You knocked on the door. I opened it with a fake smile spread across my face. I let you in only to regret it a split second later when you asked for something to drink. I was glad that I had nothing to give you other than water. We hadn’t spoken in a while, and I didn’t want to speak to you, but you insisted on small talk. I didn’t say much. I nodded my head, smiled, and gave you the satisfaction of knowing that I heard you, but I wasn’t listening.
You looked old, more desperate than I had ever seen you. I counted the sleepless nights in the lines on your forehead. The bags under your eyes looked like suitcases packed for a month long vacation. I couldn’t help but hope that I was the cause of your distress, and that the reason you were here was to try desperately to try to convince me I was happier with you.
You didn’t say a word about us, only about how great you had been. The number of times you had to reiterate how spectacular your life had been lately solidified my speculation that you had been absolutely miserable, and that you were dwindling away without me. Without my life to suck out you had nothing. You had nothing to rejuvenate yourself.
I started to feel bad for you after a while, which was only mildly depressing. You looked pitiful, and as much as I loved to watch you squirm in your seat under my scrutinizing gaze, my empathy level started to rise. I quickly told you I was sorry I hadn’t returned any of your calls, but I had been so busy with all of the happy things going on in my life that I didn’t have time for anything else. You seemed troubled by this, and the joy that that brought me overwhelmed any pitty I felt for you. I was enjoying ruining your life as you had ruined mine.
After about 3 hours you stood up and tried to embrace me. I stopped you, shook your hand, and told you it had been great talking. This time my smile was real. I was excited to let you leave out my door on my terms. No more manipulation to stay in my bed, no more moving in unannounced. I hoped this finally made my point clear that I wanted absolutely nothing to do with you ever again. I wanted to make absolutely certain you knew that I no longer needed you.
I saw you out and locked the door behind you. I’m sure I’ll see you again some day, and we may exchange glances, but never again will I allow you or any of your kind to have a hold on me.
I am not for sale. I am not out of business.
Take me back to 1990. New York City. Buildings higher than you can see with people from all over underneath. Casting shadows over shadows while listening to the subway rattle. Garibaldi had a different kind of heart ache while he watched the old turn to new, and now on the subject he has a different point of view. The high rise was alive but with trains, hookers, and drug running games. No tourists or foolishness, just an unsettling ruthlessness. If you look at it now it doesn’t look the same. 101 and Riverside was still alive with addicts and bad habits. Dive bars are now wine marts, but back then they didn’t have that.
And then there was me. A day old and I could barely breathe but what I did breathe in was a city that couldn’t sleep. And neither could I with eyes so wide. I wanted to get out and run. That feeling is still inside of me, that feeling’s still alive.
Now my life philosophy is much the same as those first few days, when I didn’t sleep, I couldn’t breathe, and I wanted to run as far as I could see. I’m a wreck of a man, a baby in most ways. Try and catch me if you can, most of my life I’ve always ran and it’s always in vein. I can’t sit still, and I can’t even begin to spill all the happiness that I have when I’m living out of a bag. It’s like being right at home with just a toothbrush and a comb. I wish for that life now, because I’ve reached adulthood somehow.
But I’ll never forget the feeling of the first time I crossed the Williamsburg bridge, I had just got done stealing a glimpse of the life my father lived. A man who I respect and I wish all the best even though he’ll never hear me, and my wishes aren’t read clearly. I miss him oh so dearly, and I’ll always be fearing that I’ll end up like him, not happy with how I’m living. Success is all relative, but to he and I we live for the hell of it making waves and every day we wonder how we can stay relevant.
I guess I am my father’s son, and when it’s all said and it’s all done, I’m not proud of who I am, but I’m proud of who we are. A team of thieves with a few tricks up our sleeves, but I’ve clearly run all out, and I can’t show you a magic trick that I knew back then but I don’t know now.
