Category Archives: Personal Essay

Glasgow is My Mother

My mother died in 2012, June 23rd. Throughout my childhood and short adolescence she needed me. And I needed her, although not as much. I hated her quite a bit but I loved her deeply as well.  It was a horrible drama, that relationship. It was very hard on the both of us.  Codependent. Sad. Self destructive. Always, it seems, that the people you hate the most are the ones who remind you most of yourself. I am lucky and unlucky in that I am very wise to my own faults. I turn them over and over like coins in my pocket… Jangle, jangle, jangle. Money I can’t seem to spend or make go away.

The only inheritance that I got from my mother after she died was a small life insurance policy and her remaining benefits from the Veteran’s Administration. I spent it like water, a compulsion and an illness for people that are Bipolar like I am. My mother was the same way. The first thing I bought was a pillow top bed. I named it Barry White because it’s white and fluffy and ecstasy compared to the tiny, lumpy day bed that I had been sleeping in for years that made me wake up in pain every day. I had needed it for years. But, I traded it harshly. My mother’s cremated remains and the last ditch policy from the VA bought it for me for $700, a selfish, indulgent sum, after she died.  So, it really is a thing that I would give back if it would bring back my mother. Just bring back the screwed up, complex, completely un-self aware woman that got a really raw deal like I did (it’s generational and universal unfortunately). The woman that created me; loved me with all the things she really doubted she had and a couple that she completely denied she had.

She was a rapacious alcoholic. She had already started dying of it by the time I was about three or four. I still remember a moment in the hospital, holding my grandmother’s hand in some sort of waiting room, while they pushed her in on a wheelchair, looking corpse-like and ill, green and weak, but with a tremulous smile telling me, lying to me, that it was all going to be okay. I remember it vividly, I think, because even as a toddler, I knew that it was a lie. She was permanently out of orbit emotionally and a serious mistake maker, a trick that she taught me to repeat, sometimes I think intentionally because she also had a knack for spite. And honestly, now, I forgive her everything. Wholly.

I want, just for a day, to go back to that November six months before she died. She bought me a ticket for her birthday and I wish I could go back to that day, November 11th, and get on that plane that I didn’t because of all said above reasons and several more. If only I knew that it was my last chance to see her, fix it for her, say what I needed to say and what she needed me to say. Because one day, for a really short time on the phone, from across the country, she actually stepped up, became a real mother for the first time and apologized to me for every mistake she ever made.  Even the ones she forgot and I never knew about. And I intentionally put terseness in my voice and a grudging, “thank you,” and hung up the phone, still bitter. Just give me November 11th and then send her back where she’s whole, warm, safe and completely healed, I can only hope. Where she is maybe now getting a brand new crash course before whatever might possibly happen next, I don’t know, but I’ll figure out soon enough. Whatever place that she hangs out in now. Fuck the bed; I’ll take a concrete floor. I want that November back. It has been a long time wish on a now dead star that I haven’t said to myself or anyone else until right this second now, a couple of weeks after I sent four handfuls of her temporary Goddess vessel to the four directions into the sea. The same sea that she took herself and her two kids to in order to get away from the darkness that was chasing her so that we would maybe have a better shot at what she didn’t.

Right now as I write this, the humiliating and private but spiritual flood gates on this alarming day are wide, wide open, gaping and terrifying. And right now, although everyone is in and out on Facebook, they love me and are subliminally aware of what’s going on with me. They are the only ones witnessing this weird, emotional process. Because my dad wouldn’t understand and my children will never find out. Here I am, on the goddamned internet that my mom tried so hard to get on so she could talk to me every day.  She bought her little computer, took lessons, but could never, ever figure it out.  Now she has really reliable and affordable access whenever she wants to explore and learn my bizarre, morphing social network life that I have grown to depend on because all of my loved ones, my adopted family, are scattered across the world.

My mother was hospitalized many, many times for her building cirrhosis. Each time, she would stop drinking for a while and she would heal a bit, feel better and start the spiral again. At the end of it all, she said that she had pneumonia. My grandmother had found her in her cottage after two weeks of not hearing a thing. She was prone on the floor, lying in her own body fluids,  unable to get up, much less walk, as swollen as her legs and belly were. My grandmother promised herself it was just the pneumonia. That she’d recover again from the alcohol poisoning like she always had. I got about ten seconds with her on the phone before she lost consciousness for the last time. I still keenly remember the plaintive confusion in her voice, I hear it over and over, the exact sound, every tone, her sharp Kentucky accent when she said my name, as if she couldn’t remember she had a daughter, or worse, maybe that she couldn’t believe that I had called. Then, she fell into a coma and over the next week, one by one, all of her organs died except her brave and stubborn heart.

