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and digging up bones
There is a reason I haven’t completely finished my manuscript. If you’re in the literary world you’ll know that most common practice these days is to sell memoir on proposal. Meaning- here’s what I want to write about, here are some comparable titles, here is my vision, here is my audience (it is not this simple, and writing my proposal took more out of me than the book itself in a lot of ways), and here is how I plan to market it. This is the story I tell most when I’m asked why it is incomplete; because it can be.
There is a reason the lyrical elements of my book fizzle out and I become more matter-of-fact towards the end. There’s less audacity and it feels sterile. I feel sterile, to tell you the truth. Protective measures my body and brain have taken to keep my nervous system safe. For someone that was so deeply intertwined with and tethered to another human being for so long, to be so disconnected, disgusted even, as painful as that is to admit, when that person dies is, well, sad. It is sad but it makes sense and it is the unknowing that makes me more sad than the loss itself. I felt as though I knew my mother in similar ways she knew me- the backs of our hands. Now as a mother myself, I know this isn’t true. We know our mother’s faces, the way their voice lilts, what they smell like and can feel their energy before they speak a word. But who are they? On so many levels I know. I know how pained she was, how she dreamed of a different life, how scared she was, how lonely she was. I knew her addictions (kind of), I knew her ability to manipulate, and the kind of men she drew in. I knew her laugh, I know she was impulsive, but I wish I knew more.
If you have followed along for any amount of time at all, and so many of you have and for that I am grateful, you know that I write as a means to understand and to process. My manuscript begins to trail off, my voice getting quieter, the 5 years leading up to her death. After I left Minnesota in 2006, the gravitational pull between us began to sever and that is where her most significant unraveling began. I know some formalities, a couple of the times she was hospitalized or when she moved for the hundredth time. I kept in touch to keep tabs, to know she was still breathing, not because I wanted to catch up. In all the ways I wanted to know, I know I really did not.
A couple weeks ago an old friend of her’s reached out via Instagram to ask if she could send me some things my mother had made for her. “I’m downsizing and I can’t bear to throw them away.” I told her of course she could, and thanked her for thinking of me. I received the package last week, after a string of emotionally and physically exhausting days pasted together by the duties of motherhood and caretaking. She told me how much she loved my mother, how often she spoke of me, how she would’ve loved her grandbabies (this I know is true) and in the package she included two packs of patchouli incense, my mother’s signature scent that only smelled the way it did on her any nobody else I knew or any of us knew, because it reminded her of my mother. It made me wistful and miss her in ways I don’t often allow myself.
I messaged her to thank her and initiated a conversation about what she knew about my mother and her addiction(s) after I left upon graduating high school. Before I go further, it is important to note that addictions are so stigmatized, so unsupported, so so so. Fill in the blanks. In all the ways my logical brain knows the realties, the why’s, the fact that so many people could be so much better supported by way of treatment, having their basic needs met, decriminalization, destigmatizing and on and on and on. And yet, there are still the parts of me that are young and tender that can feel myself wanting to shake her for being so selfish. For “allowing” our lives to play out the way they did. Pragmatically I understand addictions having various of my own throughout my lifetime, and still I am a mother’s kid that wishes things would’ve been different for both of us and parts of me are still stomping my foot. But I asked her if she would be up for sharing-
she was, she felt guilt, she was naïve- all of the perfectly perfect complexities of loving someone with substance use issues. I learned more from our very brief conversation than I have learned in years. When the people in our family attempted to sweep things under the rug or gloss over realities, she shot it straight and I needed that. I am grateful.
That night I started planning a trip back, my first time since 2007. That was the last time I saw my mother in Minnesota. The time before that was when she was on top of me, pounding on my chest under a tree, my refusal to hit back because even then I understood the depths of her hurt. While I hated her in that moment, I closed my eyes and willed those parts away. I saw her in Minnesota in 2007, stayed in her boyfriend’s house, and only actually saw her person for an hour. We both knew the type of irrevocable damage that had been done that day under the tree. The way things stayed there long after we had gone, parts of ourselves and the pieces that bind us. We knew and we didn’t want to know.
I understand that my avoidance has protected me in the same way I know that it’s time. If I am going to finish, I need to write, and if I’m going to write, I need to feel it all. I need to understand facts to better understand her heart.
I don’t have any of my mother’s ashes. She married once in her life, a man I never knew but met twice to collect some of her things after she had died. Perhaps I’ll get them, pieces of her, at some point. For now I am content with allowing myself to dig up bones. To understand the past in a way that will allow me to settle in the present. I’ve been missing her viscerally lately, another part I know I have avoided. So I suppose I’ll plan that trip with a bit more intention, so I can go to understand and write.
Currently Listening To: the playlist I made on Spotify titled Autumn Sad, But Not Too Sad.
Currently Cooking: I think I’ll make pasta with basil and corn, served with pan seared shrimp for dinner tonight. I have just pulled out banana streusel muffins from the oven so I reckon I’ll technically eat that first.
Recently Published: coming soon…