The day is soon when I’ll be back in you. New York, a city of drug runners and narc’s. I hope we meet again soon, so I can stand down at Battery and stare at your crooked moon.
It hurts to know that I cannot share the joy I feel now with you. I wish you could see me now.
I’ve tried to explain what it feels like. I’ve said it feels like an aching of the skin. I’ve described it as someone punching the back of your eyes until they almost fall out.
I’ve told people it feels like someone’s prodding at your gums relentlessly until you can’t bear the pain anymore.
I’ve come to the realization that there is absolutely no way to describe how it feels. It just is. It comes, it goes, but it’s always there, and it always is. It rarely gets any easier, and the promise that it does is protection that concerned people hand out to give you false hope that it might some day, and they hope you’ll believe it long enough to reconsider.
I’m a living and breathing guinea pig of that school of thought. I hope it gets better when it doesn’t, and I continue to believe that it will because I am the definition of insanity.
I am what I wish I could describe, and I wish I could describe what it feels like to be indescribable.
It’s the way my skin feels like it’s going to tear apart. It’s how my heart turns off and my head won’t stop. It’s the aching feeling I get knowing that I will never see you again that keeps me up at night. I miss you.
My Mother’s Keeper
My phone rang and jolted me out of my sleep. My heart did a swan dive into my stomach. A ringing phone at a time like this is rarely brings happy news. I answered the phone but didn’t say anything, I just waited for the voice on the other line to tell me everything I didn’t want to hear.
“Eric, the nurses are saying your mother is almost gone,” my aunt said with tears in her voice. “It can’t be,” I thought, “I’m not there, I promised her that I would be. She cannot leave without me.” It was as if after years of taking care of her, it was impossible for me to believe something as serious as this could happen without me there to make sure everything was being taken care of. “Okay,” I said, “I’ll be there in 20 minutes.”
It seemed like just minutes earlier that I had been walking into the building my mother was in, shaking with tension and shivers brought on by the cold 4 am mornings of Wisconsin winters. I made haste down long hallways lined with private rooms with numbers and clipboards and hospital equipment. The smell of pure sanitation leaked from every corner stinging my nostrils, making me even more terrified to watch the woman who cared for me for my entire life leave this world with a meek whimper.
I opened the door to her room quietly and was instantly met with the sympathetic eyes of my mother’s brothers and sisters. I nodded at them, and gave a forced, almost awkward smile. I wiped my nose with the back of my sleeve, and looked to my right. Lying almost motionless on a bed was my mother, unconscious but still alive. She was hooked up to IVs and monitors. Tubes were going in and out of her, charts hung next to her bed, all making her look like she was some sort of experiment in death. She lay there completely still. She didn’t get up to hug me or ask me how my day was or get ready for me to take her to one of her numerous and various doctors appointments. She just lay there with her eyes closed and her mouth open slightly making a light gurgling noise every time she inhaled.
I sat down next to her and held her swollen hands. I could feel bumps all through her hands from her arthritis brought on by recent years of gripping bibles and clutching prayer beards. From a life time of helping sick and injured women deliver babies and caring for them passionately in prenatal ICU’s all over the world. It was hard for me to recognize these as the same hands that cradled my head when I would cry as a child, and these as the same fingers that had constantly pointed me in the right direction over, and over again.
“I’m sorry for waking you up if you were asleep,” my aunt whispered as she walked up beside me “but we really think this is the end.” “It’s fine.” I responded without meeting her eyes and with a lump in my throat the size of a basketball. I didn’t want to look at her and run the risk of screaming something horrible at her for even daring to look like she felt a fraction of the pain and vulnerability that I was feeling.
I sat there for two hours holding my mother’s hand. I recalled happy memories of family vacations with my father and my brother. I remembered a summer road trip out West that was filled with so much happiness and life that it didn’t seem like death would ever find any us.
