Tanner spending too much time worrying about Sam Tanner’s corporeal form? Probably a little bit of all of these things. It hasn’t been bad enough to get me into a doctor. But I’ve cut back my caffeine. Really, a theme is developing – at 38 I’ve gotten real good at worrying about being 38. A story about somebody dying young always puts a lump in my throat. I don’t want to hear the word cancer or read a story about a car accident. Get off my feed. How’s this for a riff off the chapter illustration above – I’m ‘fraidy cat. Keep my head down and cower.

I’ve got two boys and a wife! I need to be here for them! I gotta live a long, long time, baby! A palpitating heart? A lump of fat on my back? Sound the bells. Man the towers. Protect the corporeal form against the transference of energy! There’s no way to avoid the transference of energy. And to quote a song by the recently transferred Tom Petty: “Most of the things I worry about / never happen anyway.”

Mom did what so many of the hurt people I’ve met do. She ducked. Cowered. Wine coolers turned into vodka. Vodka turned into OxyContin. Keep the world at a distance and brace for energy to transfer. Part of me thinks there’s no shame in this approach. Life is hard. Switch the king and the rook. Play defense. What else can you do?

Well, and this may sound corny, maybe you can live? Maybe you can make peace with your palpitating heart, your alcoholic mother, the cruel injustices – Hamlet called them slings and arrows – that continue to mount as we continue to make our way through this here and now. But making peace means reckoning with what is happening around us honestly, not hiding from it. Not demonizing it. I’m not going to pretend like my heart isn’t palpitating or my mother was always good to me. But I probably don’t have to revel in these things either, put those histories on other people and places and things (and ideas).

I can live as though I’m alive, not as though, and I’ll quote a Townes Van Zandt song title here, I’m waiting around to die. Something like that.

***

As I wrote in my previous blog, Samson’s innocence is astounding. He is three. Getting a new car from Target hits him like the ascension.

He got sick last week. A cough and a fever. Samson was miserable for three days. He spent an entire night coughing and then crying about coughing. And then coughing more because of his crying. Samson was so sad that he could experience so much pain. The pain made him more sad and his crying made him cough more. What a nasty cycle.

It’s a pretty human cycle, though. Cough and cry so much and forget which is causing which. Ugh.

I’m no self-help guru. And I’m weary of this blogs taking on that sort of preachy tone. Mostly, I’m writing to myself. Moving through my experiences in relation to other experiences, making sense of a complicated universe. Say what you will – writing feels like a healthier move than downing a bottle of vodka or choking on Oxycontin. Kill the pain? Revel in it?

Work with it.

Life is no way to treat an animal? Okay. I’ll live anyway. I’d rather ride the energy where it takes me. I don’t need a stiff shot. I want to be awake. Here’s an expression that my mother would use after drinking a strong cup of coffee: I’d rather be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.

Okay.

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