I was not there when they touched the few small buttons that ended her life. I wasn’t there. My sister flew in to Kentucky from North Carolina, as she was closer, to sign the release and let her go. She did it without hesitation, which was kind but only accidentally so. She took care of loose ends, the business of death, and then she went straight back to the airport and back to her more idyllic life. I don’t hold it against her to not have forgiveness towards my mother. My mother had not done right by us at all. We were neglected our whole lives. We were cruelly manipulated because of our own mother’s cowardice and jealousy. My mother confessed to me that I was her favourite once. I don’t know if she had ever said the same to Ann, but the possibility of such a thing is vast, because that was my mother.

When Joy Christine Lamb née Combs took her last agonal breath her hand was empty, without another warm one to hold it, and she died alone. Very much alone, without her daughters. For months after, it ran over and over, these images in my head. The glaring lights over the headboard of the hospital bed that make the shadows of a sick human face look more like a skull. The sound of the heart monitor going flat and sharp and keening like a scream. The slight whine of the respirator deflating for the last time. And I prayed so very, very hard that whoever the nurse was that removed her intubation tube had done it with a solemnity and kindness. And at the very least, with professional regret. It was her job. She probably did it almost every day. But on that particular day, although she did not know the vibrant redhead that had faded, the comatose and sunken woman in that bed; she did it, that final confirmation of death, removing the only thing in her throat that was keeping her alive. She did it in my stead.

Then came the cremation. My mother had no money. No burial. Her memorial was brief and mostly empty. I sent my sister words to say in my stead but she refused. I forgave her that too. I was sent her ashes. I would not be moved. They were mine. I had knots in my guts up till and after I got that deafening knock and that sad, small, heavy white cardboard box with a huge orange sticker that shouted “HUMAN REMAINS.” The postman was quiet and kind. He had done this countless times.

Shortly after, I heard a certain song. A song that took over this entire experience and somehow made it all positive. And right. And sacred. And as eternal as Scotland, which holds most of my heritage and DNA. The song is called “Feather on the Clyde” and it is written and performed by a man who calls himself Passenger these days. He wrote the song about one of his favorite cities, somewhere I’ve never been, although he took me there. Glasgow, Scotland. And as I heard his vulnerable voice telling my tragic family story that he did not know, I soaked in what he sang and the melody that is gentle in its regret, it made so much sense. Life is a river. Ever moving, changing, ebbing, rising, falling, but always tumbling to its end, the sea. A sea so deep and vast that none of us can ever really fully understand.  My mother’s pain came at her from all sides and it never ceased. My mother is Glasgow in my aching heart, the river Clyde splits her into many paths and she took all of them, but could never, ever go back. And I could not cross it. For many years I tried, I swam so hard, and for many years I drowned, to the point of moving to the God forsaken desert where there is no water at all and I still drowned. Until now.

I will go there to Glasgow one day, to stand on those banks and visit her. Think of that song, and the unbreakable Scottish ginger thread that I got through my long mother line. I will stand there on a bridge, hopefully on a brisk, lonely day. I’ll leave a token in the River Clyde for her. Drop a solitary feather, whatever gift I happen to find that the ducks may leave behind, and watch it float and flutter, drift and fly, until it finally descends to barely touch on that water to help me remember, let the past go, let it float away.

I was always helpless and hopeless in my efforts to save her. But, she always wanted to go to Scotland. I’m keeping my promise.

PANDORA

Bits and pieces of this have been published in several places… But here it is in its entirety. It’s my favourite personal essay. So proud of this.

I’m not a real woman, a normal woman. I always attempt to put the truth out there, to warn off, to caution away. I am only a Rubix cube, and it is for this reason alone that men pursue me ruthlessly. I am a puzzle that needs solving. An intricate and magical illusion that needs to be logically explained. Because of course, it has to be some sort of trick. I cannot be real. So, I’m a mysterious box that needs to be opened. A door that needs to be unlocked. They are all looking for my key. It’s not really about me. It never was. They call it love. They tell themselves this. They tell me it’s my passion.  It’s my kiss.  It’s the feel of me wrapped around them, tight and pulsing. They’ve never felt this way before.  Nothing like the self destructive tsunami of passion that only I unleash.

