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Prison of Shame

12 Jul

When my mother was sentenced to a state penitentiary for a 5th felony DUI she was transferred from the local prison to Chowchilla, the women’s correctional facility in Central California. She was taken in a Sheriff’s bus. The vehicles are typically painted black and white like a zebra. It is rare to see one of these buses on the highway. When I do, I cringe. It is especially difficult if I notice prisoners’ faces at the windows. I have no idea whether my mom was handcuffed or if she talked to anyone during the ride.

My mother never talked about her experiences in jail. This was the one area of her life that was a closed book. Yet her silence spoke volumes.

When she was released from Chowchilla, she was given a Greyhound bus ticket to get from Central California to San Diego. She had asked me to take $200.00 from her accounts to purchase some items for her. Her instructions had been incredibly specific. Most important, she needed an outfit to wear on the bus so that she didn’t have to return home in orange prison attire. At the time, orange wasn’t the new black. She wanted a nice tracksuit and asked when I purchased this at Target that I try it on since we were the same size. She also wanted a bag of tortilla chips and a jar of bean dip. All of these items would have to pass inspection at the prison to ensure that drugs or weapons weren’t being smuggled in.

I drove to the mailbox store and quickly found out that packages sent to a state penitentiary required special paperwork. I fidgeted as the clerk asked me various questions related to the forms she was filling out. I remembered that even sending books from Amazon to the prison had been a challenge. I worried what the woman at the mailbox store thought of me because I was sending something to an inmate. As I paid the fifty bucks to have the package mailed, I realized both my mom and I were doing time in one way, shape, or form.

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Incarceration is like a death in the family. The person leaves and then suddenly resurrects upon release. I went through this process with my mother five times, until she actually died for real.

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My T.V. Little Girl: On Motherhood and Mother’s Day

13 May

There is nothing more masochistic than going to church on Mother’s Day, yet I do it every year. I do it to remember that I had a mother and that we all came from the womb of a mother. I do it to pay tribute to holidays that celebrate family life and community. I do it so that my heart doesn’t calcify. I do it to stay connected to a mother who loved me despite the tragic way her life ended.

It’s never a fun day really. No matter how much I think that enough time has passed, the tears start halfway before I get to church. It’s one of the few days I think about my mom’s suicide yet it’s important to remember it. I go into the sancturay wearing sunglasses and sit at the back of the church by myself. Although I am alone, I know something Higher sits there with me, as it did the day the police called asking if I could identify a body. I had waited five days for that call after receiving a suicide note in the mail.

At church someone always puts a foot in the mounth. Someone always wishes me happy mother’s day and then retracts it when he or she discovers I’m not one.  And that’s okay. I’m used to it. I’m there anyway because I want the connection to humanity. I want to remember when I visited church with my mother on Mother’s Day and to focus on the fact that motherhood is a creative force vital within all of us. I also feel enormous gratitude to the myriad number of women who have mothered me over the years.

Recently I had the opportunity to play a mom in a t.v. commercial. Although I’ve “mothered”  many as a therapist, teacher and nanny, I’ve never played the role or had the title. Yet in the commercial, I am the MOMMY. How I love that word. All the real life mommies were off set, while this MOMMY was on camera. It was the most surreal moment because for a brief moment in time, I lived a dream I’d always had. For the morning, I hosted a birthday party complete with balloons, screaming kids, and a daughter certain her parents were aliens. It was wonderful.

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Life is wondrous. But the imagination even more so because it allows us to live many realities. I also had another little girl on screen recently who was equally delightful.

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I go to church on Mother’s Day to remember my mother and to remember that I am still a daughter who loved being a mommy when I played pretend.

 

 

Life, Death, and Creativity

30 Nov

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My family lost a member to suicide this week. For all involved, it has been a time to process this information while offering support. There is a legacy of loss here that can’t be negated. My mother’s death from seven years ago was on people’s minds as well.

