I was so worried she hadn’t got on the plane. My mother has struggled ever since her husband died of a sudden heart attack almost one year ago. She has insisted on living alone, on staying in her house, the home that her husband provided for her, isolated in a country hamlet, a town with one blinking red light. It would be great if she had friends or a support network there, but she doesn’t. There are a handful of older widows in her small neighborhood, but house bound eighty-somethings are not going to keep her active and engaged.
My mother has stopped taking care of herself. She often doesn’t eat, or drinks only coffee or boxed chardonnay, after throwing the box away and keeping the enormous plastic bladder of wine in the bathroom clothes hamper under a pile of towels. I dumped two of those down the sink while she slept when I visited. I stabbed the bag with the scissors in several places and watched the pale golden liquid swirl down the drain. I inhaled and breathed in the scent, wishing for one frantic second that I had thought to drink it all myself. I understood. I know that need, that need to feel good and make it all go away. I know how the wine makes me feel a little bit warm and better inside, when everything is going to hell around me. Just enough to make my head sway and make reality swirl. I felt guilty for denying her that escape, but I needed her in my life. In my children’s lives. I needed her alive and would do whatever I needed to make sure she stayed that way.
When she came through the arrivals gate, my first response was to sigh and put my hand to my chest, because I am the worrisome parent now. Even her hair was frail, bleached into cotton candy wisps and twisted up, gently bobbing as she walked. The bright, pink Seattle Starbucks sweatshirt she bought just before our Alaskan cruise together five years prior hung loose and baggy on her frame. She looked thin and confused, her face creased with deep lines and shadows.
Or at least I thought they were merely shadows from far away, but as she drew nearer to me, I saw she actually had bruises on the side of her jaw, a full black eye, and a goose egg swelling in the center of her forehead. She attempted to cover the bump with her bangs, and pretended everything was fine when she gave me a shaky hug hello.
I have a confession to make. I’ve been hiding the fact that I am a fraud. I have been trying to write this blog about self care and healing, and yet for many months now I haven’t doing either of those things. I haven’t been able to write because I’ve been busy being a fraud. I haven’t been working out. No yoga, except for a little at home that was prescribed by my movement therapist. He was so fantastic that I just couldn’t go back for more sessions, because I felt like I was failing him and wasting his time. No kettlebells, even though I had a regular thing going for several months and began to feel stronger. No more than five or six hours of sleep per night. My headaches and nightmares are coming back with the vengeance of a toddler given the wrong color cup. Breakfast on more than one occasion has been a handful (or two) of chocolate covered almonds sprinkled with sea salt and turbinado sugar. Many days I eat more pasta than vegetables. A glass (or three) of dry, red wine quiets the anxiety in my head at night. I stay up until 2am watching Seth Meyers, Anderson Cooper, Stephen Colbert, and Rachel Maddow on YouTube and feel sick about the world my children will inhabit. I am stressed, sad, and certainly not taking care of myself. I have headaches and body aches. I have gained obvious weight. My back injury has flared up more than usual. I’m tired all the time and snap at my children. It doesn’t bode well for that long, horizontal wrinkle across my forehead. I am failing myself and wasting my time. These feel like the toughest bad habits to break.
I am embarrassed to come here and write under the heading To Bounce Not Break, because so often I feel broken. I am losing my body as well as my mind. I’m missing time with my children and holding onto negativity. I have been attempting to escape and ignore myself with food and wine and mindless, endless television. I have been pushing through the days with my head down, afraid to look up and see the world I am in. I have been afraid to try, feeling as if I am so low that I cannot get back up. I am ashamed and alone, with so much work ahead of me. I am back at the bottom and must take those first steps yet again.
I don’t often get time alone. I stopped in the cafe for coffee and a sandwich. I am a pseudo-single mama, stuck in marital separation limbo. Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time” was playing, reminding me that long ago I was a kid. My daughter looks like me in the 80’s. Apparently neon and ruffled skirts are back.
I went into the cafe stressed and tired, slightly sick, deepening the horizontal line I’ve been etching into my forehead. One might think a mama out alone could order a sandwich and coffee and eat in peace, but I made my own internal noise.
There was an old woman at the table across from me, with perfectly round, fluffy white hair. She was wispy like a wishing dandelion, quietly sipping coffee from a chunky white mug. She had passed the worrying years, while I am in them, trying to keep a clean home and plan meals, worrying about money, avoiding Pinterest because it makes me feel less than, hoping my children are happy, feel loved, sleep enough, get time to play, dig in the dirt, run in the grass, eat enough vegetables, and know that I love them until the stars turn to fish, even though I feel like I’m screwing it up nearly every day. Just drink the damn coffee, mama, I told myself.
My children want their dad to live with us in our house again. They don’t understand that sometimes parents need a vacation from one another and need space.
The coffee was supposed to be relaxing. Self care. But it is not self care to sit quietly and mentally beat up one’s self. The dandelion lady was gone. A fresh-faced, blonde haired tween in skinny jeans and Ugg boots took her place, coffee in one hand while the other picked an enormous muffin apart into manageable chunks. She licked her fingers between bites and said “like” every ten seconds. She was happy and talked with sticky muffin hands. I am somewhere between the muffin girl and the dandelion lady. My coffee got cold.