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Alcoholism, Grief, Guest Posts, motherhood

Remnants Of A Mother

April 27, 2015

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By Janine Canty

When he was brand new  and still fell asleep to the sound of my heartbeat, he had this quilt. It was red and black and green. It had cows on it. It had been hand stitched by a librarian from Texas. He lost his umbilical cord stump on it. It bunched up under his dimpled knees while he learned to crawl. He peed on it and cried into it. Threw up strained bananas on it. I laundered it daily with Dreft in a stainless steel sink. He spilled chocolate milk on it and dragged it through the mud. The way little boys do. He laid on top of it when he had mono. He left fever sweat across a cows face. He kept a corner of it pressed against  his cheek while he watched “Toy Story” and listened to his father slam me into a kitchen wall. I rescued it from the dogs mouth. I wrapped his sturdy little body in it when he ran through the house in nothing but his Scooby Doo underwear. I tucked it around his restless toddler feet at 1 am.

He loved that quilt into pieces while the world around him exploded with noise and cracked plaster.  I packed the pieces away  carefully just after his 5th birthday. They still smelled slightly like his hair and my Charlie perfume. He was our final baby. My last belief in something good. Conceived in a Pepto-Bismol pink bedroom, during a “cops” rerun. Summer rain hitting the windowsill. The dude next door whistling for his rottweiler. Chicken thawing on a kitchen counter. Sometime right before his 7th birthday, he found the pieces of that quilt in the bottom of a drawer. He was having nightmares with only his 14 year old sister to come in the middle of the night to comfort him. She poured his cereal. She washed his clothes. She did everything she could do. Everything in her tiny teenage power, while she sneaked smokes out a  laundry room  window before school. He loved her desperately. Clung to her like heated saran wrap. She didn’t smell like me. Sound like me. She wasn’t his version of a mother. She was what was left. Till he pulled remnants of a mother out of that drawer. Smelling his infant self. My perfume. Our moments together. Story and bath time. Chocolate and canned green beans. His tears and my warm skin. All of it woven into those worn pieces of cloth. He pulled those pieces out of the drawer. Began carrying them around with him. Falling asleep with them. While 40 minutes away I woke up screaming his name. My arms and heart useless entities. Broken, empty, ugly things. He carried the pieces around until they wore away to strings. He carried his dream of a mother until his father came across them. Screaming hot spittle and rage into his face. Calling him a faggot. Breaking his final belief in something good.

***

I signed him away with shaking cold hands and a leaky blue pen. The legal aid lawyer with  the big boobs and popping buttons tried to talk me out of it. “You can have him”, She kept saying, like he was a trinket, a toy. “I don’t want him,” I replied in my court dress and tight pantyhose. “Not if getting him means destroying him.”

I took my frozen-self back out into a different world. The one where I wasn’t a Mom on a daily basis. Living in those early days didn’t mean feeling the sun on my face, or laughing in the shower.  It meant combing my hair and eating food I didn’t want. Standing in line at Wal-Mart and smiling at someone else’s child. Walking to work when all I wanted to do was lay in the dark. With five comforters piled on me.  Sweating and screaming. The kind of screaming that rips the throat and rattles the teeth. I wanted an oblivion. A blank space I could fill with the smells and sounds and feel of my children.  A place where I could be their mother. A place where they never had to see my bruises.  They say grief’s color is blue. This grief wasn’t blue. Blue is calm. This grief was a bright red. Loud and in my face. It was an endless thing with jagged edges. Blood and glass. Coating my soul like cotton candy.

I’m a good mother. I’m a good person. I didn’t deserve this. They didn’t deserve this. I didn’t cause this. The counselor told me to repeat it until I believed it. She said I could even say it in my head. But I said it out loud. I said it until my tongue was numb with it. Until the words didn’t feel like hostile strangers on a Boston subway. Until I could smile at other people’s children and mean it. I repeated the words when I woke up at 4:01 am with my nightgown twisted and stuck to my back with sweat. When I had to turn on every light in the house to chase away the jagged edges of grief.  It takes a lot of work to undo a lie you’ve been sold marinated in cruelty.  A lot of patience to love yourself, when you’re all you have left.