Tragedy always strikes in the strong currents of life. There is a never an ideal time for loss. Often you’re already at max point with the demands of work and day to day, yet death insists that you stop. It insists that you keep going as well. When I received my mom’s suicide note, I was asked to come into work until I knew more because the hospital accredidation surveyors were there for their annual review. I thought this was the height of insensitivity, particularly from a mental health organization, but I went in and led groups and charted my notes. Three days later the police called me.

This is life. It will toss you about like a garment in the washing machine on spin cycle.

The day after news of the family death, I received confirmation that my male lead in the short film I wrote and am producing and starring in got cast on another film. He was already in Europe on a film and starts work immediately on a new feature.

Making a film doesn’t begin to weigh in comparison to the life and death of an individual. Yet in this chaotic swirl of the last few days, creativity affirms life in the face of death. We can collapse or create. Or collapse and then create. We film in a week in LA. Figuring out a new shooting schedule with a new lead who has the chops was like trying to solve a rubik’s puzzle but we did.

It is a constant honoring of loss while moving forward with life. After the film wraps, I see clients, finish up a course, and then get on a plane to see my grandmother one last time before she passes. She has held out beautifully on hospice living longer than we expected. Then it’s another plane ride and teaching for a week while we all continue to grieve for the recent death.

For the most immediate family members, they will not be moving on quickly. For them, they will need time to stand still. They will need to simply rest while remembering to eat and take out the trash. And then one day, the darkness will lift a bit. They will take a step out from the shadows and they will see a ray of light and life. During that time before and after, we will hold hands and make phone calls for this is God’s grace.

 

 

 

 

Broken Open By Love

7 Sep

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Sadly, it is often only in retrospect that we see our parents more clearly. It took my mom’s death to really understand the depths of her love for me, despite her deficiencies stemming mostly from alcoholism and depression.

My mom was not initially depressed. In my formative years she was vivacious, enthusiastic, hard working, and fun. But when her second marriage ended, my mother was never the same again. That was the beginning of the end for her emotionally.

I remember being frustrated at her never ending melancholy that would get amped up during the holidays. Who would carve the turkey, if there wasn’t a man to do it? Why cook a turkey if there wasn’t a man there to enjoy it? And who would help us put the Christmas tree on top of the car and who would get it in the stand? These were the jobs for men. Now, we women had to figure it out. I was a kid. I loved Thanksgiving and Christmas. I just wanted to enjoy the bloody holidays without her still crying over a husband who was no longer around.

What I didn’t realize was that in some ways, the train had left the station for my mom. Despite actively dating, she never again found a suitable partner. The whole process wore her down. When she did finally feel a connection with someone, he was married. Completely out of character with her morals, she had an affair, which of course was the worst thing ever for her self-esteem. The man never left his wife for her and once again, my mom felt she had no value. She couldn’t get a man to stick. She also had to make her way in the world financially all on her own, which she nobly did.

During the time I focused on her neurosis and fragility, I neglected to see her largesse of spirit. It took her years to get over the hurt of her second failed marriage and yet because of me, she learned to forgive. When I moved back to California as an adult, I initially stayed with the man she’d been married to and with his family. It must have torn at her heart that I was with them instead of her, but she didn’t have room for me in her tiny studio apartment. At the end of the day, she knew that her ex was helping me in ways she couldn’t. When he bought me a much needed used car, my mom was grateful despite the weirdness of it all. She was able to transcend her hurt of not getting the life she desired for the fact that he was helping me, her daughter, who needed father figures in her life. My mother also showed up at my biological father’s bedside when he was dying, once again to support me.

