Hey kids. I woke up with my hands aching this morning. Like, pulsing. Each time my heart beat they hurt. Know why? Nightmares, about losing my parents. About my dad having a heart attack mowing the lawn like he always says he wants, and my mom being as out of it, as not-herself, as she is. As she has been for years. Know that this is what awaits you when your parents grow frail. They are always on the cusp of leaving, again and again, even in your dreams. You will always try to fight it and you will always lose, and you will make fists against your helplessness and hold them that way for hours, without even knowing you are doing so until you wake up in pain.
Hey kids. Did you read the letter the victim of that Stanford POS wrote to address him with? You should’ve. Here it is. Read the whole thing. The very end, though? The very end? Where she’s thanking people? I had a really shitty moment there. A really, petrified, shit-scared moment where I realized that those people, for me, are gone. The person who would take me in. She’s gone. (It would be both financially and emotionally infeasible for my dad to do such a thing now, with my mom the way she is. He has suffered enough.) I was always…promised, warned, comforted, by the certain knowledge that no matter what happened I could come back home. Keep in mind, kneejerk snarkwhales, that this was before the media developed its boner for deploring my generation as the source of all that is wrong with the world. Before the home-again millennial was something middle-aged people invoked in Starbucks waiting lines like the evil eye. This was before all of that. My mom told me I could always come home if things got bad. That covered everything and everything. She made sure I knew it. She would ask no questions, she said. A party, an addiction, a life — whatever it was, she’d come get me. She’d find help. She’d be there.
Now she’s gone.
I only called it in a few times. First when I was seven, and the adults at the birthday party I was at got drunk and didn’t hear me screaming for help in the deep end of the pool. I couldn’t swim. They couldn’t hear me. The wind — it was cold — pushed a beach ball into my reach and I grabbed it and floundered to the edge of the pool, walked straight into the house (huge puddles everywhere) and called to be picked up. No questions asked. I did not say, “I almost drowned.” I said I wanted to go home and she came. I was still in my swimsuit, shivering, and she covered me with her cardigan as we drove away. There were kleenexes in the pockets.
Then again as a college student, living amongst some abusive people who stopped taking their medication and started getting violent when they did so. I was embarrassed. I was afraid. At one point I was trembling, trying to remain ramrod-straight on a shoddy metal chair, dialing everyone I knew to please come over, please walk right in, up the stairs, please get me out, before I moved and the old floorboards squeaked and the guys below (whom I could hear; stewing themselves to bubbling anger down there) found out I was at home. The friends came, they got me out, and I realized I needed to leave. Mom drove 500 miles, in a blizzard. She brought extra spatulas and soup ladles. So many of them — the ones they sell in little mesh bags in the canned food aisles of stores. She didn’t want me to have to fight the people in the house for those that remained. She didn’t want me not to have any spatulas. Spatulas were important — indicators of safety; stability. She deluged me with spatulas.
The last time, I didn’t ask for it. I couldn’t. She gave it to me, the way out. Let me be clear, I was never raped in Japan. I was held against a wall and dry-humped; I was spat on; I was groped; I was skeptically and loudly questioned by my fellow foreigners, all men, as to whether the denizens of their beloved expat paradise would really do that. But I was not raped. It was not that bad. And my mother knew that. But still she gave me a way out. I’m sick, she said. I have dementia and it’s moving fast. Tell them. Come home. They’ll let you come home.
And they did. And she was sick. And it moved fast.
And hey kids, let me tell you: you never stop needing the idea of somewhere safe to return to. Not ever. You’re lying to yourself if you do. Even happily married. You read stories, you know people whose lives just fall apart, and you do need that place to flee to. If you do get assaulted, and can’t stand being touched, maybe you get left because of that. It fucking sucks, but it happens. Maybe the two of you have a child, and the child dies, and both of you are ruined forever. Again, it fucking sucks, and it happens. And you would need somewhere to go. You would. To lick your wounds, to the extent that you could. To regroup. To feel loved. To feel worthy of it.
Hey kids: that can be taken away.
You damned, lucky, thoughtlessly-careless-with-your time kids: you will miss there being that unconditional love floating out there somewhere. You will miss knowing you could return to it. I am barely a decade older than you and I know this. I am filled with toothless, petulant fury when you roll your eyes and hit “ignore” when your parents call. You will regret this. Damn you, you will regret this.
You had better.
Because you have precious little time before they’re taken away from you, and it will never be enough. Even if you always pick up the phone. Even if you always write back. It will never have been enough. And if — hopefully not when! but if — you are dragged through the wringer, for a year, every dark shitty thing about you cross-examined and embroidered upon and blown up to gigantic proportions to soothe the ruffled feathers of people with more power and influence than you will ever wield against them — I hope you are surrounded by kindness when that happens. I hope people materialize out of the goddamn ether to be there for you. Because I don’t know where else that kind of love comes from. I don’t. And my source of it — that well — it is roped-off. And if the few people remaining to me cannot be who that woman’s loved ones are for her…I don’t know what you do, without that. Except hurt. And scrape up what love people burdened with whole long, lush, complicated, intertwined lives without you have to spare. It can never, will never, be enough.
And you will still have more of it than I did. Because my mother was taken from me, and that will never be okay.