Content Warning: Domestic Violence, Substance Abuse References
He shifted in his bed in the darkness. He remembered when he used to be afraid of the monsters he could manifest from his imagination. The scraping of the tree branches on the windows would be the long, gnarled fingers of some beast just outside his window waiting to strike if he moved a muscle from under his covers. Or under the bed would turn into more than just old socks and crushed soda cans in the mystery of the night and hold some creature waiting to grab his ankles if he got up to go to the bathroom and pull him to the netherworld. He would lie there, breathing soft and quick, waiting for sleep to take him to somewhere the monsters were not.
He sighed. Who would have thought that those monsters were less scary than the monsters he was facing now. The monsters he had met along the way in his 28 years, were not a figment of his imagination, but very real beings and events that happened. Now, he felt he wouldn’t mind being pulled to another world if his feet brushed the floor beside his bed at night. It was a fleeting thought, but a thought nonetheless.
He flipped on his bedside table lamp and looked at the contents of the top. First he saw his phone, the light was blinking and he knew there would be messages he wasn’t ready to answer. A book he meant to finish reading that his therapist suggested. His journal of incoherent mumblings, in his opinion. A bottle of Ambien that he couldn’t bring himself to use and various antidepressants he had tried and then stopped. He felt tears start to pool in the corner of his eyes. He blew out a puff of air between his lips and wiped his eyes with the back of his hand. Would he ever feel better? Would he ever feel normal? His therapist said he would once he did the hard work, but it hadn’t happened yet. He always ended up backtracking and it wasn’t going to work. At least that was how he felt today. Maybe tomorrow he’d feel motivated again and go for a run. Or maybe he’d stay in bed. Who knew?
He grabbed his phone and walked over to the table in his studio apartment. If he didn’t get a job soon, he’d lose his funding for this tiny shit hole place that he was also supposed to be grateful for because it meant he wasn’t sleeping on the streets anymore. He tossed the still blinking phone onto the table, staring at the flashing tiny green bulb. He poured out a bowl of cereal and sniffed the milk carton in his fridge, it didn’t smell fresh, but it would be another week and a half before he got his next check so he would make due. And hopefully the sugary cereal would counteract the slightly sour taste to the milk. He took a bite. Stared at the darkened screen. Took another bite. Then the phone vibrated and he was in enough of a trance of slurping up cereal and staring at the phone that he noticeably jumped and spilled some of the milk on the table as his spoon dropped out of his hand.
When would he stop being so jittery? Would he?
The message flashed on the screen - Where the fuck are you loser? Still sober? Come on! We’re all going to die anyway! We’ve got great shit.
Dammit Callie. He had gotten a new phone number and only a few people had it. He was avoiding text messages from his mom checking on him every five minutes and he had given his number to his brother, probably mistakenly so, in case he was in trouble. And that is probably how Callie had gotten his number. He would bet anything that Caleb was at the same party as her and she had sweet talked her way into getting it. This is why they say to delete the numbers. This is why he couldn’t even talk to Caleb right now.
Once upon a time, she had been the love of his life. But in reality, what they loved the most was drugs and getting high and scoring their next hit. He knew that, kind of, and still had a soft spot for her. She’d grown up in foster care and hadn’t ever had anyone give a damn about her. And he gave a lot of damns, more damns than he should have, and far more damns than he gave about himself. He just wanted to help her, but he couldn’t even help himself. He was almost at 180 days sober and hadn’t had a thing. He’d thought about it. A lot. More than he cared to admit to anyone because he didn’t want to scare people that he was going to make the same mistake again, but maybe this time end up dead. He stared at the text for another minute and thought about asking if she was okay, but instead he blocked her number. He could always take it back. She could always message him from another phone. But he was trying to do things differently this time. He had to do things differently. If he didn’t, he’d be back in jail. And the last two times had been rough by themselves, he couldn’t go back. It felt like it would be easier to give up, but he couldn’t do this anymore. He was so tired of being scared.