My mom always thought that her second ex-husband stopped loving her. I think he always cared for her, despite moving on to a new relationship, but that was too hard for her to see. After all, she never got another shot with someone. And she wanted the love that comes to a wife; not the love that feels more like that reserved for an acquaintance or neighbor. A “hello” here, a “hey, what’s up?” there… But once again, it’s the breaking of hearts that often opens them. When my mom died by suicide, it was her ex that was there with me identifying the body. It was her ex and his wife, that hosted my relatives at their house because with Comic-Con on that week in San Diego, all the hotels were booked. He and his wife hosted the reception after my mom’s service and took me under their wing during my grief.

One day while swimming and trying to work out an issue that had been troubling me, I felt my mother’s spirit so strongly that tears came to my eyes despite the fact that I was submerged in water. I heard her say in my head, “On the other side, it doesn’t matter. All the things humans worry about, it doesn’t matter either way. In the end, it doesn’t matter.” I realized then that she’d found the love she’d so long craved on earth. The love that here on this planet we often fail to perceive because we’re caught up in duality, caught up in lack, caught up in ego, and caught up in need. Living in a human body, in the human world, is painful.

It’s a long journey home. It takes active work to perceive that home is here and available to us all while still living in this dimension. My mother reminds me that love is all there is, if we reach out to Spirit and ask Spirit’s presence to be known. The rest of it just doesn’t really matter.

 

 

Why Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Isn’t Enough

14 Jul

I have never been a fan of cognitive behavioral therapy. Sorry. If insight was enough to change, most of us would have quit smoking, lost weight, and kept any other New Year’s resolutions by now. Most of us would know we are worthy despite maybe having been mistreated as a child and most of us would make choices for ourselves that are healthy.

CBT is based on the idea that how we think influences our emotions and behaviors and without a doubt there is some truth here. If I wake up and see that it is raining, a thought such as “Oh, crap! It’s raining. Now the day is going to suck,” will definitely get the day off on the wrong foot. Yet if I wake up and think, “Oh, wonderful! I love the sound of rain on the roof and we need the rain,” then I’m going to be in a much better disposition. But what if you implement the positive thought and yet your mood doesn’t follow suit?

Herein lies the problem. Our thoughts aren’t enough. Here in Western society, we make cognition the King, the Supreme Being. Thinking (pun intended) reins over all systems. We negate the intelligence of our emotions, the secret knowledge of the heart, and the ridiculous accuracy of our guts.

In reality, behind every thought form is energy and energy vibrates at certain frequencies. Not only that, the energy that accompanies subconscious thought patterns often trumps any conscious work on “catch it, change it, change it” strategies.

How then do we break down old narratives?

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I’m a firm believer that some of the deconstruction has to start on the physical, cellular level. We do this using our breath, by having corrective, positive interpersonal interactions, and by creating new neural pathways vis-a-vis kinesthetic movement. In the process we begin to rearrange dimensions of our nervous system, which in turn influences mood, emotions, thoughts and behaviors. We embody new narratives when we create a new reality of presence.

Yet we also have to purge ourselves of the energy associated with the traumas that created the thought forms in the first place. What subconscious contracts did we make with our parents? What energy did we pick up in the household (or in the society at large)? What belief systems do we carry that aren’t even ours? Have we taken on one parent’s issues and energy in order to stay loyal to him or her? Are we subconsciously holding ourselves back because to live a different life would be to betray mom or emasculate dad? Do we dare to be happy if our ancestors weren’t?

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How come the third generation of Holocaust survivors sometimes relate to the terror of the Nazi occupation on a visceral level, when the family history was never discussed or even acknowledged? Why might a child in utero sense the mother’s fears and resentments about an unplanned or unwanted pregnancy? Why do various ethnicities carry historical trauma even when healing has occurred and why can you burst out in tears during a massage when a certain knot in a muscle is expunged? And why can the touch of one’s beloved make you cry out in relief and ecstasy?