And then come my complications. I am pain.  My blood is made of suffering. My soul swims in melancholy.  I am the Lemarchand Configuration box and inside, there’s a beautiful demon who predates contemporary, painful souls by thousands of years.  I am not a fictional villain in a horror film. I’m so much worse than that.  I am the first demon, Lilith. I’m the bitch that dared to be bold and defied God by refusing to obey Adam, to blindly follow his lead.

But, I am also Pandora.  I keep the apocalypse safely in my jeweled box in an effort to keep the peace. My soul is an archetypal powerhouse. My wild streak is thick and endless. Durga and Kali are my constant companions. Freya and the Morrigan too. They are the unkindness of ravens to my singular wolf, following me around, close to the ground, ready to pick at the bones of what I’ve left behind.

So go ahead, try to open the box. Say my name out loud. Steal my skeleton keys. Attempt to destroy my mystery. Strangle the thunder and lightning in my eyes. Curse me in your confusion.  Just don’t look too close in my closet. There are monsters in there.  Monsters that I made of plaster and paper maché. They all turned real; glittery rainbow scales and wide, translucent wings. Fire screaming out of their mouths, because they need to help me destroy something just to regain my sort of bitter stasis, sense of self, and emotional release.

My Chinese horoscope says that because I was born in February on a special leap year, my sign is a dragon and yes, it totally fits. All the good things and all the bad things. My self involvement, selfishness, fragile ego, stupid vanity. I’d rather shove those feelings into an airless vacuum so they cannot breathe and grow stronger, but as much as I try, I am always unsuccessful. I’m most adept at the self loathing: the doubt, the fear of failure, the fear of success. I’d much rather hide and deny my sins and poor decisions and painful, terrifying images in the box and keep my dragons locked away so I can’t hurt any more people than I already have. So that I only hurt me.

The last man I had a serious, committed relationship with was five years ago this last February, and I’ve been celibate for all of those five years, my wolf sedated and chained in my basement.   Despite all the men that seek me out and shower me with false flattery. Immediately, they all think I’m their destiny. That they are foreordained to possess me because I will make them better. I will make them happier. I will make their life more profound. I will make them different than they were before. I will cure them of any and all malaise and restlessness and ennui that eats away at them. I will let them save me. I am the magic love potion they will put to their lips and I will fix them. They all think that these things are somehow my responsibility. They feel this way even if they don’t know that they’re obviously broken and bleeding and their visions are askew. But it’s my lunacy if they do.

Their bit of self awareness becomes my tragedy. It’s not love. It’s never been love. It’s merely fascination. Distraction. Transfixation.  Pointless repartee.  All they want is to own me.  The man that taught me the agony and ecstasy of true love, he never loved me.  Not really. He was bored with his own complacency. So I became his short lived novelty.  And then he threw me away.  He was smart enough to put all the puzzle pieces together and he was hard enough to dig deeply into my insides, scramble my guts up, slice and dice my heart into shredded meat. No other man ever affected me that deeply.  I fully believe that we’ve met before, that we share a destiny. But just because it is your fate to meet someone and fall in love with them, doesn’t mean that the relationship is ever supposed to work. After all, life is suffering. We were star crossed lovers less than Shakespeare, but with much more misery.  There’s something that we need to learn from each other in this lifetime, but I don’t think either of us has figured that out yet.  All I know is that he looked into the box, saw me, and accepted me. So I let him in.

All of the men, especially him: they are greedy and think that once the puzzle is solved, the box opened, the door unlocked, they’ll achieve something. Something ethereal, rare and priceless. A holy grail. Something dangerous with great power. To that they are wise. This Pandora has been punished in Purgatory. Treated like trash, raped in every possible way, physically and mentally tortured-made to feel I had nothing left of me.  It is only a soul that sustains me. Only a very small part of me. They all know what they want from me but they dare not say it.

