It’s Monday night and she’s been in bed for a long time. She cries a lot. The dark curtains blocking out the world from her and her from the world. I come home alone. Her, my dirty little secret. The mom I had to take care of like a parent.
I just paid the bills. There’s never enough. Her snores echo. There’s really no one to talk to. She has no friends. She used to cook every day, it was her favorite thing to do, to cook big meals for everyone around us. Now her pain and the medications don’t let her eat much and, well, it’s just us two. I usually settle for canned beans. I cling to the light of the computer screen and wait for someone from the outside to reach in to me. I don’t want to do the dishes. I don’t want to do anything.
It’s Saturday morning and I haven’t slept. I was wide awake, seeking attention from strange, disgusting men online, sometimes in person. I was crafting strange projects for classes where I wasn’t asked to do that much. Mom is walking today. She wants me to walk to Burger King and use the last of my money to buy her junk food and then stop for cigarettes. When I say no she screams and pulls out the broom. I push her over and immediately hold my breath.
She is small and frail and so full of pain. Her body is crumbling and I’ve known that she was falling apart since I was 8 and I just damaged her. This isn’t the first time we’ve fought. But if I hit her I can break her.
Sometimes we fight because I call her out. Because she talked in her sleep and told me I could do something that her conscious mind objects to. Because she wasn’t listening to me and all I wanted was to vent, not a lecture.
This time she beats me out of the house and uses the broom the barricade it, telling me that if I can’t do what she says I can’t live with her. She calls me a bitch and a whore. She doesn’t even know about the men. A few times she threatened to throw my cat outside because I wasn’t keeping the house up to snuff. I couldn’t find the energy to make that dark, quiet, sullen place livable.
The worst fights are the ones you actually can’t rage in. The ones where you can’t raise your voice or hit someone. The ones where you shouldn’t have to stay strong. I should be able to scream back at her, to push and stomp away. To say no and to have a life and to rebel, shouldn’t I?
The worst part is how easily she forgets, how easily she’s over it. Or, how quickly she turns back into a zombified, lizard-eyed patient whimpering from the bed.
I am on top of the world. I’m talking to three cute people and winning awards in competitive speech left and right. I wear heels and makeup every day and wonder who the person in the mirror is-but people seem to like her-so it’s okay. I try to practice my speeches to mom. She can’t stand the light I need to see my script. She already forgot the plot of the movie we watched yesterday. Last week she forgot she’d ever had to see a doctor for damage to her hip. My stockings tore and I need new clothes to compete in, but I’ll have to ask around for handouts and she can’t show me how to mend.
We like to joke that rather than asking what she does have wrong with her, the doctors should ask what she doesn’t. But, by now even she doesn’t know. I use an old art supply case to organize her medications. I hold back her hair when she pukes. I bathe her and take care of cysts in unsavory places.
I’m failing my classes now and she doesn’t know. The speech team and my teachers don’t know what’s wrong with me, so now they pretend I don’t exist. It’s easier that way. I don’t know what’s wrong either. When I come home to the dark and the mess and the chores and the crying I want to die. I think of taking her with me.
I got into college. I got away, and am finding myself. I know now why the girl in the mirror wasn’t me, it’s because I’m not a girl. I’m free of mom and whatever demon I fought with her in that house. Except, not really.
My mother may be evicted any day now. The people driving me to her call me by a different name than the one she gave me. She still calls me her daughter, her little girl. I still stay up late to order her groceries and I now pay for her bills and cigarettes with my own money. We call each other randomly for cute stories and to share quotes from our favorite movies. We have a language all our own that couldn’t be understood by anyone else in this world. I don’t always want to speak it.
She doesn’t remember what she did. She says she still used to cook for me. She refuses to call me her caregiver because that meant she failed as a mother.
The only failure I truly hold against her is that not even she could see the demon. She was too much in her own world to notice mine was falling apart. She never saw the cuts on my wrists or the excess purchases.
No one’s there to see it now. I’m alone. I wake with regular nightmares which I can’t always tell from reality. My heart beats out of my chest and my body is weak and aching as if they’ve already consumed me. I can feel their teeth at the back of my neck and I silently scream wondering why no one can see that I am cursed. I believe the words they say because sometimes they seem more real than this world.
I’m forced into the hospital when I realize that this demon is here to stay and it’s going to ruin the only chance I had of getting away. From the poverty and the loneliness, and the hopelessness that she faces. That’s all somehow worse than the pain. The demon is going to take it all away, but I don’t know its name.
And then I find out.
It’s something my father left me. It’s his demon. He, who was never around, neither bonding nor abusing, just absent and blank and unwilling to do anything for his child. His genes left a seed in me that when triggered by stress of puberty or of caregiving or of life, turned my brain bipolar.
The worst fights are the ones you actually can’t rage in. The ones where you can’t raise your voice or hit someone. The ones where you shouldn’t have to stay strong. Now I’ve gotten away from the fight with my mom, but I’ve got a new one with my father. Or rather, the demon he left in my head to take up the space of his absence.