Sometimes my clients look at me weird when I suggest a method of treatment that entails flushing out traumatic memories and patterns vis-a-vis the energy centers of the body, or chakras. Yet even skeptics can’t help but acknowledge that when they place their hands on their hearts or throats while declaring a specific statement or pattern unique to their experience, they sometimes experience intense images, feelings, insights, and sensations. The body doesn’t lie; the body keeps the score; the body is a wealth of knowledge. The subconscious, now made conscious loosens, as does the energy and resulting belief systems associated with traumas. Catharsis, as painful as it can be, clears and removes long held defense structures held within the body and cognitive schemas.

We can’t always think our way out of the the energetic ramifications of trauma. In fact, we never can. We feel, intuit, move, and then think our way out of intra-psychic prisons. Prayer too helps because it changes the energetic frequency when you invite in the presence of the Divine. Catharsis of repressed emotion and giving voice to long held anger can also liberate and energize.

Healing is a far more complex process than keeping thought records and dissecting behavior like diagramming sentences in grammar class. This can become mental masturbation and a Woody Allen monologue. Transformation comes when we dive into the energy of our traumas and into the joy of movement, breath, and sensate experience.

 

The Eyes of Your Heart

13 Jul

Ephesians 1:18 isn’t one of those bible verses you see on coffee mugs and bumper stickers. It’s not one of those Jeremiah moments proclaiming that the Lord has plans for you to prosper, or an Ecclesiastes musing on the ups and downs of life’s seasons. It’s not commonly quoted. In fact, you may have never heard it: “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious.”

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This was the first scripture I ever laid eyes on that appeared as Living Word. I have always considered words as living, powerful entities that shaped our souls. Forget the Bible. I believed the words of Shakespeare, Rilke and Whitman were Holy. The Bible was either a great work of literature, or all literature was God.

I didn’t know if Ephesians was in the Old or New Testament. I didn’t know the Ephesians were a group of individuals living in Ephesus and that “Ephesians” was an epistle addressed to them. All I knew was that a few weeks after my mother died by suicide, a pastor I knew only as the guy who surfed and wore flip flops, responded to an email from me saying, “I will pray for you. Check out this verse: “Eph. 1:18 I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you.” I don’t know what induced that pastor to send me the verse. I didn’t identify as Christian, and I had never read the Bible. I just know that when I read the verse out loud, I felt something quicken within me. I felt a sense of hope at a moment of profound grief over my mother’s death. Sure, I might have felt better because someone reached out to me in a moment of isolation via an email but this was more than a warm fuzzy from a stranger. These words spoke directly to me from God.

What was the hope to which I was being called? What eyes of my heart needed to be enlightened?

This verse ushered in a profound calling to learn more about God. I’d always believed in a higher entity but I had never believed in Jesus. On the contrary, I found much of Christianity a major turn off. I had studied and honored every religion but Christianity (and I still honor those faith traditions).

Life doesn’t get any easier just because you have a spiritual awakening and suddenly sense the presence of God. In fact, life can get harder. You still have the same trials and tribulations and just when you think you’re good with God or that God is Santa Claus, life can pull you back into that existential pit of hell that is part of being human.

It is the anniversary of my mother’s suicide on Saturday. She wrote me a suicide note on July 11th and the police called me on July 18th. Although I have healed much since her death, and her passing ushered in a period of respite from constant worry, fear and crisis, this year has been the hardest of my life. This year, for the first time, revealed to me the despair that made my mom finally say, “I can’t do it anymore. I’m throwing the towel in on life.”

Why would anyone want to throw the precious gift of life away? Why would anyone abort the breath, love, talent, and vitality we have to offer, particularly when living in America in relative safety with food, clothing and shelter? To do so threatens to negate the impact of genocide, rape, poverty, violence, human trafficking, racism, famine and disease. Yet many Americans are starving from isolation, lack of belonging, lack of purpose, and lack of authentic connection. Many young Americans are also starving from physical, emotional and sexual abuse. These too can kill you. Broken dreams, too many years of talking to the walls at night instead of pillow talk next to a living breathing human, too many years of fractured relationships, deaths, betrayals, violations, and loss, can kill. But what is this hope to which we are called?

