Walking down the hallway I looked at the tips of my sneakers, one foot forward, the next foot forward, striking black sneakers against the white laminated flooring. I was admiring how shiny, how truly clean the floor was. A sense of cleanliness came over me. I forgot about the daughter who I had become, the daughter who ran away for good this time at the age of 36. The sound of a buzzer going off in the distance took my attention away from the floor. It was a break from my own thoughts in that moment. I looked to see a doctor coming through the locked unit.
I had become the woman, the person I said I never would become and perhaps this was my punishment.
Looking back down, I saw the nurses shoes and heard the squeaks of the shoes against the white, clean, shiny floor. “God, forgive me, a sinner. How good You are to me and yet look what I have done.” I prayed internally with a low disgust.
The hard truth was that if I had cared, how could I have left her for over a year without trying to even contact her?
Not wanting to raise my eyes to look at anyone, afraid of the severe shame that I had in my eyes, would they see it? Would they know that I was that daughter that you would hear about? The daughter who picked up and left when life got too hard?
I told her I would never leave her. I promised her I would always be her Simon and she was left to drag her cross alone, without her only daughter, the child who promised out of her five that would never leave, that would never forsake her. I was no different than the Apostles who betrayed Jesus. My flesh and blood, the woman who carried me, the woman that God chose for me, His daughter, I left her.
The smell from the applesauce and jello and what appeared to be roasted chicken laying on the cart in the hallway mixed with the smell of cleaning supplies from an accident that housekeeping was cleaning up in a room ahead of me, mixed with the reality that my mother was in a nursing home five hours away from me, caused waves of nausea to overtake my being. I was walking down this hallway that felt like a hundred miles long and I wanted Hell to open up below me and to absorb me.
God could have condemned me to hell, and in that moment I would have held my head down and never tried to fight for my soul. Any good act as a daughter that I held onto disappeared. I wanted to find something, but in that moment, I didn’t want to remember anything good. I wanted to only know that I failed her. I failed her. I wanted to feel pain. I wanted to hurt for hurting her.
I asked for no Grace from God as I approached her room door. I looked at the nameplate on the outside wall. I focused on the gold part that the name slipped into. Wooding. I stared at that nameplate. I don’t know for how long. Was this real? It was. It was real. My 63 year old mother was behind that half closed door, in that room. I began to shake. My entire being began to shake.
Never allowing anyone to see my despair, I put on the mask of strength as I always have had to with mom and I gathered myself together. I looked at only the floor as I was walking in to her room. I wanted her room to be a hundred miles long just as the hallway felt so I could be in the unknown for another minute. I didn’t want to see the reality of who my mother had become.
Would she be awaiting for me with a smile? Would she want to hug me? Would she look okay? Would she scream at me and tell me that I left her? Would she tell me that I failed her? Would she just look at me with shame in her eyes? Would she try to hurt me as much as she was hurting?
Entering into the half opened door, I saw the grey sky with raindrops rolling down the window. “Take my tears from me God. Mix them with the rain,” I begged God as the hot tears threatened to escape my lower eyelids. I tilted my head up and back and reprimanded myself in my interior, ”Get it together, dammit Melissa!”
A method I learned to sustain peace at home. Not a tear fell. I prided myself in that moment for a small victory. I still had it.
No tears meant strength in my home. Crying was a weakness in my family. Perhaps it is because all men were being raised in my family. I was the only female and I was treated as a male, but not when the requirements for a clean home and meals were to be made, then I was the female of the home when Mom was having a bad day which was every day.
I was a little girl living in a mans world. I learned to cook and clean on my own. I was the chef, housemaid, friend and psychiatrist to mom by the age of seven.
I became receptive to the needs of others and I grew to love to take care of my brothers and a home and it was never a chore. But my greatest gift, my greatest most treasured accomplishment was protecting my brothers from her – from our mother- from our DNA – from the women that gave us birth – from the woman that was never supposed to hurt us – from the pain -to the feelings of nothingness – to the long showers because only then could I cry into the palms of my hands and cool down my stinging eyes from the thousands of tears I had to comfort all day so as to not unveil the excruciating pain that was so deep in me that my flesh had to purge itself of its self to maintain self sanity.
When I would get out of the shower the answer to my Mothers question, “Why are your eyes red Melissa?” Me, “Oh Mom, nothing, just shampoo in my eyes,” I said with a firm smile on my face. I was a machine in human flesh. I stopped caring about my emotional needs. I took care of everyone else and I preferred it that way. I was fulfilled and I knew that if I would live to see tomorrow, I had another day to protect my brothers from her.