Inevitably, I started remembering the hard times. I remembered watching her fight with my brother over a substantial amount of money missing from her room. I remembered hearing the bloodcurdling scream she let out when she walked into my brothers room and found his lifeless body in his bed. I remembered watching and helping her take care of my father as he suffered and died of cancer just two years after my brother’s death.
Lastly, I remembered escorting her all over Madison, taking her anywhere she needed to be from the time she was first diagnosed with her terminal cancer. I found what it meant to be a son more than any of my friends could understand. I was twenty years old and I was my mother’s keeper. *I was twenty years old, about to be let go from my full time job with absolutely no direction.
I looked at the clock on my phone. It was 6 am and she hadn’t gotten any better or any worse. I kissed her hand and stood up. I told my cousin I was going to go home to try to sleep because I wouldn’t be able to sleep there. I was getting over the flu and had a horrible feeling I would begin to die too if I didn’t get to rest some. Before I left I leaned over my mother and reiterated a promise I had made to her time and time again. “I promise I will be here in the end,” I said and kissed her on the forehead. I got back into my car and turned on Johnny Cash just to have something else to fill my mind other than the thoughts racing laps in my head. I got home and lay in bed for less than 5 minutes before I was completely passed out.
My aunts phone call informing me mother was almost dead had jolted me out of my sleep 6 hours later. The words “she’s almost gone” were still ringing in my ears.
5 minutes later my phone rang again and my heart was plunged back into the depths just as soon as it had made its way back into my chest. I wasn’t ready for the words I was about to hear. Nothing in my 20 years of life could have prepared me for the ice cold feeling that ran through my veins, and sent a wave of sobering reality all through my body. I had known for a year that it would be coming sooner rather than later, but I didn’t think it would be as soon as right then.
“She’s gone, Eric.”
I had never felt as alone as I did at that very moment. I didn’t cry, I didn’t say anything, I just replayed the words over and over again in my head to try to find any way that I could translate it to mean anything other than exactly what it meant.
I hung up, asked my roommate to take me to where she was, and walked into the bathroom to rinse my face off. I looked in the mirror and saw wrinkles in my face for the first time. I looked at my hands and saw veins in them. I was forced to become an adult without knowing it. In those 2 minutes I was on the phone I learned to be okay with life as it comes, and never to expect anything. I learned to be okay with letting go of promises I couldn’t fulfill, and to take care of the things that I could as soon as I could. I had learned what it meant to be a man just like I had learned what it meant to be a son.
I’m not sure if you’re real. Your fingers are lightning, and they leave me numb. I’m drawn to you like moths to flames. When we’re together, we are mercury. Toxic to anyone but each other. The world stops to watch us. We are our own worst fears finding harmony. We are callouses healing. We are finally healthy. We are perfect. People like you are not real, but I’m starting to not care if you aren’t.
I’m not a very good person. I’m not a bad person, but I’m not someone you would read about and say deserves a happy life. I don’t pretend to be any better than I am, and I don’t deserve many of the things that I have.
My mother was a feminist. My mother believed women should be treated with the utmost respect, and not taken advantage of. Whether or not my father believed the same is still unclear. While he said he was very much a feminist, his past would call him a hypocrite.
My father had a Ph.D in philosophy, and was a pediatric nurse. My mother was a nurse, a professor of nursing, and a midwife. My parents went to school for years, and had jobs that benefited society.
People constantly tell me “they would be proud of you.” I’m going to set the record straight on why that’s complete bullshit.
I have used, mistreated, and disrespected many, many women. The number of women I had slept with sky rocketed in a year. I’m sure many of the women that slept with me wanted something more than just sex, but I didn’t care. No one meant enough to me for me to want to even kind of put any time or effort into them. While I’ve slowed down, almost screeched to a complete halt, I still see the women I was with as so disposable, and none of it meant anything to me. I could see them now, and they could ask me why I never called them back, and I’d tell them the same thing I tell all of them. I would tell them that I was lonely, needed the attention, and that’s what they were there for at the time. This has all happened since my mother died.