Last night at that same church, seven years later, during the anniversary period of my mom’s death, a different pastor ended worship with that same verse. It’s not like pastors go around quoting Ephesians 1:18. It’s not a common occurrence. It’s not biblical slang/jargon. But I heard those words and thought, WOW. “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order to know that hope to which you are called.”

God’s vision for our lives is so much bigger than we ourselves can see. He wants so much more for us. The hope is life in Him. It’s not in fame, fortune, or glamour. It’s not in a house, marriage, kids, and a white picket fence. It’s not in how many likes you get on FB or how well you do in the stock market. The latter are fine and wonderful things but the only true hope – the only hope that makes sense – is this much grander element. The only real salvation comes when we reach out to our neighbor and lay our lives down in one way, shape, or another. I’m not talking about being a doormat, co-dependent, or a martyr. I’m talking about making an active choice to love one’s neighbor more than oneself. There is a difference between the two. One is active and conscious; the other passive, unconscious and perhaps stupid and/or manipulative.

God has saved my life many times. Not because I’m some ignorant fool who has to make up a God in order to get by in life. I’m plenty strong and resilient, thank you very much. I am indebted to God because in the darkest times of my life, when I have been on the floor in a hot mess of despair and anguish, my eyes were enlightened to a hope beyond my reckoning. Beyond my vision. Beyond my time table. But nonetheless to a hope far greater than I. It was the same hope that hours after the police called me, informing me of my mom’s death, I knew that she was finally okay. The nightmare had passed. For, “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.” Revelation 21:4.

If you have to bow your head to the ground every hour of the day to feel this hope, do it. While life can be profoundly beautiful, joyous and ecstatic, even those thrills can pale in the face of God, and those earthly delights can certainly change in the blink of an eye. But this hope to which we are called, puts light in the dark, puts joy in the midst of tears. It does not wave a magic wand and solve human created situations, but it is so much bigger and so much more loving than we could ever fathom.

It is redemptive. It is salvation. It is every story that has ever been written. It is creation itself.

Dear Sisters, Do Not Lie About Rape. You Discredit Real Survivors When You Do

25 Mar

There is nothing more egregious than false accusations of rape or childhood sexual abuse. For every woman who actively lies about rape as an act of manipulation, revenge, or attention seeking behavior, a real survivor’s story gets discredited. For every woman who concocts a story, the harder it is for a survivor to tell hers’. Advances in this cause unravel and more victims get silenced, ridiculed, shamed and blamed, which is the last thing they need.

It’s true that trauma can create ruptures and distortions in memory and that details of rape are sometimes not clear. This makes reporting abuse extremely difficult. Yet this phenomenon is very different than pulling a rabbit out of a hat and out of the blue accusing an innocent man of rape. I don’t understand why women do the latter. It is a deep betrayal to both men and women.

For someone who has experienced incest or rape, few survivors feel like shouting about this from the roof tops. In fact, some of us will never be able to articulate a sentence about the events or the relationships that were endured. Others, as part of the healing process, find hope and strength in speaking about their stories. This is often the first step towards advocacy work and helping others. Yet it is the rare person who speaks about the event as a type of tabloid exhibitionism. For most, the memories are mired in shame, secrecy, and an uncanny form of repression.

So Dear Sisters, do not lie about rape. You discredit real survivors when you do.

Grief Like A Tsunami

1 Feb

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The other day I was driving on the highway when the most outrageous rainbow I’d ever seen appeared in the sky. It had been raining lightly in Southern California, which in itself is rare. I was so taken by the rainbow that I turned off the highway to photograph it. Right off the exit was a Denny’s, so I pulled into the parking lot. Of course when I later posted the photos on FB, people joked about the rainbow leading to Denny’s and not a pot of gold.

