Mama Mia

I have a strange relationship with my mother, in that I hardly have a relationship with her at all. I wasn’t a planned child, nor was I the product of her marriage. She loved me to death and loves me still, but she was never able to really care for me.

I went to my grandparents to live full-time when I was five. My dad was crashing on their couch, my step-dad was erratic in his temperament and verbally and sometimes physically abusive to my mother, and my mom was an addict. Pot, of course, but that was never really an issue, although I recall her asking me if I wanted to try it when I was 13 or 14. She liked liquor sometimes too, but that was never really her vice. Crack cocaine, though…

I have never held a grudge against my mother for not being there. She had the presence of mind to give me to my grandparents when she knew she couldn’t care for me, and I know she tried to beat her addiction. It was heartbreaking growing up and getting a call every three months to let me know she was clean for a couple weeks. Like clockwork. I didn’t care that she would sometimes ask me for cab fare at my birthday parties when I was a kid. I didn’t care that she was an exotic dancer until my junior year of high school. She needed money and I just wanted my mom to be okay.

She has been in and out of rehab most of my life. She was in jail a little bit. It stopped being surprising early on and just became one of those things I would get a reprise of in a matter of time. My siblings and I visited her at a clinic on Christmas a few years back. It was different, but not unpleasant.

It’s frustrating, though, sometimes. My mom has all these dreams and goals. She wants to learn American Sign Language and help the deaf. She wants to (and for a while, did) help the infirm. She has tremendous artistic ability. She has a lot of love in her. So much love.

I hate that we’re not closer. She was the first person, when I was 15, that I told I lost my virginity. A month after that, she told me I was adopted on my father’s side. I could hear the guilt in her voice. She cried over the phone and I didn’t console her because I was floored, but I remember assuring her I loved her and thanking her for telling me before hanging up so I could flee my house. Somewhat funnier, I remember when I stepped on a balloon at my brother’s birthday party and the POP it made caused the Hell’s Angels present to flip out on me. My mom had no fear and got in the faces of every one, telling them to back the fuck off and shut the fuck up.

She wants to know everything about my life because she’s been so far out of it. Her eyes light up when she sees my siblings and me and she’s always smiling. I could be penniless, homeless, friendless and she would tell me how handsome and strong I am and how proud she is and how much she loves me.

It’s overwhelming. I don’t like answering questions about everything. I feel smothered with love and I get anxious about how excited or active she gets about everything. She’s a very sensitive, emotional woman and I can only handle so much time on the phone with her, and I know she knows when I’m being short. I know she’s disappointed but she does her best not to let me hear it.

She’s the kind of woman who bought me stuffed frog toys for 10 years because as a kid, I rescued a frog one time. Frogs are cool, but I’ve always been partial to wolves and tigers. Two years ago, on my birthday, I drove her from my godfather’s funeral to her halfway house. She gave me a stuffed dog. I took that dog out to the fucking bar that night and used it to talk shit to drunk assholes.

I remember, very faintly, her holding me to her chest when I was young and singing me a lullaby. I don’t remember the words. I don’t remember the rhythm, even. But I remember feeling safe.

I love my mom, but she has been a disappointment. She has lied and broken promises and missed birthdays and been absent. And I know she has struggled and is struggling, but it has been a knee-jerk reaction to stay as distant as possible because I don’t want to be hurt, and I don’t want to see her hurt, and it breaks my heart to see her still so full of dreams of the future and knowing those dreams probably won’t come true.

So. My mom called me today and told me she was going into detox again soon. This one did surprise me. She had been doing very well lately, but if she needs the help, then I’m glad she has presence of mind to get it. She said she was going to get me something. I was expecting another stuffed animal or something similar.

She came in while I was working with a customer, handed me a bag and left. She texted me later. “Sorry hope u like it love mom”.


For reference, this is my right forearm:


I write. I write poems and short stories and novels. I love doing it, this creating and sharing stories thing. I got the tattoo as a symbolic gesture. An iconic writing instrument along my writing arm, an embodiment of the storyteller lifestyle. It means a lot to me, so I’m glad I have that visual representation permanently emblazoned on my body, even if some people think it’s ridiculous and even if dozens of drunk women tell me my “feather is pretty”.

I wasn’t expecting such an attentive gift from my mom. I was speechless. It still seems a little unreal. I realized I’m kind of a shitty son, then. So. Guess I’ll have to try and be better going forward.