Sink or Swim

After my mom’s car accident, she got an insurance settlement. I can’t remember how much it was. It was enough to buy her a brand new candy apple red Honda Prelude, the nicest car she ever bought herself. It was cute and sporty and seemed to elevate us. When she could walk again, she also booked us a trip to Europe. Three weeks, I think?

This was the summer before I started high school. We were supposed to go visit her family in Holland and travel around Western Europe. We were both very excited about the trip, we had to get passports. We went to Macy’s to get new clothes for the trip. I remember I got some new white keds, some cute capri jeans, and a white sleeveless button down with rainbow colored vertical stripes. Always vertical. Suck it in.

Everyday, I had chores. The usual ones like washing the dishes and taking out the trash, cleaning my room. They were expected to be done before she got home from work. Normal.

About two weeks before the trip she added her room to my chore list. She had a huge pile of clean clothes that needed to be folded and hung up and put away. A huge pile. There was no way I was going to be able to finish before she got home. And the verbal punishment for not “holding up my end of the bargain” was always more than I needed. Yelling. Intensity. Too much. Grounded. No phone calls. No friends. For the slightest infraction, it seemed. I swear I was always grounded. I didn’t want that. I didn’t want to feel what it feels like to displease her. So I stashed some of her clothes under her bed, thinking I would finish the next day and she would never know. She knew. She yelled and raged at me. I went to my room. And she said she wasn’t taking me to Europe anymore.

With two weeks left before the trip, she cancelled my flight. She invited her friend, Debbie. And she went on the trip of her lifetime. I stayed with my friend Meesh. Michelle. Meishelle. Anyway you spell it, we were both going to CKM HISP together while most of our Sutter Middle classmates were going to Sac High. And she lived in Natomas, too.

They had a nice two-story house in the new development not too far from the condo. They had a living room that we were not allowed to walk in because her mom liked to see the lines from the vacuum cleaner. We could walk to my house to use the pool if we wanted or if I needed clothes or something. My mom had a friend that was “house-sitting” for some reason. We didn’t have pets then, so IDK why.

One day, Meesh and I walked to the condo and used my key to get in. No one was there, but it looked real lived in and in my mom’s room there was a mirror on the night stand with lines of white powder, all in a row. Razor blade laying next to them. Me and Meesh got out of there before my mom’s friend came home. I was mortified. Good thing I can’t remember the friend’s name. All I remember was big hair.

When my mom got home she couldn’t wait to get her film developed and show me what a great time they had. On my trip. She even paid for her friend to go with her. I won’t forget that feeling. Let’s get excited, Annie. It’s going to be so fun and you are such a lucky kid. Let’s go shopping. Let’s make all the plans. Oops, you fucked up, now you can’t go. But I will have so much more fun without you anyway. See, look how much fun it was?

That wasn’t the last time she made promises she didn’t keep.

Now that I’m writing about MY LIFE, she’s triggered. Understandably, really. For years, I have wanted to write. I thought maybe a book, but it felt too big. Too daunting. Plus, I thought I couldn’t publish anything until after they were all dead, because it is not my intention to hurt anyone or expose or embarrass. My intention is to get it out, let it go, give it to the wind, lighten my load. And if someone thinks my writing is compelling and I can make some money off of my own personal therapy and the story of MY LIFE, I got bills to pay. Everyone else that would care is dead now. Except her.

So she’s been emailing me. She corrected a few of my inaccuracies. So I changed a few details. But I did not start this blog so that I could reconnect with her. My door is still closed and I hope she can respect that and stop emailing me. The problem is that every time I engage with her, I have a panic attack. We are like oil and water. Fire and ice. She’s the fire. She has a razor sharp tongue and says things I would never say to my children, when she is triggered. She sees literally everything differently than I do. When I was a kid, I had no choice. I had to accept all of it. Be the punching bag…or the mirror. I had to take it. And deal with it. Or shut down. Go inside. Hard crunchy shell. Like an M&M.

But I don’t have to anymore. My most recent therapist told me I have PTSD and that it is ok to protect myself from more harm. To delete and block. To go no contact. In fact, she didn’t just say it was ok, she said it was in my best interest for my own mental health to close the door.

Guess what, I found I don’t need Ativan if I keep that door shut. Peace replaced turmoil. Unless I’m triggered. And closing that door does not mean I don’t love her. It doesn’t mean that everything in our lives was bad. There was a lot of good. She taught me how to love! And she taught me survival. I always knew she loved me. She taught me how to ski when I was five, by holding me up between her legs. Make a pizza. No poles. We did fun things. We went waterskiing in her friends’ boats. We went rafting on the river. I was usually the only kid. Or the oldest kid so I could babysit while they partied. I loved babysitting. I always loved little kids. I loved to be down on the floor playing with them and making art projects. Reading them goodnight stories. Don’t let the bed bugs bite. Angels on your pillow.

I remember the hot, burning sand on my feet when we walked from the parking lot to Paradise Beach. I used to swim back and forth across the river, against the current, no life vest. Literally back and forth, one shore to the next. We didn’t know it was unsafe, then. I was a strong swimmer. Still am. Still swimming against the current. Diving into a tempest in a teacup, with an anchor tied around my ankles. Sink or swim.

I don’t know if I will ever be ok enough to open the door. I’m sure it doesn’t seem fair to her, and I understand. I’m hoping she forgives me for being broken and and sees the strength within me. That she sees that all of the harsh lessons led me to this life of abundance I have created. And that although my walls are too high to scale, I know how to build them, I know how to take care of me, and I broke the cycle and created stability for her grandchildren. I gave them what neither of us had. They have a foundation of stone to jump off. They know they are loved. And I taught them both how to ski. No poles.

And so, I write.

For me. With the door closed.

🖤

Tattoo made by Timpac.

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1 Comment

  1. Happy Panda says:

    I know how difficult it is to shut the door on toxic people especially when it is family. More power to you. 👏
    Keep writing on here and I hope you write your book soon too.

    Liked by 1 person

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