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Denny’s photobombing my rainbow was classic. What better place for Glory to descend than in the middle of an ugly, Southern California highway? If Beauty can lower herself to the banality of Denny’s, perhaps Grace can appear in our darkest moments?

I was having a rough day, filled with a sense of doubt about many things. For comfort, I drove to the church my mom and I used to attend. I don’t frequent there often, but when I long to feel close to her, I visit the church.

I don’t know my mother’s exact state when she overdosed on amitriptyline. I know her death was intentional though because she left me a suicide note. In it, she wrote that she lived in “a world of utter darkness, despair and pain.” She continued, “I cannot stand life anymore. There seems to be no way out. Depression has totally overcome me.”

Whatever the causes for pain of this magnitude, no amount of cheerleader pep talk helps. This vortex of existential angst can suck us into the blackest hole. Despite not harboring destructive tendencies, I sometimes perceive this state and and know why she ended her life.

Enduring intense pain is like sweating out a fever. Emotions, like toxins, move through us, begging for release. Running a fever isn’t something to be taken lightly and sometimes needs professional care. At the very least, tender love and care. In an ideal world, another human being sits with us and holds our hand until a ray of light pierces the night and we feel less bleak.

Grief can hit like a tsunami, knocking us down with little warning. I lived in Indonesia and remember watching, years later when back in America, the news coverage of tidal destruction that hit the Indonesian archipelago in the 90’s. It was devastating to think about and witness. The path towards repair can seem futile and the anguish insurmountable. And yet like the biblical story of Noah, in which a rainbow appears after the flood finally calms, sometimes a sign appears – a vision of color cascading through the sky.

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This wasn’t just some little rainbow gracing the skies of Southern California yesterday. This was a big honking rainbow. Thank you, mother for winking at me from the sky.

 

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Selfish Bitch of a Daughter

5 Dec

When my mom was released from prison after that particular incarceration, she asked me to pick her up from the bus station. She needed her purse, money, her driver’s license, and to be driven to a hotel because she no longer had her apartment or many of her belongings. She was going to have to start all over from scratch. Getting a job with a felony was a mountain to scale but at least this time, they hadn’t revoked her license. My mom was no more a criminal than Bambi. Instead she suffered from alcohol dependence and had gotten behind the wheel while intoxicated. She had served prison sentences a number of times for this offense yet had never been court ordered for rehab. If she had had more money and a better attorney, she might have escaped her jailbird fate.

Her car had been parked near my house so I could keep an eye on it. The first thing she wanted to do was get her hair colored because apparently, it looked terrible. Grey roots were showing.

I couldn’t do it. When I thought about picking her up from the downtown Greyhound bus station, making small chitchat after she’d been gone from me for a year, fear hit me like a tsunami. I was a terrible daughter. I was letting her down. I was abandoning my mother, but if I went, I was going to abandon myself. I wouldn’t have a self anymore.

My friend, Lori volunteered to meet my mom at the station. She would give my mother her belongings. Lori also cut me a check for $200.00. “I know money is tight right now, but you need extra therapy support. Take it. It’s my pleasure.”

By not meeting her at the bus and offering her any support, was I leaving her an orphan, lost and alone in the world? Would blood be on my hands? The first time my mom was released from prison, she’d jumped from her apartment balcony, puncturing a lung and breaking a few ribs. I was a selfish bitch of a daughter.

Somehow my mom figured it out. She established herself in an apartment and found a job as a home health aid. She picked up the pieces of her shattered life and put them together again. I owed it to her to see her. That was all she wanted: to see me, her daughter. Thanksgiving was only a few weeks away. I knew that too was on her agenda. What were we going to do for the holiday? I hated the fucking holidays!

I was in the middle of moving apartments, I’d just started a new job, and my father had died only a year prior. I was a selfish bitch of a daughter, but my sanity was as fragile as my mother’s.