I’m a fucking bartender. I don’t do anything for the community. The only somewhat noble thing I’ve ever done is adopt a dog. Idon’t save lives, in fact I help end them. I’m more of a menace to society than I am an aid to it. My father one time told me never to bar tend, and that it only led to terrible things. I agree with him, and I think if I were a weaker man I would be even more of a terrible person. The point is, I don’t contribute, I only take. I have gone to college only to fail. My parents would be ashamed of me.
Lastly,they weren’t proud of me when they were alive. I dropped out of high school, I toured in bands that never made any money, and I was a bad son.
In conclusion, my parents would not be proud of me. They would disappointed in the person I have become.
She asked me how my life was, through gritted teeth I told her it was fine. I wanted to tell her it wasn’t her business.
She asked me how my dog was, I hesitated for about 2 seconds and I told her he was fine. I wanted to tell her we didn’t need her help.
She asked if the house was still standing, I swallowed and told her it was. I wanted to tell her she could stop by whenever if she genuinely cared.
She asked how the sisters were doing, I choked and told her they were all still alive. I wanted to tell her they haven’t talked to me in months.
She asked if there was anything she could do for me, I looked her in the eye and told her there was nothing anyone could do for me. That was exactly what I meant.
Alone, with no one to share this burden with.
I don’t write things for anyone’s entertainment. I don’t write stories because I want people to read them. I don’t write to be criticized or use any of my words to evoke and sort of emotion in anyone else. My aim is not to have you read this and to think “I can relate.” My aim is not for you to pity me or to wish me well, because I am fine.
I don’t want pity, I just want to be loved like I used to be. I just want someone to fucking tell me it will all be okay like it used to be. I just want to feel something real, that doesn’t feel forced, and that is natural.
I write because I have memories that play over and over again in my head, and each time details are left out from the time before.
I don’t want to forget exactly how the light hit the Empire State building when I was 7 as I crossed the George Washington bridge when I was on a vacation.
I don’t want to forget my mothers smile every time she saw me.
I don’t want to forget how my father spent hours explaining his lack of faith and how he became the person he was.
I don’t want to forget, even though I wish sometimes I could, how my brother and I would fight for hours over nothing that ever really mattered.
All of these memories seem so distant, and that terrifies me.
I am absolutely terrified of my life, the way I think, and the person I’m so afraid I will become. I want a reason to not be afraid anymore.
My father couldn’t speak by the time he was bed ridden. He could only sort of mouth words.This was a result of his liver failing, and thus an inability to send the right nutrients to his brain for it to work functionally. He had colon cancer that spread to his liver, and he was going to die very, very soon.
He lived a fruitful life. He was born and Brooklyn, was married once only to be used for his money, and then again to be appreciated for the incredibly kind man he was. He was intelligent. He had a doctorate in philosophy, and eventually became a nurse. Though he was kind, he was arrogant, and secretly thought he was better than everyone. In many ways he was right. He wasn’t recognized for the talent he had, but that was his own fault. He stood up for himself, but never flaunted his qualities.
I know for a fact he enjoyed many, many women. While looking through letters of his after he died, I found many that were from women detailing their experiences with him. It made sense, he was a charming, attractive, wealthy, and very cunning man. He was never alone, and if he was, it wasn’t for long. As I previously mentioned, he thought he was better than everyone else. He knew he was. This leads me to believe he probably spent many nights with women that were completely empty and void of emotion. I imagine he spent many nights enjoying the comfort of these women.
I can say this because that is exactly how I am, and I am exactly like my father.
By the time he was dying, we all knew it was happening. He wouldn’t speak again after mouthing “I love you too” at me one last time.
I wish more than anything that he was here now to show me how to be a man, to forgive and to forget, and how to be the great person he was, or that I thought he was.
