Most of my memories start with, or heavily involve, my mother. This could be because I’m her daughter, a girl-child more impressionable under her mother’s influence, or it could be because I’m her firstborn and I’ve idolized her since the moment I first saw her. It could be because ever since my little sister was born, I’ve been trying to get her all to myself again. It could be because she worries a lot more about me than about Emily.
But probably it’s because I’ve spent more time with her than with any other human on Earth. Dad was wonderful, but he departed this planet’s shivery mortal coils fourteen years ago, when I was just twenty-six. I can’t believe I’ve spent so much of my life a half-orphan. Besides, while my father and I got along famously, he still made me nervous. He had a roaring temper and would get set off by the smallest thing. It got better as he aged…a little. But he was always unpredictable, and in some ways that was fantastic -whitewater rafting! Going to the beach! Cheering on the New Jersey Devils!- but it was also a little upsetting, a little unnerving. I was an anxious kid prone to bouts of depression; I love my Disneyland Dad but no matter how many times during my teenage years I told her -forcefully, practically spitting, sometimes actually spitting- that I hated her my mom was my first love, and I would never stop loving her.
Over time, my love for her has just grown. Through a decade-long battle with the same illness she and my sister both had, there were multiple occasions where she thought she’d lost me forever, that the next time she would hear about me it would be a phone call from a police officer or worse, a drunk friend of mine. But alcoholism wasn’t going to kill me anymore than it was going to kill her or my sister; I was just a late bloomer. My sister got into recovery at 21 and stayed put. I meandered in and out for the better part of 15 years, acquiring 3 DUIs in the process. You never know how much you value your freedom until you wake up in a jail cell. And they’re never like movies with the black bars and the slamming doors. The last time I was in one they considered me a suicide risk -rightly so; I’m pretty sure I told them I wanted to kill myself- so they put me in this narrow corner rectangle walled in by Perspex or something similar. I slept eventually, probably right after I thought I would never get to sleep in that place.
Mom was there, too. She stopped by the jail after they called her to see if she could pick me up, but it was too late; they wouldn’t release me until the morning, so she left me a note. I still have it. “It’s not how many times you fall down, it’s how many times you get back up,” she’d written in her characteristic handwriting. When I was a kid I used to reverse-brag to other kids about how I could never forge my mom’s signature for a note for anything because her handwriting was so unusual. It didn’t occur to me that teachers had better things to do with their time than compare parental permission letters to make sure the handwriting was consistent. It was a strange thing to talk about, but I was a pretty weird kid.
Mom came to get me the next morning. I’d trashed the car that she had given me to drive; almost three years later, I still don’t have my license or a car. While I’m sure she was at the absolute end of her patience with me, she somehow knew not to lay into me. Maybe it was the look on my face. I couldn’t take it and she knew. Instead, she started railing against the disease, apologizing for giving it to me along with my dad. Saying how sorry she was that I got stuck with it, too. It was pretty much a foregone conclusion that both Emily and I would become alcoholics: both parents, both grandparents, and Irish/Native American heritage virtually guaranteed it. We were screwed. My sister got the memo pretty early on. Me…it took a while. But that was the last time I drank. Some of us just take longer than others.
…still working on this one