He ignored the rest of the texts, a mere 23 from his mother, who while concerned, was just overdoing it and he guessed that it was okay apparently to set a boundary with her to not text her every 5 minutes during the night to let her know he wasn’t out of the house getting ready to mess up again.
He went back to sit on his bed and picked up his journal and flipped it open.
Today was shit. Just like every other day.
Today was shit just like yesterday. I’m supposed to be grateful for 3 things and those three things are not using drugs, not having access to drugs, and a shitty hard mattress to lay on and stare at the ceiling every night until I can’t hold my eyes open any longer. Hooray for today.
My therapist said that I need to sit with my pain. But I’ve done that before and it makes me want to score. I don’t understand how sitting with my pain will make anything better. If I feel like shit, I don’t want to feel like shit, and in order to not feel like shit, I need to use. He says it apparently won’t kill me if I feel my pain, but it will kill me if I keep using dope, so which would I rather. And honestly, not every day is a great day to ask me that question. Because clearly I haven’t wanted to live my life for a long time.
He read the last line again. And again. And again. He was intolerable even in his journal. He had done a good job of pushing everyone away a long time ago. Since his dad had died, he didn’t feel like being around anyone anymore. He had to watch that guy, that he apparently shared DNA with, beat his mother into an inch of her life and then watch her leave the hospital with her jaw wired shut and go back and make dinner for that smug son of a bitch while he sat at the head of the table and told her he hoped she’d learned her lesson. And the one time he had tried to stand up to his father, he came directly at him without hesitation with a baseball bat. And he wasn’t willing to go up against that. And he hated himself for backing down. A few weeks after that incident, his father was diagnosed with cancer that had already aggressively spread into his lymph nodes. And if he hadn’t believed in karma before, he believed in it then. Until that was apparently his father’s spiritual awakening that he had been an awful person and now had no time to make up for it. He thought now that he had Jesus on his side, Kyle should have made room for him in his heart too and forgive him.
Instead, Kyle went to a party down by the lake, found solace in the bowl of pills they were passing around. The more his father’s illness and begging for forgiveness increased, the more time Kyle spent trying to get away, until he finally ran away and moved in with his dealer to make extra cash. His father held on longer than anyone had anticipated. He dropped out of school and heard through the grapevine that his father had died and heard about the great care and love his mom had for him up until the end, despite everything. Wasn’t forgiveness powerful?
He hadn’t been able to handle it. Not in any capacity. And when he found an escape from the reality that his life had become, it just felt better. He didn’t have to feel. He didn’t have to think. He only had to worry about one day to the next and not getting caught. And he was relatively good at that, at least until he wasn’t.
And now here he was. His mother had showed up to every family therapy session and family visitation weekend while he was in rehab. And she apologized. For all of it. Even the things that weren’t hers to apologize for and he had just stared at her, unblinking. She had given the therapist her number and told her that whatever was needed when he got out, she would provide. She had a good job now that she loved. And she could help. And that she loved her son more than anything but had gotten lost in her own feelings of worthlessness from being worn down by abuse for so many years. Whatever she had to do, she’d do it to help him get better.
He had heard her say all of those things. And he had seen her follow through. And now she texted too much and occasionally brought over extra groceries and constantly asked him to tell her how he was feeling and she couldn’t accept that he was feeling nothing, so she would press him and he would get annoyed and he would tell her what she wanted to hear and then she might leave him alone for a while.
“What if she is doing the best that she can now? What if she was doing the best that she could then?”
His therapist had asked him that in their session earlier that day and he was wondering if that was maybe why he couldn’t sleep now, because his answer then, had been a shrug and a smug, I don’t really care. To which the reply had been, you might feel like you don’t care, but I wonder if you really do, and what that would mean to you if you actually did?
Sit with your uncomfortable feelings and your pain. You apparently won’t die, but what will you feel.
Kyle sat there, on the edge of his bed, with his journal in his hand, and took a deep breath like they had been taught to in one of the groups he had gone to and tried to just sit with the fact that his mom was trying to care about him in a capacity that wasn’t familiar. He immediately felt the tears start to pool in the corners of his eyes again. He jerked his head back and looked at the ceiling for a minute, and tried to hold them back.