I decided that we should meet at Whole Foods and eat at their take out bar. It was quick, it was simple, and I felt safe amongst their gourmet cheese and flower displays. It was civilized and serene. We’d be spared the ordeal of cooking and awkward silences while waiting for a meal in a restaurant.

I stood outside the familiar building and saw her little White Hyundai pull into the parking lot. Because it was almost Thanksgiving, and Whole Foods catered, huge storehouses occupied space in the parking lot. It was difficult to find a spot. My mom had to circle a bit.

Whatever I feared would happen, didn’t. On the contrary, my heart opened when she got out of the car. This was my mother, the woman who had taken me to Girl Scouts and to Halloween carnivals. She was the woman who I had matching mother/daughter outfits with. Oh, how I loved my pink, green, and white plaid bell bottoms with the matching pink top. I’d beg her to wear hers so we’d be identical.

As she came forward to hug me, she kissed the air instead of my cheek. Whenever I hugged her, her body would collapse in and away from me. Direct, bear hug contact made her uncomfortable, no matter who was hugging her. With authority, I led us to the hot bar area of the store and gave her an overview of our selections. She picked out roast beef and macaroni and cheese. As a habit, my mom barely ate. She consisted on diet-coke and vodka, but when she occasionally would have a meal, she was still a meat and potatoes girl from Wisconsin. She didn’t like fruits, whole grains, or vegetables. She maintained a stellar figure for years, until starving herself finally messed up her natural metabolism. She affectionately called me, “Little Piggy,” which infuriated me. I was far from “piggy.” I was actually quite slender, but she didn’t understand where the food I ate went. I would lecture her that dieting was the worst thing one could do for one’s health and figure.

She insisted on paying for our food. I knew money was tight for her, but it would have insulted her if I had made the gesture.

It wasn’t awful. She asked me about my new job and how I liked it. I asked her about her new apartment. Even though I was working as a psychotherapist in a program that supported ex-felons in a their re-entry into society, I couldn’t ask my own mom about her experiences in jail. We both had an unspoken rule that it was off limits for discussion. Despite it all, I was proud of her. She had more spunk and strength than I’d given her credit for. Time in a state prison would have destroyed me; shattered my soul.

Every holiday season, when I see those storehouses, or generators, or whatever that thing is that takes up a number of spaces in the Whole Foods parking lot, I think of that encounter with my mother.

Incarceration is like a death in the family. The person leaves and then suddenly resurrects upon release. I went through this process with my mother five times, until she actually died for real.

No Prison Party

27 Oct

I was twenty-four years old the first time I visited my mom in prison. I can’t remember what kind of car I drove to the facility, what I had for breakfast that morning, or what I wore. I don’t remember what I did afterwards – whether I was alone or with a friend. The details blur as in a dream one can’t recall, yet I will never forget my mother’s expression as she peered at me through the glass divider.

She looked stressed, disoriented and haggard. Always immaculately preserved, her hair showed grey roots I had never seen. Without make-up, her face seemed to have aged five or ten years, yet the body underneath the orange scrubs seemed fragile and childlike. Her gentle, Bambi like eyes darted back and forth, frightened. Depression was plastered on her face.

“Isn’t it terrible?” she kept repeating on the phone. I twisted the cord on my end of the receiver.

She was an apparition before me. I wanted to run as far away as possible. What the hell was I supposed to say? I stared back, willing compassion to be reflected in my eyes, yet my body was numb. I couldn’t feel any sensation in my heart. It too was in prison, locked behind bars.

Somehow the car made it back to my mom’s ex-husband’s house. I was staying with him for a few days, even though he and my mom divorced when I was eight. As a graduate student, I didn’t have the money to stay in a hotel or to rent a car. I had barely been able to afford the plane ticket for the visit, but the prison social worker had urged me to come. She said my mom was suicidal. They thought my presence would help. My mom was supposed to discharge two days after Christmas and they didn’t want her to make an attempt.

My love had never been enough to keep her from drinking. I had never been enough. How was my visit going to save her life?