The urge to put down into words how I feel doesn’t usually strike me until 1:00 or 2:00 am most days. This is usually because the things that I am writing about take place right around then in a strangers bed. A deep wish to feel alive matched with an intense desire to feel loved sparks a flame, and I feel the need to record all of it so I won’t forget it.
Today was different. Today at 1:00 pm I was cleaning my house. No strangers were there, I wasn’t wrapped up in some woman, and nothing I was doing was stirring up any kind of emotion. Nothing should have happened that would make me love, hate, or fear. But it did.
My mother has been dead a year. My father has been dead for four and a half years. My brother has been dead for just over six years. I don’t believe in sympathy for those who have lost loved ones. I’m not saying to never feel sympathetic for them, but I’m saying sympathy for people like myself usually translates into “they’re watching out for you,” or “they still love you.” As I’ve said before, I understand that this makes the person saying it feel better about themselves, and it reinforces their hope that when their loved ones die, they will be watching out for them too. But this is false. No one watches out for you after they die, because they are dead.
With this being said, I still feel extremely sad about their passing. It’s a constant thought. Every day that I wake up, I sometimes fool myself into thinking that they are still alive, and waiting for me down stairs. Sometimes I like to pretend I can hear my parents talking, or my brother in his room. These thoughts make me feel better for a short period of time, but I quickly remind myself that they are gone, and fooling myself will not make them come back.
My mother would disagree with everything I just said. She would say “Eric, your loved ones still love you, and they do look out for you.” She was a religious woman, and I tried my hardest not to try to voice my opinions about it, even though I did from time to time. I can’t fault her for being religious, I believe that the only time being religious is acceptable is while someone is dying. It provides them a feeling of comfort no medicine can, and for that I will never disagree with someone when on their death bed, they start praying. I have never been in that position, and I have no idea how I will react when my time comes.
She died just after Christmas, and after the new year in 2011. She died of cancer after battling with it for over 14 years. Leading up to her death, she became very confused. She didn’t always know who I was, or who her sisters were, or what pills she was taking, or really anything for that matter. She was losing her hair, and had a distended stomach. She couldn’t stand, her face was turning whiter every day. Her eye lids were thickening to the point where I thought they would burst. She would mumble the things she wanted. She trusted no one. The one thing she never quarreled with or forgot about was religion. She continued to talk about God and Jesus until she couldn’t speak anymore.
Being that it was around Christmas time, and I knew it would all be over soon, I made a gesture I think she enjoyed. I bought her “The Lord is my Shepherd.” - by Rabbi Daniel S. Kushner. I didn’t know what I was doing, so I bought a book I figured would help her be okay with dying. I figured she would read it, but she never got the chance to. She would never read again after Christmas. So, being that it was her last few days with us, I read it to her. I read it to her one chapter at a time. The only time she would wake up and be coherent until she died was when I was reading to her.
I’m not superstitious, I don’t believe that God woke her up for me. I believe she wanted to hear me read something to her. Her weathered hands would hold mine, and her sunken eyes would suddenly light up. She would remember the things that I had read to her and we would discuss them. I would tell her I disagreed with what Kushner was saying, and she would discuss why she did. I can honestly say that reading that to her was one of the happiest, things I’ve ever done. It was a final good bye, it was a good way to end almost 21 years of a mother/son relationship.
She died January 6, 2011.
I hadn’t touched the book or even thought about the book in over a year. I find myself trying to forget about happy moments to avoid nostalgia. That all came to a halt today at 1:00pm. I held the book in front of me, and tears welled up. I wanted so bad to read to her one more time, and have her say something that made me feel better about the situation I’m in. I wanted her to show me how to fix my problems, and right all of the wrongs I’ve done since her passing. I wanted right there to really, and truly believe that she was looking out for me, and that she still loved me.
I couldn’t. She is dead, and I know that she is not looking out for me, and she doesn’t love me anymore.
I put the book back on the shelf, and kept cleaning like nothing had happened.