November 4, 2015
The setting is a wet, windy Seattle night.
My mother and I are enjoying mojitos and nachos near the fire pit bar at Matador in West Seattle, Washington.
As we laughed and sipped our cocktails, she dropped this bomb on me.
“I found a lump. I have breast cancer.”
No. No. No. No.
Earlier that day she had called me, saying she would be near Seattle and asked if I was up for getting together that night.
Of course, mom! Any excuse to spend some time with you!
It wasn’t always this way though. It wasn’t always this easy.
Let’s rewind — since y’all know I love flashbacks.
Winter of 7th grade.
I wanted my family to feel special for Christmas. Things had been more stressed than normal in our home. I knew I had a choir field trip coming up at the mall and I thought – what a better time than then to get my family gifts! They would have no clue I was buying them since they wouldn’t be with me!
Except – here’s where I screwed up.
I stole money from every member of my family living under our roof to buy these gifts.
(As you can see – there is a theme to my blogs. #asshole)
I went shopping and bought what I ACTUALLY WANTED to buy for them. Of course I also bought things for me.
One thing I remember the most was that stupid pink, plastic, blow up chair I bought from Claire’s.
My family is not stupid.
In fact – this is also a common thread that will come up.
We are all extremely intelligent. My mother, father, brothers and I. Even though we all took different paths and may not be as educated as one another — we are all wicked smart.
I think it was the next day they figured it out.
Holy shit was I in trouble.
Not only had I stolen money from my family — but I wanted to look pretty at the choir concert — especially since I had my FIRST solo — and I stole my mom’s diamond earrings… including the diamond jackets that went around the stud.
My mom proceeded to tell my Dad — in a story I found out much later that she explicitly asked him not to lose his shit — and what unfolded will forever be remembered by everyone in that house that day.
My Dad lost it. Absolutely LOST it. Was ripping the cupboards off of my walls and throwing things at me. He threw my TV on the ground. Threw my stereo on the ground. Ripped pictures from the walls. He completely DESTROYED my bedroom. The only “safe place” I had in the house. As a firm reminder I was a guest in his home, and I had no “safe place.” He then proceeded to beat me with a rolled up magazine.
Here I was, 13 years old – getting spanked with a magazine… seriously?
I was uncontrollably crying. I couldn’t catch my breath. I was in shock. I was horrified, terrified. What had I done? How could I have caused this? Was he over reacting or was I deserving of such punishment? Such hate filled rage directed toward me?
I remember my mom screaming at my dad to stop. That it was enough. That he had done enough.
She was scared.
He WAS out of control.
I never found the earrings I stole from my mom and then lost. All the presents I had purchased for my family were returned and the money was returned as well.
**This is the first memory I can think of where my brothers knew I was different**
I have always been different. I have never followed the path that was laid before me. I have always taken the road less travelled. Danced to the beat of my own drum. I never listened or conformed to their ideas of who I should be or what I should do. I was an embarrassment and had cemented my role as the black sheep.
The following year, my parents separated.
That night has been replayed over and over in my mind. Could I have done something different? Should I have? How different would my life be if I HAD been different?
When you’re 14, watching your family get torn apart, there is no RIGHT decision. There is only survival. To survive, I was forced to make a choice. A choice my brothers were never forced to make. A choice I wish I was never forced to make, but one that has followed me through the rest of my life.
I vividly remember clinging to my mothers leg as she attempted to pack her clothes and leave. I remember crying, asking her to pray with me, asking her to please – please – PLEASE pray with me.
No one can explain to you what EVIL feels like.
You have to experience it for yourself. Stare it in the face and make a choice.
I will always remember that feeling of evil. It washed over my body. I was staring it in the face and all I could think about was how could God let this happen to my family. I know we had not been the “perfect Mormon family,” we had our flaws – but I thought we would be together forever –we had to be together forever. That’s all I knew. All I was taught. And here I was — watching it unfold before my eyes.
I let her go.
I had to let her go.
I had to survive.
My father was on Match.com within an hour of my mom moving out. Here he was – trying to do what he thought best, selfishly, bring another woman in the home to fill my mom’s shoes — to provide some sort of “normalcy” to our family.
I tried to be nice, friendly, follow the rules. Eventually I just stopped. I couldn’t see my mom anymore. The reception I received when I returned home to my Dad’s made me uncomfortable. Being interrogated and being forced to lie. I just couldn’t do it.
She tried. She tried so hard. She sent cards, birthday gifts, shit – presents for no effing reason.
I remember her sending me personalized cookies for my 16th birthday that I found on the back porch of the house. I was happy she had remembered, but I was so sad. SO SAD.
Damn I missed my mom. Why did she have to do this? How do I make this better? How do I repair the damage done and still keep everyone happy? I can’t.
4 years went by. That’s right. FOUR.
There was some “court-ordered reconciliation therapy” that I was required to attend that I thought was bullshit. In fact, it was such bullshit I remember our family therapist CRYING at our story. It was pathetic. We couldn’t win. I just figured we were screwed and damned to live our life the same way we had been. Full of secrets, lies, and manipulation.
I started dating and that changed things.
I began experimenting with things that pushed my moral boundaries. Since I was pushing those boundaries, why not experiment somewhere else.