***

They found him this morning. Curled up in his leather jacket. On the cold ground. Beside the swimming pool in the back yard. Next to a pile of brown melting snow. A scowl on his beautiful face. An eight dollar bottle of whiskey clutched to his chest. Next to his scars. Where a surgeon cut into him. Breaking his ribs to insert a metal rod. Trying to protect his heart. The one that had already been broken.

They found him this morning. In a pretty suburban backyard. Three hundred feet from where his father and I began. On a suburban dead end street. Where the bay windows shine and the white curtains from Macy’s hide the unsavory stains. Where the horrible and unspeakable things are things that happen to someone else’s family.

They found him this morning. My little boy. My baby. My final belief in something good. In the fetal position with that damn whiskey. Vomit in the thick hair he inherited from me. Still drunk at 9:46 am on Easter morning.

He was slapped into consciousness  over a plateful of stale cinnamon rolls. His father poured  the last of the whiskey down a bathroom drain and felt like a hero.

He’s going to be 21 on Saturday. Old enough to legally drink himself to death. To ruin his beautiful body and puke away his potential with a little help from Jack Daniel’s.

One older brother dying a slow, dirty death, from pancreatitis. The other believing he can fly. He can be something better. Something prettier, with the help of a little ecstasy and a 21 year old hooker he meets at a Comfort Inn. A sister with a baby of her own and an unemployed husband old enough to be the father she still craves. A mother who still wakes up screaming his name, all their names, on the bad nights. All of us as broken, as worn, as those pieces of my youngest sons quilt. His remnants of a mother.
Janine Canty is a self proclaimed word geek. She has been writing on and off for 39 years. Her work has previously appeared at Sweatpants and Coffee as well as The Manifest Station. She is a semi regular contributor to The Weeklings. She lives in Northern Maine, where she unmasks the world, one essay at a time. She can be found on Facebook. She attended Jen Pastiloff & Emily Rapp’s writing/yoga retreat in Vermont.

Join Jen and Emily Rapp at a writing and the body retreat in Stowe, Vermont Oct 2015. This will be their 3rd one together in Stowe. Click the photo to book.

Join Jen and Emily Rapp at a writing and the body retreat in Stowe, Vermont Oct 2015. This will be their 3rd one together in Stowe. Click the photo to book.

Jen Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Join her in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat. Click the Tuscan hills above. No yoga experience required. Only requirement: Just be a human being. Yoga + Writing + Connection. We go deep. Bring an open heart and a sense of humor- that's it! Summer or Fall 2015. It is LIFE CHANGING!

Jen Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Join her in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat. Click the Tuscan hills above. No yoga experience required. Only requirement: Just be a human being. Yoga + Writing + Connection. We go deep. Bring an open heart and a sense of humor- that’s it! Summer or Fall 2015. It is LIFE CHANGING!

Guest Posts, Sex, Sexuality, Truth

Wild: A Non Cautionary Tale of One Crazy Summer.

January 26, 2015

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By Kathleen Emmets.

I firmly believe everyone should have a period in their life where they can look back and say, “Damn, I was wild.” A reckless, free experience they can call upon during their most mundane moments. When life is filled with mortgage payments, sick babies and arguments over who’s turn it is to empty the dishwasher, you can stop and remember a time when you gave zero fucks and ran wild with desire.

Mine was one summer in a dive bar in Brooklyn.

I was 17 years old and already looking for a way out. Out of my house, my life, my own head. As a child, there was an emptiness inside me that I could never quite fill. A void I can’t remember ever living without. I never truly felt like I belonged anywhere, so I tried to fit in everywhere.

I wasn’t driven enough for the nerds, not cool enough for the ‘Mean Girls.’ I’ve always had a wicked sense of humor, which probably saved me from being a complete social pariah, but school was tough for me. Deep insecurities would rear their ugly heads and I would find myself locked behind a bathroom stall in a state of panic, swearing no one liked me because I was such a loser. I couldn’t wait to graduate and move on to something else; to what, I had no idea. I just knew I wanted out.