If it gets to be too much, write.
He felt his chest tighten and his pulse quicken as he continued to fight the urge to cry.
He pulled out a pen and wrote.
If I sit here and try to feel, I feel like I’m going to die. If I think about the fact that my mom loves me and cares about me and always had, but wasn’t able to show it, I feel pissed off. Why wasn’t I good enough to love then? Why weren’t we all good enough for her to leave? Why did she still care about him when he got sick? Why didn’t she let him rot? Why didn’t she care about us? Why didn’t she care about me? Why didn’t she come find me? Why is she sorry now? Why didn’t she look for me? Why did she just let me go?
Kyle couldn’t stop the tears now and could barely see to write while his tears steadily dropped onto the pages as he wrote. He couldn’t remember the last time he had cried. He kept writing and where he ended up, surprised him.
….I know that she did the best she could. I know she was hurting too. But I missed my mom. And I wanted her to escape with me. And I wish we could have escaped together. And I wish he wouldn’t have had to face death to realize he was a shitty person. And I don’t want to be a shitty person. And I don’t want to wait until I’m dying to try and fix everything.
He stopped. Tears were still coming but not as rapidly. His breathing didn’t feel erratic either and he didn’t realize it until he was paying attention, but his chest and shoulders didn’t feel as tight. He checked the time on his phone – 2:43 am.
He looked at the last message.
I am just going to hope that you’re sleeping and that you had a good session today. Ky, I love you. If you need me, anytime, please call.
He sighed and started to type – Hey, I know it’s late. Don’t answer if you can’t. But if you have a second, I wouldn’t mind talking.
His phone rang almost immediately.
“Ky! Is everything okay? Do you need me to come get you? If you messed up, well it’s not really a mess up right? This is part of the healing process and it’s okay to not be perfect. I’ll come get you, no questions asked. If you need to go to rehab, we can do that again. I will call the insurance –” she sounded panicked.
“No, Mom, stop. I mean…I’m fine. I just, I can’t sleep. Larry said to try journaling when things felt like too much. And that’s all I was doing. I didn’t mess up. I’m not relapsing. I’m just…home, I guess,” he looked around at his stark surroundings.
“Journaling? That’s great! You know, when I went to therapy, I thought that was just nonsense, like I’m here to talk and you’re supposed to talk and that’s supposed to work, oh but Kyle it really helps. It can help. I still do it from time to time to just let things out,” she knew was speaking a mile a minute but didn’t want to miss the opportunity to talk to her son.
“Yeah. That’s great. I just, well tonight, I tried to sit with my feelings. Well, specifically about my feelings about you. And well, Mom, I know you care. I knew you cared. Well maybe I didn’t always know. But here’s the thing, I think you might have been actually doing the best you could at the time. And well I wasn’t doing my best, and yeah I was just a kid, but I’m not anymore. And, well my childhood was, well it wasn’t great Mom. You know that. You lived it. I, well, I have a lot to say I guess, but what I mostly want to say is that I don’t want to be like him. I don’t want to wait until I’m basically dead to try and live again. And well, that’s what I journaled and I don’t know,” he shrugged to himself awaiting her reply. He heard her sniffle and knew she was crying.
“Oh Ky. My sweet boy,” she sobbed into the phone, “I know it was awful. I know I didn’t protect you the way I should have. I couldn’t even protect myself. I hate what you went through. And what your brother is still going through. It was so dark. That whole time was so dark. It should have been full of love and light and it wasn’t. It feels like that happened to a different person, a different family, but I know it didn’t. I know it was us. But, Ky, there can be so much light now. The darkness doesn’t have to take over the whole time. It doesn’t have to be the whole story. I love you so much. I’m so proud of you for sharing this with me. I’m so proud of you for taking this step,” she sobbed a bit more softly.
Kyle took his phone away from his ear for a minute and tapped it to his forehead, as the tears started to rise again.
“Maybe, Mom. Maybe it’s time to start letting the light in to fight off some of these monsters.”