I was 18. I had JUST turned 18. I received a request from my aunt that would forever change my life.
“Erica got invited to Jake’s birthday party. I really want to go. But I’m scared to go alone. Will you please go with me?”
I ignored the request for as along as I could. My boyfriend at the time, Zac, pressured me to say, Yes. To just go. He didn’t approve of my father and didn’t appreciate the way I was treated in my home and saw this as a perfect opportunity to reconnect with my mom.
So I went.
I had a blast.
I had forgotten how much I loved spending time with my Mom. She really was amazing. She really did love me. She had never stopped loving me. I had hurt her so bad.
The shit that followed that day is really just SHIT.
I wasn’t going to be home at the time I said I was, so I was “grounded indefinitely.”
This was a common theme during my adolescence.
The only way my dad & step mom knew how to “deal” with me was by grounding me until they deemed fit.
So what I did next.. changed everything.
I became defiant and didn’t care what happened next.
“Fine. If that’s the case. Then I’m not coming home.”
Whoops. I opened up a can of worms & a can of whoop ass, on my OWN ass. Oops…
Shortly after that, I moved into my mom’s house. She was so sweet. She listened, loved, and tried to “get me,” but it had been so long she didn’t know where to start. So she started with something that doesn’t even seem like a big deal – but it was.
She bought me a can of shaving cream.
Even typing this I can feel my eyes glisten over. A tear makes a dramatic entrance at the medial canthus of my eye and tumbles down my uneven skin, only to plant its fat wet mark on my knee.
After spending so much time living with my Dad who did not seem to understand me, even though I’m sure he tried, a small gesture like this was all it took for me to realize I had made the right decision.
I did not leave my father for my mother. It was not choosing one parent over the other. Neither was me staying with my father and ignoring my mothers attempts at a relationships. I have NEVER chosen one parent over the other. I have simply chosen MYSELF over everything.
Both of them will tell you I am their most independent, strong-willed and stubborn child. I absolutely REFUSE to listen or take direction. I MUST do things my own way, learn my own way, experience pain my own way. They did their best to raise me and instill me with good values and to be a good person — but honestly, there was only so much they could do.
I took advantage of living with my mom.
I had no idea what to do with it! For the first time ever, I had a vehicle I could drive, mostly, whenever I wanted. I had a job where I made my own money. I was able to see my friends! I had an opportunity and I took that inch and stretched it into a mile.
Living with my mother was not without its complications. Her partner did NOT like me. She made that perfectly clear to me and my mother. She knew I had hurt my mom, deeply, and was extremely protective. She was also an alcoholic. So just magnify any response to anything by 1000.
I was not an easy person to live with. I came and went at all hours. I ate all the food. I showed up high as a kite after smoking too much weed and then laughed it off when she, rightly – accused me of being stoned.
I hurt her again and again and again.
No relationship is perfect, but shit – did I even try? Or was I just seeing an opportunity and taking advantage of it?
I moved out of my mom’s house a year later and in with a boy who my mom KNEW was trouble. It caused a significant amount of strain on our relationship. To the point where we were not talking… again.
How could I do this – again?
(By now you see, I rarely learn the first time. I have to make the same mistakes over and over again until it finally sticks. And even then – it’s highly likely I’ll repeat it again.)
Blood crusted on my face, tears streaming down my eyes, nowhere to go – no one to trust.
I called my mom – she was at work.
“Mom, Ryan punched me in the face. I don’t know what to do. Help me.” – Me
“I’ll be right there.” – Mom
Fear. So much fear. Fear of the unknown. Fear of change. Fear of rejection. I’m an idiot.
She allowed me to move back in with her – again.
This time, we would have “rules.”
Damnit – poor Mom, she knew I couldn’t follow rules to save my life.
I moved back out and in with a girlfriend.
Moved back in with mom.
Moved back out with another girlfriend.
Moved back in with mom.
Moved back out with a boyfriend.
Moved back in with mom.
Moved back out with a boyfriend.
Moved back in with mom.
Move back out with boyfriend.
Moved in with a girlfriend.
Moved in with a boyfriend.
–BREAK THE CHAIN–
Moved into my OWN apartment.
I have hurt her beyond measure. I have created a relationship with her beyond my wildest dreams. I never thought my mom would become my best friend. Learning to be honest, vulnerable, trusting, share my failures & my successes – I just never thought it was possible to reconcile. What we have now was not even something I THOUGHT we could have.
I was always jealous of the relationship my aunt Ginger has with my grandma. They just seemed to “get” each other in a way without speaking. They’re supportive, loving, and most of all – it’s an unconditional love.
Sitting there, listening to my mom tell me about how she has breast cancer — took me down this rabbit hole of memories. A blurry trip of pain and love. I am so grateful for this woman.
“You are the braver version of myself. You do everything I wish I had done.”
I love you, mom.
I’m so grateful for you. I’m so glad you’re still here. I’m so glad you’re a badass and kicked cancers ass. You are my best friend, my confidant, and the most important female figure in my life. You make me laugh, cry, and yes – you still make me angry. But mostly I’m just pissed because I know you’re right. I hope I am as lucky as you are with Scott and that I have children who love me as much as yours do one day. You are a light in this world and I would be lost without you.
I love you, mom.
Until next time,