One night in my senior year, my older brother invited me to a birthday party at a bar in our old neighborhood. It was for a close friend of his, a kid my parents knew very well so they didn’t have a problem letting me go. What could possibly happen, right? So off I went with a $20 bill my dad have given me to a bar I’d heard about for years. I have to add this was pre-gentrification Brooklyn; when what is now referred to as Kensington was called Flatbush and it was pretty sketchy. Not an area you’d walk around in at night. And this bar, well, if you didn’t know it was there…you’d never know it was there. The front entrance faced the train tracks, the back door led to an oft-deserted street. It had stools, a dartboard and the most amazing jukebox I’d ever heard. I’ve been to many bars since and still have not found a better one. It was dark. It was dingy. And it was perfect: the kind of place where a lost 17-year-old girl could raise some hell and find some trouble.

My brother and his gang of friends were regulars there, and I tagged along whenever he would let me. Soon enough, I didn’t need him to bring me anymore because I became friendly with one of the owners. Seventeen-year-old girls don’t realize bar owners are ‘friendly’ with all the pretty jailbait. I’d find this out much later. The first time I went there without my brother, I brought a friend. The owner asked what we were drinking. I probably said something lame like a Sea breeze. He, ignoring my order, proceeded to pour out shots for us. “They taste like bubblegum,” he said. They did, so we had two more. Then two more. We started talking to two guys I had met there a few times before. We ordered more drinks. My head was spinning. The night ended with us getting sick in the bathroom and grabbing a cab from a (thankfully) very trustworthy driver. I woke up the next morning with a hangover that could have killed a horse and a smile that lasted several days. I decided then and there that drinking was fun and something I wanted to do more of. Ahhh youth.

Join Jen Pastiloff, the founder of The Manifest-Station, in The Berkshires of Western Massachusetts in Feb of 2015 for a weekend on being human. It involves writing and some yoga. In a word: it's magical.

Join Jen Pastiloff, the founder of The Manifest-Station, in The Berkshires of Western Massachusetts in Feb of 2015 for a weekend on being human. It involves writing and some yoga. In a word: it’s magical.

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Forgiveness, Guest Posts, healing

The Only Marriage Advice I Will Ever Give.

November 14, 2013

The Only Marriage Advice I Will Ever Give

By Julie Tijerina

Poster by Simplereminders.com

Poster by Simplereminders.com

When I was 13 years old, my father nearly punched me in the face.

He and my uncle were playing cards with my mother and aunt upstairs in the game room.  A green vinyl-topped card table had been erected to accommodate the game at the end of the pool table that filled the whole rest of the room.  Everyone was around the table, the adults, me and my kid sister because that room was the only one in the house with air conditioning.  I don’t really remember, but I’m sure it was a Fourth of July weekend, because that’s when my extended family would come down from Kansas to drink and blow up fireworks in the heat of the Texas summer.  We lived out in the country, so we weren’t breaking any laws to light fireworks and it became an annual stay-cation to invite the family and make a long weekend of the holiday.

The window unit circulated the cigarette smoke around the room.  It was smokier than any bar I’d ever visit as an adult. I lifted myself up to leave.  My drunken father pushed me back in my chair, laughing Jack and Coke in my face.  Again, I made a move to get up. Again, pushed back in my seat.  The third time, I expected the hand at my chest, so as he went to push me back into my chair, I swung hard at his forearm, knocking his arm back toward him and darted out the door, slamming it behind me.  I knew he was right behind me, so I ran as quickly as I could down the stairs, but he caught me as I was clearing the last piece of furniture in the living room, the sofa.

My dad’s left hand had me by the front of the shirt, his right raised with a closed fist. He had me backed over the arm of the sofa and I couldn’t have been any more trapped.  I turned my head as far to the right as I could, squeezing my eyes shut against what I knew was coming. My face would have been shattered if my mother hadn’t been hot on his heels down the stairs and was hanging onto his raised bicep with all of her body weight.

I was suddenly released. With a glare from my mother to each of us, she ordered him back upstairs and said to me with a finger pointing, “go to your room.”  Jesus Christ, you don’t have to tell me twice.

I didn’t forgive him for twenty five years.

Just before midnight on August 2, 2011, I found myself drunk on several glasses of wine in my best friends’ living room, having just finished a movie when a commercial came on that started a fight.  I’d relay the whole story, but it would make me sound like I was somehow justifying my behavior, which is totally impossible, so I’ll just paint you a picture instead: imagine a little blonde, drunk bitch, with her chest puffed out, screaming (yes, literally screaming) obscenities and insults at the people she eats dinner with 2 nights a week, traveled all over North America with and shared hotel rooms with, was at the time dreaming of moving to Florida with. In THEIR living room. I was so livid, my mouth was moving faster than my brain and I stormed out, taking the car, leaving my shell-shocked husband there to the deal with the group confusion.