They all think that they want to look at Pandora in the eye. They all think they can take me. Nope. Not alive. Not anymore. But, what the fuck are my needs?  I’m not even sure what those they are because I’ve never received them.  Respect? Honesty? Chivalry? I never understood love until one June, the one when I was twenty two.  And when I did, it destroyed me. Sent me down the wrong path so I would get lost in darkness and density.  My drug of choice is the most devastating and destructive in the world. I’m addicted to love.  I feed off of it.  I need it.  Those endorphins, that post-coital bliss, that intimacy, the masculine hand stroking my hair, and the promise that he said he’d keep.

The rest of them, the faceless ones. Some just walked a circle around me and strategized, thinking they were smart enough to sort it out just by over-thinking it. Some got close enough to give it a good try: a Trojan horse, a graceless goodbye. But it is in their complacent failure and intimidation that the truth is revealed.  My complexities are a maze, and Minotaur waits for me. Takes on all challengers. Shatters their armor so that I can see that in them, there was never and always will be nothing for me. None of them felt that I was worth that price.  So they capitulated again to their lassitude state of humid and sweating boredom. The others, the ones that use frustration as a weapon, the ones unable to cope with their own inadequacy, they attempt to destroy me. Crush. Smash. Obliterate. Rape. Humiliate. Control. Kill. Emotionally and physically.

For many years, breathing was barely a thing to me. A risk. A worthless wish. If I am not their Willow tree, if I am not their putty, if I am not this sad, fragile, frightened thing-then men must bridle me. Either that, or flee because they are frightened of me.   I was told by someone that my intelligence and beauty were intimidating and maybe that’s the problem, they’re all fucking cowards.  Scared of my mind, my wild, and my secrets left unsaid.

And long since then, the others cannot allow themselves to leave a piece of me unharmed. They want my strewn innards and bleeding skin as their favorite memory. It is the basest compulsion in the Id in every man that ever lived and lied, even after they died. All of my lovers, they are only about the end game. But all of them, every one, retreated in defeat. Because they weren’t smart enough. Their courage wavered and fell. They thought that their black knight could check my white queen. You cannot check my queen, boy. You cannot capture me. This is not a game. This is me. This is my fucking curse, my chess pieces, my board, my hurt.

So many people are afraid of darkness because they don’t know its secret. In darkness, there is but safety. You are lost to all but sound and touch, so if you cringe, pull into yourself fully, they’ll never find you. They’ll never hurt you. But in darkness there is too much austerity. Loneliness. Missing pieces. So either I am picked apart by scavenger vultures or I am abandoned like a sightless oracle. This is my fate. This is how I will die.

So really, they, those unworthy men, have never seen me.  I have never let them open the box simply because they are only dying of curiosity. And they all fall down in droves at my feet. Because I wouldn’t let them near me.  It’s better this way. For now. I am historically legendary and my stories are passed on through the annals of DNA and the ripe, painful wombs of my female ancestors.

They, the men, all think it’s love. The truth is, though, they only want to step close to their fear, to warm their hands with it, put their paws on me, so that they can come and feel more alive for a few seconds and leave in one piece. They fool themselves into thinking that they are following the Hero’s Journey; archetype of the ancients, that their fathers will welcome them home to their very own Valhalla as conquering sons.  Elevated. Enumerated. Celebrated as fearless and brave, all boasting of their female slaves.

For their rapes and pillages and piracy they are lauded. Even still, they are weakened by me.  My heart is a haunted house on unhallowed ground.  Ghosts abound and no crucifix or useless prayer will save them.  They’d much rather save their own sad, little hides than seek me out in the maze, while I am curled up in the cold, wet grass beneath a gravestone trying like hell to stop the shiver. Hush the cry. Slow the bleed. Heaving the hope left by the petrichor that reminds me that I am not a Willow tree.  I’m freest when my heart is broken.  Less concerned and apathetic. The stillness and quiet of emotionally suicidal cliffs calm me.

I tell my lovers that my heart is only a token, a small, but deadly key that has a gravitational hold on me. It opens up everything: a box, a puzzle, a small and stolen soul that would never belong to them, because it doesn’t even belong to me. My heart is my curse, brought out of the earth as a talisman that holds me fast, eternally trapped in my secret and sacred wilderness.  In my private serenity. My quiet and desolate reverie.

 

The song that cracked this open for me… this version specifically. Love you, Faustus. Thanks for this. ❤ Passenger: Golden Leaves, RTTV