The second bed was hers. A yellow curtain was drawn around her bed. I saw no legs. Was she there? This was all a bad nightmare. I am sleeping. But I wasn’t. I was still trying to get the cramp out of my leg from the four hour drive from Massachusetts to the Berkshires. “Why are you putting her this far out from where she lives in MA? “I asked that day on the phone a week earlier when the hospital contacted me to tell me Mom was tearing down metal doors at a local hospital and had been in a locked ￼￼unit for three weeks by the time I got the call that day in CVS in the shampoo aisle. “There are no other beds in any other facilities. We need your permission Melissa,” said the social worker, whose reality I wanted in that moment.
I put my hand on the yellow thinned out curtain that had been overwashed. I heard the metal curtain clips slide along the ceiling to open the curtain. I stopped and felt the curtain for a moment. Anything to make time stop. My hand began to shake and my legs were going to give out below me. A thousand memories flooded my mind in a split second. I was that little girl afraid to come home from school in that moment, in front of the huge wooden front door, but that front door was a yellow curtain and I was thirty seven years old. My abuser, my fear, my weakness, my mother was on the other side of that curtain.
My eyes began to go from the floor to the metal bed. The black wheels were all facing different ways. My eyes went to the radiator where a saltine wrapper lay. I saw a thin wire with a remote control attached to it wrapped around one of the bed posts. My eyes wouldn’t go up. I looked at the blue mattress that was showing through the white sheet. When would I look up? I couldn’t. The edge of the white thin blanket was hanging below the blue mattress off of the bed. “Get with it Melissa,”I wearfully said inside. I could either run out of that room and drive four hours south back to the ocean waters of Cape Cod or I could raise my eyes just as My Lord did that day on Calvary crying out to God. Here Jesus and I were, both naked, both broken, both bruised from the carelessness of another soul. I saw His Broken Face and then I immediately looked to the body in the bed facing towards the wall. They made a mistake. This was not her. It was a shell of a person. The white blanket covered a skeleton. Where was her beautiful hair? Where was her body? I didn’t believe it. In a renewed courage – knowing it was not her, I put my hand on the bone thin shoulder. “Mom?” I asked. The body began to shift and the blanket began to wrinkle with the movement of the body. The right shoulder began to lay down. The only light that was in the room was from a window in the room by the end of her bed. “Melissa?” I heard the voice say.
“No, no, no. No. NO God. I can’t, I can’t do this. I can’t, Please take me away from here,” was my inner cry to God. God did not answer me. I was alone. He left me like when I was a child. He abandoned me. What the hell was happening to my rock firm faith in that moment? I was a daughter of God and yet there I was questioning His Existence in a split second. I was in a battle with self, the devil and God all in the middle of a nursing home room, all within a moment’s time. I could still leave. She hadn’t seen me yet. There was the Bloodied Face of Jesus. “Yes Jesus,” I said in my soul.
“Hey Mom, yeah, its me,” I said with an uplifted tone underlined with a repression of tears. I made myself look at her face. I was done. I couldn’t do it. I regretted answering my phone a week earlier. This helpless woman who was so frail and little was my mother. Was this real? I didn’t believe it again. It was like I was there but not there. I didn’t want this reality. I didn’t want this woman to be my mother. I wanted to have a normal mom. I wanted the mom that I would see my friends have to go shopping with, not the one who was ruthless and careless and the woman that stole my innocence. The woman that would put a hot iron to my face if I didn’t do what she told me to do. The same woman who taught me how to walk like a lady with a book on my head just as she was taught as a child. The woman who told me I was the reason for my parents divorce and I believed it. The woman who chose to have me and then hated me for having me.
I felt more helpless than she looked laying in that bed in that moment. And then she turned around and began to sit up.
I was a mother looking at her sick child. That was my fear. What I didn’t want to see. Roles reversed when I was in my twenties. I became her mother and she was okay with that and she became my daughter and I had to be okay with that because God gave her to me to care for and in my state of caring for everyone, she was my third child. The daughter I never was blessed to have and the ‘child’ that would break my heart. She had nothing in that moment. She was alone. She was what I felt.
She was left alone in her maddening world of mental illness, a world that I carried every day of my life for her. I became her antidepressants. I was her therapist. I was her best friend. I was her batting cage. I was her release. I was her fixer. I was the problem. I was the reason. I was the excuse. I was every wrong and every right in my mothers life.
I was. I was all of these things because I allowed myself to be all of these things. It was a drunken world of me being the bottom of the bottle for her emotional dumps on my reality. Of me trying to be her savior, trying to save her life while my soul was dying. I no longer was an individual. Her world of psychosis moments became opportunities for me to see where I could repair myself to be a better person for her. I was her yes girl. I was her drug dealer for emotional and mental support, dealing her everything that enabled her.
I was her dealer and as long as I got my form of payment which was her not taking her own life, than I justified the behavior because I was an addict too, you see, I had become so conditioned to being my mother’s enabler, her happiness, that when I could no longer mentally handle the weight of her cross, I left her. I had no more to give to even my kids and to hide their nanas ways was hard.
“Baby girl, your here …” she said. She wasn’t that sick I said to myself. That familiar burn in her eyes met mine.