My friends brought him home, where another fight ensued and I began to pack my clothes. My husband of 18 years helpfully handed me a box.

At one in the morning, I drove myself to my parents’ place, an hour away. (Yes, still drunk.)  I slept in my car until five in the morning when I heard my dad coughing on his back patio.  I guess that’s what old ex-smokers do.  They cough out of habit more than anything.

So, I knocked on the front door.  Since it was pre-dawn, I was greeted at the door by a flood light and a shotgun.  (No, I’m not kidding. This is Texas, after all.)  In hindsight, maybe I should have texted my parents to let them know I was there before I knocked on the door.

I stayed the day.  By the time I really sobered up and rested, I was so mortified by my behavior, I didn’t want to go home. I was invited home by my husband.  We had a long talk, as you can imagine.  And, when we were done, he arranged for me to make a 30-minute mea culpa to our friends. My memories of the day that my dad drunkenly attacked me came flooding back.  I had been in their place.  I knew exactly how they felt. I knew that I had dehumanized them, humiliated them, confused them, betrayed them, even. I also knew I didn’t deserve forgiveness because up to that point, I had been unable to forgive.  I knew I had destroyed something precious, something that was sweet and fun and brought us all joy.

The next day, I was so wracked with guilt and sadness that I did the long, big, ugly cry.  My poor husband was trying to be as supportive as he could without actually absolving me.  He knew too that I didn’t deserve redemption.  I had injured him as well, because our friendship now hung in the balance, and his life would be forever changed without these beloved friends.  But, like he always had, he stayed the course, working as an intermediary.  Trying to get us all to eat meals together and return to our normal activity level again. Since he and my girlfriend carpooled to work, I’m sure that many a conversation was had about what to do with me.  (He never shared them with me, for the record.)

I swore off booze for a time and kept my shoes on whenever I was in their home. I was determined not to make myself too comfortable in that space again, so I continually reminded myself I was a guest.  After five years of friendship, that thought tore at my heart.  It was ultimately my husband’s clearheaded words that struck a chord in the soul of my friend and healed her wound on my behalf.  (All the contrition in the world can’t make someone else forgive you.  It is their choice and their choice alone.)

At that point, my dad had actually been sober for 20 years – 20 YEARS! and had worked so hard to put his family back together. After 25 years reliving his alcoholism and trapping myself in my own head with emotional worthlessness, I was finally able to release that outdated version of him.  I never understood the angry outbursts before. I always felt victimized before.  Now I desperately wanted and needed that exact same forgiveness that I had been unwilling or unable to grant. Where it took me 25 years to forgive my father, it took her a mere year to forgive me and I’m grateful every day.

The “after-school special” part of this story, obviously is that we are all free.  After a year of (understandable) emotional distance, my girlfriend invited me to a pedicure, and I knew I had been forgiven.  But, because she chose to let go, she no longer has to relive the pain I inflicted. We don’t discuss it, or try to explain it. I released my father too and I no longer have to relive the pain he inflicted. When those memories find their way into my mind, they are easily dismissed as the vapor they are.

Our friendship and my family is (through changed behavior) whole. My husband and I bought a house behind our friends and we’ve all managed to get back to normal. We have since traveled together, shared hotel rooms together again and eaten many, many meals together. I still watch my alcohol intake when we are together in either of our homes. But, on the rare occasion I’ve had too much at a party, my “second husband” is willing to pretend to dance with me while he’s really supporting me on the dance floor.

You know when you go to a wedding, the little cards at your place setting that ask you for your marriage advice?  The only thing I write is, “forgive.”

JTijerina_03-13_small

Julie Tijerina is on a quest to learn about herself, the world and to observe other people with curiosity rather than judgment. Her home is in Dallas, but her soul is always at the ocean; her current job is in a cubicle, but her life’s work is writing. She’s a SciFi geek, a yogi, a former therapy patient, a lover of dark haired men and honest women. She was catapulted out of depression by Learned Optimism and may have just learned the secret of happiness by identifying her Core Desired Feelings. She believes all the hard stuff takes at least a year, so ease up on yourself, love.

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